The study entitled “L’État du foncier dans la région du Mékong [The State of land tenure in the Mekong region]” has just been published. This scientific study, partly conducted by GRET, sounds the alarm on the need for change regarding land tenure policies and practices in the region (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam).
It is the first publication of this type to cover the entire Mekong region. “L’État du foncier dans la région du Mékong [The State of land tenure in the Mekong region]” is a scientific study providing data and information that is both quantitative and qualitative on the current state of land resources in the Mekong region. It also looks at the social distribution of these resources and related issues of governance.
The study was co-produced by the centre for development and the environment (CDE) at the University of Bern and the Mekong region land governance project (MRLG). It was conducted by GRET and Land Equity International (LEI), and funded by the Swiss, German and Luxembourg overseas cooperation bodies.
The negative impact of economic growth on the rights of local communities
Contextually, the Mekong region is a geographic region experiencing rapid social and environmental change. Despite rapid urbanisation, the region remains mainly rural. More than 60 % of its population lives in rural areas, and the vast majority of these people work in agriculture.
Due to the rapid growth of agriculture, the Mekong region has become a world centre for production and trade of agricultural products such as rubber, rice, cassava, timber, sugar cane and palm oil. Between 1996 and 2015, in the Mekong region, surface areas cultivated increased by 20 %, i.e. 9 million hectares. The majority of this expansion took place to the detriment of forests.
Although accelerated flows of direct foreign investment and trade of commercial agricultural products contributed to economic growth, the results of this have been very unevenly distributed: the benefits were broadly felt by urban elites, while costs were mainly borne by poor rural populations.
Large agro-industrial plantations were developed on land occupied by communities, but for which their land tenure rights were neither formalised nor recognised. All in all, rural land relationships have fundamentally changed, adding to a form of land insecurity (in french).
This type of publication is an “invaluable” forerunner
According to Ivo Sieber, the Swiss ambassador to Thailand: “This report (…) is the first publication of this type in this region. It is an invaluable asset for donors, development organisations and governmental bodies, as we are working together to achieve the sustainable development goals as part of the 2030 Agenda. In particular, it provides a solid basis for information and analysis, to respond to the needs of small farmers and rural communities facing complex challenges today. Switzerland recognises the essential role of land in the development of the Mekong region. We are proud to contribute to the identification and analysis of key issues around land in the report on the state of land tenure in the Mekong region.”