New initiative will increase recognition of customary land tenure and resource rights in Lao PDR

Recognition of customary tenure rights is a foundation for improving forest governance and livelihoods, preventing land conflicts and combating deforestation and climate change.

An initiative to expand recognition of local communities’ customary tenure rights across the northern provinces of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic kicked off with training on free, prior and informed consent and management of village forests. 

The project is called ‘Improved Recognition of Customary Tenure Rights for Land and Forest of Rural Smallholders and Communities.’ It is designed to help forest decision-makers recognize customary land tenure rights and develop policies that respect the traditions of people living in and alongside forests. It will also help local communities to assert and benefit from their rights. 

“This initiative will provide the foundations we need to scale up forest governance work in our province,” said Bounmy Savath, Deputy Head of Provincial Agriculture and Forestry Office in Luang Prabang Province. “Because of the project, we will have a village forest management plan as well as official recognition of customary tenure rights over lands and forests.”

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) is funding this initiative through the Mekong Region Land Governance Project (MRLG) (link). 

Working with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the project will help 1,500 villages exercise their rights to customary land tenure and to practice village forestry by the end of 2020. It will also support achievement of the government’s goal to increase forest cover to 70 percent of the country’s land area. 

The project will help 1,500 villages across two provinces in northern Lao PDR exercise their rights to customary land tenure and to practice village forestry by the end of 2020.

Customary land tenure refers to the systems by which local people have owned and managed their lands and resources for many generations, as opposed to statutory tenure which refers to legal systems introduced by governments, often during colonial periods. Customary land tenure encompasses the local rules, institutions and practices governing land, forests and fisheries. Although most customary systems are not formalized in laws, they are widely accepted and adhered to by local communities. 

Under the principle of free, prior and informed consent, a core principle of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, ethnic groups in Lao PDR have the right to give or withhold approval to a project that may affect them or their territories. 

Somsack Sisomvang, Deputy Head of the Department of Forestry Division of Village Forest and Non-Timber Product Management, contributes ideas on the work plan during the project's introductory workshop in Lao PDR on 18 February 2020.

Statutory recognition of their rights to meaningful participation in forest governance and customary land use in village forestry can prevent land conflicts, deforestation and mitigate climate change. 

The project will support the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry’s participatory land-use planning approach and village forest management planning, ultimately helping village residents gain recognition of their customary rights. 

RECOFTC Lao PDR, the primary implementer of the project, launched the initiative at a workshop on 18 February in Luang Prabang. There, representatives of TABI-The Agro-Biodiversity Initiative and Village Focus International (link), the government and RECOFTC discussed the project’s objectives and charted a path towards achieving their goals.

The project has since held more training on free, prior and informed consent and collected socio-economic data in eight villages─four in Phonxay District in Luang Prabang Province and four in Phoukoud District in Xieng Khouang Province.
The project ends in October 2020, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed current activities and project implementers are considering an extension. 


For more information on the work of RECOFTC in Lao PDR, visit this page and follow us on Facebook for daily updates. 

RECOFTC’s work is made possible with the support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).