Lao communities’ land and natural resources are not for sale
Laos is rich in natural resources. These resources have raised the appetite of its neighboring countries and direct foreign investments in mining, hydropower, and agricultural plantations are growing fast. But this economic trend puts pressure on natural resources and might exclude vulnerable communities, especially the 70 percents of the population who rely on these resources for their livelihoods.
Oxfam is committed to support women and men from Lao rural areas to enjoy their rights to access and control on natural resources and to grow sufficient safe and nutritious food in a sustainable way to feed their families and the country. Because we can achieve so much more working in partnership with others, Oxfam supports the Land Issues Working Group to strengthen community control over land, forests and natural resource.
The Land Issues Working Group (LIWG) was set up in 2007 by several international NGOs concerned that land-related projects may impact negatively on livelihoods of marginalized groups in Lao society. In one hand, private investment improves access to services or expansion of local employment opportunities. In the other hand, it reduces access to land by smallholders who are pushed aside by concessionaires creating a path towards an unsustainable extractive economy. The LIWG considers that action is urgently needed to prevent this process.
Supporting the communities towards greater management and control over their natural resources
The aim of the LIWG was primarily to inform each other about land issues and later also to develop common initiatives to address them. Today, the LIWG consists mostly of international and local civil society organizations' staff and other individuals working on land issues in Laos. Oxfam joined the group at its early days and since then has been supporting its development.
The LIWG promotes awareness and understanding of the social, economic and environmental impacts of land-related projects, by gathering and disseminating information, facilitating dialogue and carrying out studies. This is done by encouraging civil society involvement in land management decision-making, and supporting rural communities towards greater management and control over their natural resources.
Little by little, the LIWG managed to open the dialogue on land issues with the Government of Laos and was recently able to hold a session at the National Assembly about the situation of land, water and energy in Laos, including cases studies showing companies breach the contract by encroaching dense forest and destroying villages' properties. More than 200 members of the National Assembly attended the session which is a success regarding the sensitivity of these issues.
Indeed, direct foreign investments are part of the Lao Government strategy to increase the economic growth and lift the country from its “Least Developed Country” status by 2020 and the lack of democratic mechanisms impedes open dialogue on development issues.
Promoting dialogue at policy level and empowering rural communities to bring positive change
“After the presentation, many National Assembly members came to me and said that they are also really concerned about land issues but feel that they do not have enough staff, resources and updated information from the ground in order to deal with the situation. Now they know that we, as part of the civil society, can help them,” says Mr. Hongthong, co-chair of the LIWG.
This session gave the LIWG the opportunity to strengthen its connections with many of the National Assembly members.
“Promoting dialogue and networking at policy level is crucial to bring positive change in government policies and legislation concerning land and natural resources in order to protect the interests of the people of Laos and enhance gender equitable local communities’ control over land and natural resources” says Dominique Van Der Borght, Country Director of Oxfam in Laos.
In order to achieve this, the members of the LIWG join their forces to train the villagers on the existing legislation to protect and defend their interests and at the same time, raise awareness on land issues among the civil society, the private sector and the development partners, such as our governments and the European Union who support Laos’ development. In depth research and case studies on land issues are conducted to increase the flow of information from the local level to the central level.