Land concession impacts

September 3, 2021

Do land concessions to large agricultural investors benefit local communities? An analysis of real-world outcomes in Lao PDR shows that the results are mixed, tending more towards negative impacts

Vong Nanhthavong and colleagues at the University of Bern, Switzerland, examined 177 land acquisitions for agricultural purposes in 294 villages, covering almost a quarter of a million hectares in nine provinces of Lao PDR, and focusing mainly on deals investing in rubber, eucalyptus or acacia, sugarcane, and large livestock.

Their findings, ‘Pathways to Human Wellbeing in the Context of Land Acquisitions in Lao PDR,’ were published in the May 2021 issue of Global Environmental Change

Bare hills in Luang Namtha Province, northern Lao PDR, where uplands have been cleared to plant rubber. Credit: Vong Nanhthavong

Impacts on wellbeing

The research team’s analysis of socio-economic data and household interviews in the affected villages showed that food security in a large proportion of villages indeed had decreased in the aftermath of land deals, and remained unchanged in many others. Only in 17% of villages did food security improve. Livestock production decreased in two-thirds of the villages studied, and remained unchanged in many others. Many experienced decreased access to farmland, water for agriculture, firewood, non-timber forest products (NTFPs) and wild game.

Road access, commonly expected to be one of the benefits of land deals, did not improve in the majority of affected villages, while in many villages, environmental pollution from agrochemicals such as fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, affected water levels and quality in nearby rivers and streams. 

Rubber plantations along the Mekong, Luang Namtha Province, northern Lao PDR. Credit: Soukanh Latsavong

Policy considerations

As large-scale land sales transform global land-use systems, the research in Lao PDR offers some useful pointers for policymakers. The paper proposes six policy considerations to safeguard human wellbeing in communities that are experiencing the impacts of one of more land deals, in short:

  • discouraging land acquisitions where local people have low security of land tenure;
  • discouraging multiple land deals in the same place;
  • discouraging deals for activities that will have high environmental impacts, or that have will create few jobs for local people;
  • recognizing the limitations of environmental impact assessment (EIA) and free prior informed consent procedures to ensure people’s wellbeing; 
  • ensuring environmental safeguards and restricting agrochemical use; and
  • focusing on sustainable development strategies beyond, rather than within, large-scale land acquisitions, in line with principles of agroecology and the solidarity economy. 

Read the full policy recommendations here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959378021000315

Source: Vong Nanhthavong, Christoph Oberlack, Cornelia Hett, Peter Messerli, Michael Epprecht, 'Pathways to human well-being in the context of land acquisitions in Lao PDR', Global Environmental Change, Vol. 68, 2021, 102252, ISSN 0959-3780, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2021.102252

Local workers on a horticulture concession at Sekong Province, southern Lao PDR. Credit: Vanthong Lattanavilay

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