Communal Land Tenure: A Social Anthropological Study in Laos

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"Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) or Laos is a landlocked and mountainous country situated in the center of the Continental Southeast Asia region bordering with Myanmar, China, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. It is considered one of the most forested countries in the region and ranked as one of the most culturally diverse with almost 50 percent indigenous peoples. Yet, it is one of the poorest nations in the world. Over the last decade, forest resources have become degraded because of logging, concessions, hydropower and mining as well as shifting cultivation due to rising population density in the uplands. Lao Government policy has focused on eradicating shifting cultivation, but the initial government land and forest allocation program meant that the ethnic groups lost their rain-fed upland fields as they were no longer allowed to practice customary land use with long fallows. None of the upland ethnic groups have title to the land they use. Many environmentally sound traditional land use systems still exist in Lao PDR in remote areas in the form of communal tenure. Here the land is managed by the village which each year re-distributes it according to need and labor. This research focuses on these traditional systems to identify which particular features of the management regime could help 'reverse degradation by innovation'. The research hypothesis is that common property regimes are a means for the poor to secure access to natural resources’ benefit streams that serve as a safety net against vulnerability. At the same time and most importantly, with communal tenure recognized by government, the communities can lower the risk of their lands being grabbed by concessions. The thesis reviews Elinor Ostrom’s theory on Common Property Resource (CPR) of literature to test the hypothesis. Field study was conducted in Houaphan province in Lao PDR focusing on Hmong and Tai Daeng ethnic groups in three districts (Xum-Nue, Viengxay and Sopbao). It is seen that the traditional communal land management as a system which for the ethnic groups is linked to their culture. It allows for equity and if the government endorses communal land title which is possible by law but not yet implemented, this system could be copied under appropriate institutional arrangements to other places in the country. It is also realized that land may not be under shifting cultivation for many more years due to growing population density and that proactive measures should be taken to quickly restore the fertility of the fallows. This change of land use can best be practiced by the communities as a whole with control over their lands. This study is not only considered an important contribution to current land policy making process; it also is necessary to take into account when carrying out in practice land management in Lao PDR."