The Land Issues Working Group (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. The LIWG consists mostly of international and local civil society organization staff and other individuals working on land issues in Lao PDR. Nearly 40 different organisations are represented in the core group.
Several international NGOs concerned that land issues may impact negatively on livelihoods of marginalized groups in Lao society set up the LIWG in 2007. The aim was primarily to inform each other about land issues and later also to develop common initiatives to address them with a wider range of stakeholders.
The LIWG is one of the thematic working groups of the iNGO Network, the network of international NGOs in Laos. The LIWG Constitution defines the rules, the membership and the decision-making procedures of the group. The LIWG is governed by a 7-member Committee which is responsible for the general direction of the group. The Committee consists of representatives of the member organisations. Day-to-day activities are implemented by the Secretariat, consisting of a staff of three. The membership is divided into core and supporting membership. The LIWG currently has over 80 core members representing nearly 40 different organisations, and over 80 individual supporting members.
Over the last 5-10 years foreign investment, supported by local actors, in industries such as mining, hydropower and plantation sectors, has increased rapidly making use of Lao PDR’s natural resources. There is a growing competing interest over land, water and forests between large-scale investors and rural, often poor, communities relying on the same natural resources for their subsistence.
Opening up of rural areas as a result of private investment is creating two possible paths for rural communities. In one direction is improved access to services, expansion of local employment opportunities, spread of environmentally sound practices, and more equitable participation in the development process. In the other direction is reduced access to land by smallholders who are pushed aside by concessionaires, a rapid outflow of young people, wildlife and forest products, and a consequent erosion of natural capital, human resources and cultural identity, creating a path towards an unsustainable extractive economy. The LIWG considers that action is urgently needed by all development partners to prevent this process.
While industrial development sounds good in theory, in practice the absence of a comprehensive regulatory framework around investments in land concessions has led to land grabbing by largely foreign companies around the country. Many rural people experience negative effects of this land grab, such as loss of agriculture, grazing and resource rich forest lands with no compensation, contaminated rivers and streams, and very little benefit to rural communities.