From 13-27 February 2017, the Mekong Region Land Governance (MRLG) project and the Land Portal co-facilitated an online dialogue on the Recognition of Customary Tenure in the Mekong Region.
The political economy of land is changing rapidly in the Mekong region, as it is worldwide. Economic development, along with the introduction of new land tenure systems, are transforming communities and driving land scarcity. Government grants of large land concessions to investors, land speculation, forestry exploitation and internal migration all impact rural communities’ access to the land and natural resources vital to their livelihoods. The lack of recognition and safeguards of customary tenure practice and rights is one of the most contentious and complex issues in the Mekong. Weak tenure governance is especially detrimental to rural communities, indigenous people and ethnic minorities that may have customary tenure rights but lack formal recognition.
The remedies are as complex as the problem. They require an adequate policy and legal framework to support the governance of land and natural resources, together with competent and responsible national and local level institutions. Citizens must also be aware of their rights and how to exercise them. The private sector must also be aware of the rights of communities and their responsibilities toward them. The Voluntary Guidelines for the Governance of Tenure (VGGT) are an important international reference when it comes to the recognition of customary tenure by states and by other stakeholders, particularly investors.
This online dialogue focused on exploring the challenges and opportunities related to the recognition of indigenous, ethnic minority and community tenure rights in the Mekong region. Participants will examine the status of community tenure rights and share ideas on how to strengthen them.
- Increased information exchange between participants inside and outside the region;
- Identified issues of common interest;
- Compared and contrasted regional and international contexts and experiences in customary tenure recognition that can inform potential strategies and actions at country and regional level.
- Generated a regional level synthesis of key challenges and opportunities related to community tenure in the Mekong region that will be shared broadly.
- What is customary tenure? Is it the same as “traditional tenure arrangements of indigenous people/ ethnic minorities"? Why is securing customary tenure rights important?
- To differing extents, there are policies recognizing customary tenure in all countries in the Mekong region. However, progress towards securing indigenous, ethnic minority and community tenure rights has been hampered by the cumbersome requirements for achieving formal recognition, reflecting in part the tension between local and state authority. In your opinion, what would be required to strengthen the recognition of indigenous, ethnic minority and community tenure rights in the region?
- Since it takes a long time for regulatory revisions recognizing customary tenure to be made and implemented, how effective have interim protection measures been? What are some examples?
- We know that in customary systems there is often a mixture of communal land (e.g. collectively managed shifting cultivation areas and forest areas) and plots claimed by individual families (e.g. paddy land or upland plots with long-term crops). What is the best way to recognize the variety of tenure rights in customary systems?
- Customary systems, particularly norms governing the internal management of communal land, are often characterized as having higher levels of equality compared to private property regimes. Nevertheless, customary systems may also exhibit gender inequality and/or other forms of exclusions as a result of local power dynamics. How can statuary recognition of customary rights ensure that equity considerations, including principles of transparency and inclusive decision-making, are adhered to in customary systems?
- There are concerns that the recognition of customary tenure, which sometimes lead to unique categorizations of “indigenous” land where communities can continue to practice “traditional livelihoods” (in some cases with restrictions on community involvement in commercial activities), may not help alleviate conditions of poverty, food insecurity and vulnerability experienced in many communities. Is it possible to combine recognition of customary tenure rights and forestry/agricultural development through investment/commercial activity? Are there examples where this has been done successfully?
- What strategies can be taken to defend, strengthen and promote customary rights in the Mekong region? How can regional dialogues facilitate greater recognition of the rights and priorities of local communities, including addressing issues of power and politics?
How to join the dialogue
The dialogue is open to anyone with an interest in land issues. To make a contribution to the discussion, first register with the link below. Please feel free to answer as many questions as you like and then upload your contributions to the dialogue. You are welcome to make more than one contribution. Your contributions should be brief – not more than 500 words, and may be shorter. You may also query other participants and comment on their contributions.
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