Laos, Switzerland ink agreement on Mekong land governance project

Press releases, 08.03.2023

Representatives of the governments of Laos and Switzerland have signed a bilateral agreement that will further support Mekong Region Land Governance (MRLG)’s work in Laos through 2025.

Dr Aurelie Righetti, Deputy Country Director, The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (left) and Mrs Sisomboun Ounavong, Director General of the Department of International Cooperation, Ministry of Planning and Investment sign the MRLG agreement. © MRLG

With a new infusion of funds, the Swiss Agency for Cooperation and Development (SDC), German Cooperation and Luxembourg Aid and Development have invested more than US$40 million since 2014, signalling strong support for much-needed legal reforms in the Mekong region countries.

The agreement was signed between the Director General of the Department of International Cooperation, Ministry of Planning and Investment, Mrs Sisomboun Ounavong, and representing the Government of Switzerland, Deputy Head of SDC, Dr Aurelie Righetti.

The MRLG project is funded by the SDC, German Cooperation, and Luxembourg Aid and Development. It is being implemented by Land Equity International in partnership with GRET Professionals for Fair Development (GRET) and supported by Deutsche Gesellschaft fűr Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).

The project brought together more than 100 policy-makers, civil society actors, and land administration and management experts/practitioners across the region to chart priorities for the project’s third phase at a regional workshop held in Luang Prabang from February 28 to March 2.

Since 2014, the Mekong Region Land Governance Project has been working through alliances of government, civil society, the private sector, and academia in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam and at the Asean level to promote improved land governance policies and practices, mainly through the recognition of customary tenure and promotion of responsible agricultural investment in the region.

Dr Righetti said “The Ministry of Planning and Investment has been a strong supporter of MRLG since Phase 1 and became its home through the Department of International Cooperation in Phase 2. With the signing of the bilateral agreement for Phase 3, this will continue until the end of the project in 2025.”  Land governance remains a crucial aspect of development in the Mekong region due to a pronounced trend since the late 1990s toward urbanisation and an increasing number of large-scale land investments which, in many cases, have dispossessed smallholder farmer communities and deprived them of their livelihood.

“Large-scale land concessions have produced fewer benefits than anticipated, exceeded by the social and environmental costs that are largely borne by the rural poor,” MRLG Team Leader, Dr Micah Ingalls, said. “The governments of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam have all taken important steps to not only find alternative, more equitable investment models but also to strengthen the tenure security of farmers. We applaud these efforts, but much remains to be done.”

Currently, 5.1 million hectares of land are under various concession agreements in the agriculture and tree plantation sector alone across the Mekong region. In Laos, these land concession areas have occupied an equivalent to 30 percent of the area cultivated by smallholder farmers.

The MRLG project continues to bring together policymakers and key stakeholders through planning and policy dialogues informed by extensive research and documentation of potential models for improved security of land tenure rights, and effective and equitable land use.