Land zoning, planning, conversion and food security


An irony in the land grabbing debate is that the 2008 food price spike that helped catalyse land deals has resulted in large scale investments in land that convert from food to non-food crops or other uses. Land conversion takes different forms in different areas. In peri-urban areas the concern is that highly productive paddy land is lost permanently to industrial, residential and recreational uses. In upland areas, forests and complex swidden-based farming systems are converted to industrial crops. The potential of planning and zoning to temper this conversion places tensions between market-based land use choices and socially or politically determined land use strategies.

Key reform issues:

  • Identification of key food producing areas for agricultural zoning
  • Better alignment of national food security objectives and household-level food security strategies
  • Assessment of the existing food producing role of lands defined officially as wastelands
  • Better identification of non-agricultural employment options for those displaced by land conversion for non-agricultural uses in densely populated areas

Current critique and debate:

In rapidly industrialising Southeast Asia, market imperatives combine with national policy to take some of the most productive farmland out of cultivation in favour of higher value uses. In Vietnam in particular, this is a key area of policy debate. There is a basic incompatibility between land use planning based on crop designation, on the one hand, and market imperatives on the other, which is exacerbated in part by the residual socialist approach to land use planning set within a neo-liberal economic framework. There are also tensions between a production target approach to food security and one based on household entitlements, capabilities and diverse livelihoods.

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