Historical Changes of Land Tenure and Land Use Rights in a Local Community: A Case Study in Lao PDR

TitleHistorical Changes of Land Tenure and Land Use Rights in a Local Community: A Case Study in Lao PDR
Annotated RecordAnnotated
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsBoutthavong S, Hyakumura K, Ehara M, Fujiwara T
Secondary TitleLand
Key themesAgriculturalModernization, Environment, Formalisation-titling, Policy-law

Land-titling programs, land and forest allocation programs, and projects on state-allocated land for development and investment in Laos have been key drivers of change in land tenure. These have triggered major shifts in land use rights, from customary, to temporary, and then to permanent land use rights. This article explores how government programs to grant land use rights to individual households have affected the way people have been able to acquire and secure land tenure. For our case study, we selected the village of Napo, the target of many land tenure changes in the past four decades. We collected data from district offices, group discussions with village organizations, and interviews with selected households. The study shows how land use rights shifted over time and reveals that households obtained most of their agricultural land and forestland through a claim process. Original households were mainly land claimers, while migrants were land buyers. The process of formalization and allocation of tenure triggered inequality among households. Attention is needed in future land governance and tenure reforms in order to safeguard the land use rights of local people in an equitable manner.


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Document Type

Journal Article


Overall relevance: 

Land tenure formalization in Laos is in line with government economic and structural reforms, welcoming foreign investment and integration into the global market. While a goal of this process is to recognize customary land use rights, it actually accelerates a transformation from traditional land governance, local production and customary institutions into the formalization of market oriented land use rights, the foundation for land as property, and the utilization of land right values. This case study contributes an assessment on the recognition of customary land tenure and the effect of land titling programmes on livelihood security and social equality

Key Themes: 
  • Land policy and land law - After economic and structured reform in 1986, land tenure for households, individuals, private sectors and communities was formalized. This began with “temporary land use rights” (TLUR) for the majority of rural farmers, with an aim to progress to “permanent land use rights” (PLUR). While the government attempted some pilot models in various geographical and cultural contexts, they have not differentiated tenure criteria for different ethnic groups. Further, the Implementation of the one-million land titles lags far behind the government plan because of various financial, institutional factors as well as capacity of personnel at the local implementing levels
  • Agricultural modernisation: key ideas and debates relevant to land tenure security - With the state motto of modernization, traditional production of paddy, upland cultivation, livestock raising and collecting non-timber products have been encouraged to transform into cash crops planting, wage labor and small trading
  • Land rights recognition/formalization/titling/collective tenure - While the effect of land titling is not fully assessed, there is sufficient evidence to show vulnerability faced by small scale and poor households. Some of them lose the titled land as consequences of the difficulties in management, maintaining profitable production, or finding a fair market for their land use rights. Secure land rights and long term livelihood security for local people, and fair transactions of land should a concern for public, those affected, and policy makers
Research basis: 

The article is based on a literature review, field surveys, consultation meetings involving relevant district technicians and officers, group discussions with the village head and vice head, women and youth representatives and senior villagers, and semi-structured interviews on 47 randomly selected households in Napo Village, Sangthong District of Vientiane Municipality. (Provided by Pham Van Dung)