Land Conflict and Land Governance in the Greater Mekong Sub-Region: Case Studies of Urban and Peri-urban in Thailand

TitleLand Conflict and Land Governance in the Greater Mekong Sub-Region: Case Studies of Urban and Peri-urban in Thailand
Annotated RecordAnnotated
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsPhongsiri M
Secondary TitleJournal of Mekong Societies
Key themesDispossession-grabbing, Urban

This article is a state of knowledge review of urban and peri-urban land conflict and governance in the Greater Mekong Sub-Region, based on case studies in Thailand. It explores arguments and knowledge gaps of urban and peri-urban land issues and reveals the processes of land exclusion, land formalization and land grabbing in urban and peri-urban areas. Current conflicts and instances include: the case of Mahakan Fort in Bangkok where the original residents were forcibly moved out by a government development project; the case of local slum communities in Khon Kaen municipality that were evicted because of the construction of a double-track railway; the case of impacts of urbanization on peri-urban and local responses; and the case of land use changes in Udon Thani province. This article investigates policy, legal, institutional and stakeholder backgrounds to issues of land dispossession, conflict and governance. The research found that concepts, theories and research studies about land conflict and governance are sufficient to explain these case studies. However, some challenging issues and knowledge gaps exist. First, the state uses development discourse to seize land from the people and allows entrepreneurs to take advantage of that land even though there are many institutional mechanisms working for stable land ownership. Second, because of the increase in urban land prices, landowners focus on the greatest mobility and let people use the land only a short time. Third, in these cases, what will happen to people’s sense of citizenship or sense of belonging? Fourth, when people claim legitimacy to use their land, it may result in injustice for their neighbors. Finally, urbanization has resulted in changes in people’s ideas about food security; the focus is now on consumption instead of production, and more on accessibility to food than accessibility to land for the production of food.


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Document Type

Journal Article


Overall relevance: 

The article analyses land governance and conflict using cases studies of urban and peri-urban development in Thailand. The author identifies several concepts, such as urban studies, political economy, land formalisation, and the powers of exclusion, to explain the loopholes of Thai land management policies that cause land dispossession and grabbing. The author also provides historical context to urban and peri-urban land management to imply that issues are long rooted in the country.

Key Themes: 
  • Land dispossession/land grabbing - People living in slum communities in Khon Kaen faced a forced eviction by the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) to build a double-track railway. Based on the approval of the Thai Cabinet on 7 May 2015, SRT needs the land to expand the original track 40 metres each side (from the original 20 meters). The SRT policy caused the eviction of more than 2,000 families from land where they have stayed for nearly 20 years. Finally, the affected communities have a lease agreement with SRT. The agreement conditions vary, such as from 3 to 30 years long. Though people do own buildings on the land, they are not authorised to own the land itself. Another highlighted case was situated at Mahakan Fort community in Bangkok where residents were evicted after it was identified as a historical area.
  • Urban land governance - The cases of SRT policy in Khon Kaen and Mahakan Fort community are two of many national urban or peri-urban development projects dispossessing the property rights on land or land ownership of people. Urbanisation causes a dilemma over the function of land as a place for work rather than residence. Local people then have to move to peri-urban fringe areas. Consequently, the land price in urban areas carries high value and access is limited to wealthy landowners and investors. The case of garbage dumping in Khon Kaen Municipality (KKM) created the debate between ‘legality’ and ‘legitimacy’. Although KKM was legally authorised to use land, the municipality should be concerned about the impact of its land use policy. Urban land governance is able to create the land conflict, dispossession and exclusion when the government does not take into account land relations including the relationship of people to land.
Research basis: 

The article refers to four case studies related to land conflict and land governance including the case of the Mahakan Fort community in Bangkok, the forced eviction of slum community living along the railway in Khon Kaen, the garbage dumping in Khon Kaen Municipality, and the land use change and social vulnerability of urbanisation in Udon Thani. The author mainly gathered information via a desk review and analysed all cases using several concepts and theories. (Provided by Worrawan Jirathanapiwat)