The government of Laos has identified the eradication of poverty as a priority. Given the primarily agricultural character of the country, it has selected land reform as a core policy to reach this goal. The policy has two major aims: to increase land tenure security in order to encourage farmer involvement in intensive farming, and to eliminate slash-and-burn agriculture to protect the environment in a country still rich in forest resources. State intervention takes the form of land allocation, a process which combines the protection of some areas of village land with the formal recognition of private ownership in authorized farming areas. In a country with different types of geography, the effects of the policy are variable, but the research presented in this article demonstrates that the land laws have shortcomings which allow for differing interpretations depending on the local social relationships. Since local specificities are not taken into account, the reform is proving counterproductive for both forest protection and agricultural modernization, as well as having a negative social impact by marginalizing the poorest farmers.
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The Mekong Land Research Forum seeks to bring research and policy a bit closer together. It does this in part by making the research more accessible and in part by helping to distill the key messages and points of debate so that information overload does not overwhelm policy makers and other advocates for progressive policy reform.