Week 8: Global Land Tool Network (GLTN) and Improving Tenure Security for Smallholder Farmers (ITSSF)

Most of my posts for Omprakash (the Global Research Institute platform) and the Freeman Foundation have been reactions and lessons learned from Laos. After two months, it seems appropriate to explain what I’ve been doing at Village Focus International.

After working at 3 very different NGOs, I’ve come to understand that they all have a basic work cycle: applying to grants, (hopefully) obtaining said grant, running the program funded by the grant, and continuously reporting on the progress & outcomes of the project. My work at VFI has loosely followed this schedule. My time here began with writing and applying to an IUCN grant. Next, I did some research on the extent of Chinese investment in Laos to begin writing an OpenDevelopment Laos article. Now, I’m writing a Stakeholder Analysis for a project striving to protect land rights for rural farmers in the context of increasingly growing demand for land.

UN Habitat is piloting the Global Land Tool Network (GLTN), a program striving to improve tenure/land security for rural smallholder farmers. GLTN is being piloting in three countries: Uganda, in reference to customary land (lack of formal land tenure); the Philippines, in regards to indigenous land holdings; and in Laos, for communal land holdings (specifically in regards to swidden/shifting cultivation and forested land).

In Laos, VFI received the grant to implement GLTN, with the help of TABI (a crossover between a research institution, CSO, and government department) and DALaM (a government department). The project, formally called Improving Tenure Security for Smallholder Farmers in Select Areas in Lao PDR (ITSSF), is being implemented in 16 target villages in the Northern provinces of Luang Prabang and Xieng Khouang (both of which I’ve had the opportunity to visit!). Laos as a country was chosen for the prevalence of communal land, low capacity of legal systems in rural areas, a lack of formal documentation, a lack of  official acknowledgment of swidden agriculture land, and an increasing demand for land / the correlation with farmers being forcibly relocated (*cough cough* no official document may say it, but this is a direct response to increasing Chinese investment). These 16 villages were chosen for their ethnic diversity, rotational agricultural practices, and large forested areas.

ITSSF is being implemented through three objectives, in a short summary they are: Objective 1: The identification of four primary land tools and customization of them in the Lao context. Objective 2: Increase the capacity of these land tools and provide trainings to community members. Objective 3: Strengthen multi-stakeholder dialogue platforms to raise awareness, discuss the projects, and provide policy recommendations.

While the initial grant identifies VFI, TABI, and DALaM as the primary implementers, land rights is a large development sector in Laos. The implementation of ITSSF will impact other organizations working on land rights and will require their support. So, for the past month I’ve been writing a Stakeholder Analysis on how ITSSF impacts & will work with Civil Society Organizations, government departments, and development partners (as I am writing this blog post late aka during week 10 not 8, I am excited to say that after 6 weeks I have a complete draft and am almost done!!!!).

Writing a stakeholder analysis has forced me to acknowledge the interconnected and messy reality of development work. As I further define my academic interests, I’ve realized that I’m interested in this intersection of development and investment, specifically looking at the impacts of Chinese finance. Among other things, ITSSF acknowledges the impacts that large scale investment has had on rural communities in Laos and strives to increase tenure security. This strengthened capacity will be beneficial with land disputes, whether they are between village members or involve international companies.


My favorite fun fact I’ve learned from working on this project: In 2016, the Ministry of Justice changed its village level structure to Village Mediation Committees. These committees are composed of five community members that are directly elected by their own community! Prior to this, the village-level legal team featured people who were just placed there and on other committees, sometimes from a different community. Look at that democratization! Go Laos!