Thailand has a total surface area of 512,000 square kilometers, out of which around 160,000 square kilometers is forest land and 208,000 square kilometers is agricultural land. There are enough land resources in Thailand such that everyone in the country could have sufficient land for productive use if these land resources were allocated and land holdings were distributed in a just manner.
Information obtained from research reveals that the majority of people in the country, or around 90% of the population, own less than 0.16 hectares of land per person. At the same time, the remaining minority of 10% of the people own more than 16 hectares per person. This fact illustrates the large gap in land holding between the few, who own much, and the many, who own little.
Information obtained from research conducted by the Thai Land Institute Foundation in 2001 reveals that 70% of land for which legal ownership/use documents have been issued in Thailand has been abandoned, left vacant, and not put to productive use, or not fully put to productive use, or put to productive use at a level of under 50%. As a result, the value of the economic loss is estimated to be 127 billion baht per year. This information indicates that there is a certain number of people in Thailand who hold a large amount of land without using it for any productive purpose, but rather are keeping it for speculative purposes, as a commodity to be sold.
At the same time, data from the Ministry of Interior’s registration of the poor indicates that people registered 4.2 million problems relating to land for production or land for settlement. This figure can be broken down into 1.3 million families who have no land at all, 1.6 million families who have some land for production, but not enough for self-sufficiency, and 300,000 families who wish to rent and occupy state-owned land. In total, there are no less than 3.2 million farming or landless families in Thailand that are experiencing problems of land for production.
Recently, in 2008, there was a report from the Fund for Farmer Rehabilitation that there were about 30 million rai of agricultural land mortgaged to the Bank of Agriculture and Cooperative and other private banks by farmers. Land title document of these plots were submitted to the Fund for Farmer Rehabilitation to buy and keep these for farmers. As these plots are being to be transferred the ownership to the bankers.
The questions are whether land titling could solve this severe crisis of land problem in Thailand. If so, what kinds of land title or what policy and program should come along with, when land titling is implemented. Of course, it should be in the way that not to make the above problem more severe and to secure land holding to be possessed by small farmers.
There are two main conditions that should come along when land titling is implemented. The first one, land titling should come under the concept of land distribution and decentralization of land management to local level. The second is that, together with land titling program, the state should have a set of policy that will support small farmers to keep and secure their land. Those include policy on land bank, protection of agricultural land, and protection of small farmer’s rights.
Land titling should come under the concept of land distribution and decentralization of land management
Traditionally, in the rural areas, Thai people used to take community power to manage their resources, not only land but include forest, river and other resources necessary to rural life. Traditional rules or community rules leading by various and informal leaders used to be a mechanism to manage the conflict over resource use among local people. However, this system was demolished and replaced by centralization of power from local community to the state by a mechanism, called state law and state agency.
The centralization of land management had taken away power of local leader and local people to manage their own resources, furthermore, this brought into the conflict of local people with the state agencies and businessmen on land use. Especially, when state agencies and business people expect to use local resources for state-own benefits or pave a way of those benefit to business agenda.
Land conflict cases, member of Thai Land Reform Network (TLRN) in the north, northeast and southern regions were occurred because state agencies announced National Park, Forest Reserve, Forest plantation, State Public Land, on the land held by local people.
In Khon-san district, Chaiyapoom province, the state announced Forest Reserve on farmers’ land, then later on, they allowed Forest State Enterprise to grow Eucalyptus plantation on those land. In these cases, even farmers have Bai Jong or Sor Khor 1, which is normally accepted by Royal Land Department, the farmers could not resist the power of law and state agency. Small farmers have to move out from their own land.
In Trang province, southern part of Thailand, the state announced the Khao-Pu-Khao-Ya National Park on farmer’s land. Even this announcement of National Park was done 18 years after community settlement, small farmers were sued a criminal case by the state as forest encroaching. In some areas, after being sued to move out from the land, small farmers were sued again a civil case to pay for forest and climate damage at the rate of 150,000 baht per rai (0.16 hectare). As of now, there are more than 500 cases sued by Department of National Park on state land encroaching.
These cases are happened as three reasons, first, it was no clear land boundary between state land and farmer’s land, second, it was a mistake on land titling process as farmers have Sor Khor1 but could not access to land titling, and the last, land rights’ proving process has failed.
Many of these cases, small farmers claimed for their land title. They expected to receive land title from the state as they lived on and owned the land before the announcement of National Park and Forest Reserve. In Khon-san case, even head of village and head of district accepted people’ land rights as they realized that local people live and use the land before Forest State Enterprise, but these local authority have no power to solve land conflict and allocate the land to anyone.
Land titling in Thailand could be done at Ministry of Interior, Department of Land (responsible for at least 130 million rai), Ministry of Natural Resource, Royal Forestry Department (responsible for about 100 million rai) in this case, Ministry of Finance, Department of Fiscal responsible for State Public Land, Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperative responsible for land reform zone, Department of Transportation responsible for state railway land. It shows that land titling in Thailand is a complicated process and related with different state agencies.
Normally, the land titling process could be done if only the farmers can prove on their land rights. Unfortunately, by law, those departments will accept only official documents to prove the rights. As in Khon-san case, the RFD will accept the approval methodology only by satellite map which left little chance for farmers to get their rights back.
This is pointed out that if land use policy and land titling are being centralized by state agency, small farmers tend to lose the security of their land, not to get it as it was claimed. The success of land titling program, under the support of the World Bank contrasts with the real situation of small farmers and ordinary people who usually find a difficulty to get access to land rights.
To release this conflict on land titling in state land, the policy makers should accept community rights and decentralize land titling and land management to local authority and community level. In such a way that local people, local authority and the state will work together to secure and solve land holding of small farmer together.
Traditional rules on land management which lies on Thai rural society such a long time like community forest and community land management could be developed and conceptualized as a model of land titling. One model that some group of people are implementing is community land title (CLT) which give rights to land use for farmer, but together with the conditions of examination and control on land management by community organization. There is no land sale to outsider allowed but only to community land bank.
At this stage, CLT could be applied only with the communities that are willing to comply on the CLT condition voluntarily. Another case, it was applied with the communities having conflict on land rights with the state and willing to use the land even without title, secure on land use, accepted by community organization and local state agency, but no land title.
As of now, there are many communities in Thailand running CLT. As their community members accept the rights of their own land, in some areas even without the acceptance of state agency. However, it is a good starting point of decentralization of land management to local level. It also proves out the power of the people who would like to define their own land policy.
Without supporting policy, land titling is just like a two-side sharp sword
One of the weaknesses of land titling program in Thailand is that they do not have programs to keep land to be possessed by small holder. While small farmers normally prefer to get secure title to their land, large number of small farmers running their farms in the existing market and price structure, could not control and define the price of their own produce. Most end up with loss and bankrupt on the investment on their farms. Eighty percent of farmers in Thailand are indebted with BAAC, and 30 million rai of their farms are in the hand of bankers.
Towards this trend, aside from land titling, the state should have a package of policy to protect small farmers to be able to secure and possess their land. These include land bank, protection of agricultural land, and protection of small farmer’s rights.
Land for cultivation is in risk of huge reduction and being transformed to industrial and business use. The zoning on land for cultivation will protect agricultural land from big plantation, resort area, industrial estates and other business purpose which partly stimulate land speculation and land sale. The competition of land use, if allowing market value to be the just how land should be used for, Thailand may end up with big change from agricultural country to be Industrial zone. This is needed to be decided not only by the state but together with the people.
Another policy to secure land is land bank for small farmer. Land bank should be developed both at community and national level. At local level, it will work to support small farmers who could not run their farms with different reasons, such as they are too old, no labor, or they have no will to do farming anymore and etc. The farmer could sell their land to local land bank at the price indicated by community organization and land bank can allocate those plots of land to other community members who want to use the land for production.
While the land bank at national level will work to secure land for small holder at national level. The land bank should have the role to seek for land, like idle land, NPL land or other private land not being used, to allocate to small farmers. The state should have a policy to support initial fund for land bank. Aside from keeping land in the hand of small holders, land bank can work on land reform and land distribution purpose as well.
Together with land bank, land tax could be an efficient policy to manage idle land in the country. If the state could manage to tax idle land at the level of progress, some idle land can be bought and transferred to land bank, waiting for land distribution to farmers.
The last one is the farmer rights’ protection policy. Actually, the farmer’s rights protection policy covers the access and secure to land, supporting agricultural factors at low price, guaranteeing produce price at the level of higher than production cost, supporting formation of local organization, developing processing, marketing of produce to secure household and local economy.
Without the supporting policy, land titling is just like sending small farmers to be part of the world market, fighting in the economic war with empty hands, of course, betting with their land and property. It was showed out in many experiences that small farmers will be loosed.
At last, we should raise a question what is the real goal of land titling. As we may know that land titling is the not a destination, but rather the strategy that the state claims that it can bring successfully farmer to be part of national economy and upgrade their economic status. However, lessons should be raised and discussed among state agencies and the people affected whether farmer could reach the point through the strategy. Otherwise, there is no way to explain except accepting that the state do not think seriously about reaching the point of upgrading farmer’s economic status, but rather to persuade those small farmers to be part of the world market on the farmers’ own risk and expenses. So, land titling is like a two-side sharp sword, that can be used both to uplift farmer’s economic status and at the same time, can be used to kill farmers as well.
Article by Pongtip Samranjit 17/5/2010
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