General situation of problems relating to land for production and settlement in Thailand, and conflicts between the landless poor and state agencies:
1) 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.
2) 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.
3) 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.
4) 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. Information from surveys and research on land conducted by every institution consistently shows that the land problem is a problem that farmers all over the country recognize as important and regard as being a crisis for Thai farmers. Nevertheless, the government and various agencies have merely adopted measures to continue surveying and studying the issue without solving it in a just manner.
Roots of the Problems:
1) Efforts to solve the problem of land for production in Thai society in the past have not been based on the fundamental principle of distributing land holdings in society in a just way. Instead, they have emphasized rushing ahead with the issuing of legal documents for land for production for the private sector and farmers. However, this approach is unable to solve the problem of the landless.
2) Thailand does not have a law limiting the amount of land one can own. Consequently, the wealthy have the right to buy and own as much land as they want. If they wish to buy half or even more of the country, nobody can limit their right to do so. At the same time, even if the poor lose all their land and the number of landless families rises into the millions, the government will not use its power to step in and manage the situation in order to bring about justice in land holding.
3) Thailand does not have a law stipulating land tax rates that are progressive. Such a law would be an important legal measure making people who own large amounts of land that are kept but not used productively have to pay such a large amount of land tax that they could not hold onto the land for speculative purposes. Instead, they would have to sell this land, thereby enabling the state to purchase it and, through land reform, distribute it to farmers who need land for production.
4) Land reform as carried out in the past did not proceed in accordance with the spirit of the Land Reform Law of 1975, which required the state to use its power and various measures to redistribute privately held land to the landless poor. Instead, it distorted the land reform issue into becoming the distribution of land in national forest reserves to the private sector.
5) In the past, the landless poor and poor without land for settlement had no opportunity and were hence unable to use the power of the state to manage land resources in a just manner. The resolution of land problems is centralized in the state sector, thus giving rise to corruption, the lack of monitoring, and large numbers of cases of land conflicts.
Outbreaks of Conflict:
1) In the northern and southern regions of Thailand, there are many cases of land use/ownership documents that have been issued illegitimately and illegally. This applies to private land and land used by communities, such as land for production, community forests, public land, and land distributed by the Agricultural Land Reform Office. This land, for which use/ownership documents have been issued fraudulently, was often later deposited as collateral for loans, on which debtors defaulted. In these cases, classified as non-performing loans, the banks sued in court, seized the land, and sold it on the market. However, the land then sat vacant, as if abandoned. When people adopted measures to solve the problem of land in a just manner by carrying out land reform themselves by occupying and putting this land to use, the state used its legal power to arrest and prosecute the landless poor.
2) In the northern, southern and northeastern regions of Thailand, because of limitations in information, the state declared conservation forests and forest reserves on top of land that was already being used for production, settlement, public use, or as community forest land of villagers. As a result, cases of conflict between state agencies and villagers emerged. In these cases, the process for proving land rights and resolving the problems is still centered on the state sector. Currently, the government is using its legal power more strictly. Besides pursuing criminal prosecutions of the poor, the state is also filing civil suits, demanding that they pay damages to the National Parks Department in the amount of 2-5 million baht per family.
3) In the northeastern and southern regions of Thailand, the state has granted concessions to private companies, permitting them to enter into long-term leases of land in forest reserves in order to carry out mining operations, plant commercial crops, eucalyptus, rubber, and oil palm trees. When these private companies continued occupying this forest land after the expiration of their leases, or when the leases expired, the landless poor demanded that the state end these leases, but their demands went unheeded. When the people adopted measures to solve their own problems by entering the land and putting it to productive use, thereby carrying out land reform by the people, the state used its legal power to arrest and severely prosecute them.
4) More than 3,700 slum communities around the country are virtually quaking with fear, as they are officially unrecognized and thereby lack security of settlement. They live in a situation in which they can be forcibly evicted by state agencies or private companies any day.
Important principles in solving the problem of land for production in order to create security in the life and existence of the landless poor and the poor without land for settlement around the country:
1) Land is a social resource and an important productive resource. Thai society needs for there to be a just and fair distribution of land holdings so that the poor and small-scale farmers can have their own land for use in building up food security and security of settlement.
2) The state has the duty to protect the settlement and livelihood rights of farmers and the poor, taking into consideration justice and fairness. The state should not blindly adhere to the law, which is in conflict with the condition of society, the economy, and culture of local society.
3) The phenomenon of land that is being held for purely speculative purposes, with an owner but not being put to productive use, indicates the injustice in land holding patterns in Thailand. This land should be used for production and distributed efficiently and appropriately for the benefit of landless farmers and the poor who lack land for settlement.
4) The state must have a policy and operate in accordance with the Directive Principles of Fundamental State Policies, Part 8 on Land, Natural Resources, and Environmental Policy, Article 85 of the 2007 Constitution, which stipulates that the state has the duty to distribute land holdings fairly and to give land ownership rights universally to farmers through land reform or other methods so that they can engage in agriculture.
1) Stop the use of violence by state agencies against the landless poor, who have been accused of violating state law. Such examples of violence include forcible relocation, the destruction of life and property, and the use of the law to threaten and intimidate desperate villagers.
2) Stop arresting and prosecuting villagers who are in conflict with the state over land until a resolution to the problems is reached through policy. In the case of desperate villagers who have been arrested and prosecuted, the state must pass a law immediately to grant amnesty to these villagers.
3) Stop forced evictions of slum communities, and establish a committee with the participation of communities to mediate land conflicts.
1) Establish an independent committee to carry out monitoring of land holdings and land use by the private sector, businesses, and politicians with large land holdings; leases of state land on a large scale; and state land officials who behave in a biased or partial manner.
2) Revoke the ownership/use rights for land with legal documents that were issued illegitimately and land that has been left abandoned and unused by the owner. Use this land instead for land reform by the owner. Use this land instead for land reform by distributing it to the poor with no land for settlement or production.
3) Protect and respect the right of local community organizations to manage land resources and natural resources for the sustainable benefit of people in local society by not employing unfair coercive legal measures that violate the rights of local society.
4) Delay the proclamation and expansion of national park areas, wildlife sanctuaries, and conservation areas under other laws until the process of monitoring, determining, and recognizing the rights of farmers adversely affected by these state policies and laws is completed.
5) Declare a policy to stop the forced eviction of slum communities and establish a committee with the participation of communities to solve the problem of forced evictions of communities. This committee should have as its duty to mediate in conflicts and find solutions in accordance with the principles of the ban mankhong policy.
6) Have the government order an end to the promotion of the Carbon Credit Program of the Forest Industry Organization (FIO), which would encompass 200 plots of FIO forest land with a total area of 1,920 square kilometers in accordance with the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol. Many areas of FIO forest land overlap with or were planted on top of land used by people for production or settlement. These areas are currently being investigated and are undergoing a fact finding process by a joint working group. The government must expedite and complete the monitoring and investigation of these areas, and then carry out land reform with this land by giving it to people who desperately need it.
1) Carry out the amendment, repeal, or cancellation of laws and policies, resolutions, orders, regulations, and mechanisms that adversely affect and violate the rights of the people to participate in the management of resources and access rights to land, such as the National Park Act, the Preservation and Protection of Wildlife Act, the Forest Reserve Act, the Forestry Act, the Orchard Act, the Cabinet Resolution of 30 June 1998, etc.
2) Foster the strengthening of the people’s sector; enable the people to join together to form groups for collective action and participate in mechanisms that determine policy on land and the approach to the development of natural resources together with the state; and access mechanisms for monitoring the operations of state agencies in administering land resources at all levels.
3) Provide full support and assistance to poor farmers by cancelling their debt that has arisen due to the erroneous economic policies of the state; support the system of sustainable agriculture, which is safe for producers and consumers; guarantee crop prices that make production worthwhile considering the production costs that farmers must pay; assist with product processing and support marketing in local markets; end economic and free trade policies that squeeze farmers into production under a market mechanism that is monopolized by big export companies.
4) Adopt legal and policy measures to systematically distribute land ownership rights as follows: amend the Agricultural Land Reform Act of 1975 to guarantee the right to carry out land reform by the people; implement a progressive rate of taxation on land; establish agricultural protection areas; set up a land bank; and allow slum communities living on state land to rent this land for 30 years in order to develop their settlements.
Information support provided by:
Four Regions Slum Network
Northern Peasants’ Federation
Northeastern Land Reform Network
Southern Community Forest Network
Southern Land Reform for the Poor Network
Network of People Affected by Land Problems in the Tsunami Zone
Local Action Links
Union for Civil Liberties
Article byLand Reform Network of Thailand 20/5/2010
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