Land reform dangers
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Land reform dangers

The recent decision by the cabinet to amend regulations to allow farmers to use state land beyond agricultural purposes has raised concerns about potential misuse and exploitation for commercial benefits.

While these measures seemingly aim to empower farmers and grassroots communities by providing them with access to capital through the use of their land as collateral, there is a substantial risk that these lands could ultimately fall in the hands of big businesses.

The cabinet agreed in principle last week that it would relax the country's regulations on state land management. This change is intended to increase the value of lands provided to landless farmers, according to deputy government spokesman Karom Polpornklang. Currently, state land used by farmers must only be used in agriculture.

One major hindrance to the development of land under the Agricultural Land Reform Office (Alro) has been the prohibition against transferring these lands to other farmers who are not heirs of the current farmers, unlike other types of property.

Under the approved proposal, if a landless farmer who used their land as collateral for a bank loan failed to repay the debt, ownership of the Alro land could be transferred to another eligible farmer who agreed to take on the debt.

The cabinet also approved a proposal to amend laws and regulations, including those governing Alro and national forest reserves, to allow the granting of state land to landless farmers to be used beyond agricultural purposes.

This marks a significant shift in the country's land reform policy, which has long been a source of controversy.

One primary concern is that relaxing these regulations might lead to large corporations gradually accumulating vast tracts of the land, thereby undermining the original intent of distributing land to benefit grassroots populations.

Even before these legal changes are implemented, there has already been widespread misuse of Alro land, especially near tourist attractions and in developing regions. Various methods are employed to circumvent regulations.

For instance, a landowner might sign a loan agreement with a business owner who wants to use their land for commercial purposes. Although the ownership does not change, the land is used commercially. If the business owner cannot utilise the land for any reason, he or she can reclaim the money back from the landlord under the loan agreement.

Allowing these lands to be used for non-agricultural purposes risks commercialisation and industrialisation, with the benefits accruing mainly to businesses.

As there is a great number of landless farmers, it is crucial to implement robust preventive measures to mitigate risks. For instance, stringent conditions should be imposed on the transfer of land rights to ensure that they do not disproportionately favour wealthy investors over local farmers. Clear guidelines must also be established to maintain a balance between commercial development and agricultural use, preserving the primary purpose of these lands.

While the amendments to land regulations could enhance the economic potential of state-allocated lands, it is crucial to adopt practical measures to prevent exploitation by powerful commercial interests. Ensuring equitable access to land and protecting the rights and livelihoods of smallholders must remain a top priority.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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