21 October 2012

Community Land Titles in Thailand

“Having money is not sustainable but having land is,” said a villager from Baw Kaew protest village. Villagers from this area were evicted from land they had lived on for many generations. The government said it would give back the land after the contract with investors expired. This did not happen so villagers took the land back. Some villagers are currently being charged with trespassing and have been told to leave the land.

In Thailand, 90% of private land is held by 10% of the people, 40% of farmers are landless or own a small amount of land and 4.8 million people lack land access.

In the early 1990’s, six million people, 1,253 communities, were relocated. These people did not have land titles although they have been living and working the land for generations. The government claimed the land for forest conservation.

There are two types of legitimate land ownership in the eyes of the state: state ownership and private ownership. According Baw Kaew villagers, in the past people just work land and people would know, they did not need land titles. People working land do not have land titles but have a tax receipt that states they work the land. These tax receipts do not give people the right to the land but a right to work on the land.

As a way to gain the land back, NGOs and communities affected by eviction have been fighting for community land title deeds. These community land title deeds are a tool for landless people to gain land back. It is a community based land management with each community having a community land title committee. This committee determines the rules and regulation community members must follow to be included in the title deed. Community members would not be able to sell land to outside parties. Some NGOs and villagers believe that individual land title will not make land ownership stable. A community land title deed will protect land from corporations for future generations.

The question is, are community land title deeds the answer for the landless in Thailand. Professor Archela brings in some aspects of a community land title deed that are not often spoke about by NGOs. Community land title deeds can be used as a tool to control villagers. To be part of the community land title villagers must follow rules and regulations and many community land titles require members to use the land as a means of producing. Villagers may want an individual land title, but throughout the exchanges this was not even an option for communities. She also brought up the point that community land titles will not bring about equality if only the poor are offered this type of land title.

She also brings up the idea that a community is not homogenous. Within each community there are wealthy villagers and poor villagers. Throughout the units I feel that communities have been portrayed as homogenous with no conflict within that community. If one person in the community land title deed decides to sell they must sell to another person in community. The wealthier may buy the land and eventually land distribution within the community will be disproportionate. The take away point is that one cannot generalize about a community. This can be seen in Thoong Lui Lai and Huay Rahong villages. In Thoong Lui Lai there were originally 103 members in the community land title group; now there are only 70. In Huay Rahong 30% of villagers do not agree with the community forest set up. However portraying a community as homogenous does have benefits like giving a more powerful voice to communities.

There are both good and bad aspects of a community land title deed and portraying a community as homogeneous. It is important to bring up and talk about both sides.

April DesCombes
Occidental College


Galen Hiltbrand said...

I am glad that our group was able to receive a lecture from Professor Archela because she made offered us an opinion about community land titles we might have not encountered otherwise if we had only talked to villagers and NGOs. I do understand how uniting to obtain community land titles can be beneficial for villagers to gain land. However, I thought that it was especially interesting that when we asked the NGO, Mr. Pramote, who was working with the villagers in Baw Kaew if he personally would want to be a part of a community land title, he said no. His reasoning was that under a capitalist system, there are not good conditions for a community land title. He added that if there were more justice, he thinks land could be community land. It surprised me that he encourages villagers to become a part a commitment that he personally would not want to have since the world’s current conditions are not ideal for it.

Erin said...

Community Land Titles are definitely one of the things I’ve struggled most with in our land-rights studies. I think it may be my individualist culture rearing its head into my thought process, but I just can’t see how a community land title system could be effective or fair. I understand that the community set-up gives the villagers more power to bargain, but it comes at the expense of their rights to own land on their own. It seems as though the villagers are not fighting for property rights, but land-use rights, which may be more important right now, but put them and the next generation at a disadvantage in the future. Problems with unifying a village or community have come up in every unit and most exchanges with villagers and NGOs, and Professor Archela made an excellent point when she stated that villages are not homogenous. In my mind, participants in a community land title are binding themselves and their children to their neighbors and to a plot of land that they may not ever be able to truly own, let alone trade in a fair way should they make the decision to do so in the future. My question is, is that really what the people want? And what about their children?

Kristine said...

Great article. The situation in Thailand is similar to the situation in my home country where a lot of people doesn't have lands to build at least a livable house. Good thing the Thais are determined for giving out community land titles.