78% of Lao PDR’s total land area is mountainous, and current forest cover is estimated at 62%. Land degradation challenges in Laos include soil erosion from natural disasters, land use change from development projects, overuse of chemicals in agriculture and industrials in the Northern and central parts of Laos, drought events which reduce crop productivity, deforestation, and shifting Cultivation/slash of land use.

Although agriculture has been gradually declining in terms of its contribution to GDP over recent years, it still continues to play a major role in Lao PDR. The Lao PDR Agriculture Census 2010/2011 revealed that 20% of rural villages report that their land is lightly degraded, 8%— moderately degraded, and 1%—severely degraded. Most of the degradation is concentrated in uplands on deforested lands, where the reduced natural rotation cycle results in soil erosion and pesticide pollution in rubber plantations.

The country is prone to seven main hazards: floods, droughts, storms, landslides, epidemics, and Unexploded Ordinance (UXO). Since the majority of people living in rural areas depend on agriculture for livelihood, the presence of UXO makes the use of lands for agriculture and community purposes impossible and unsafe which in turn negatively affects socio-economic development of the country. Food shortage and disrupted livelihoods were also identified as a result of UXO, and the presence of UXO widens the disparity between urban and rural areas leading to unequal opportunities among the population. From 1997 to 2021 (April), Lao PDR has recorded more than 70,000 hectares of land that have been cleared from UXO and more than 1.6 million UXO items have been destroyed. Laos has launched a dedicated additional national Sustainable Development Goal, SDG 18 “Lives safe from UXO.”

It is estimated that 75-80% of the population live in rural areas. Customary tenure arrangements exist in most rural villages and across most ethnic groups. For centuries, rural communities have managed common property resources for the benefit of all community members, and have used and protected specific resources such as forests and waterbodies. Since the 1990s, however, customary village land has come under increasing threats, leading to loss of access to land and land tenure insecurity.


The drivers of land degradation in Lao PDR include, among others: commercial plantations and the use of chemical fertilizer and heavy machinery; unsustainable agriculture practices e.g., shifting cultivation in upland, grazing; soil degradation (erosion/acidic/salinity); landslides/droughts/climate change (natural disaster); deforestation; land use conversion to other types; infrastructure development; mining; hydropower development; and improper land use planning.

In the 1990s, customary village land came under increasing threats, especially from the implementation of the national shifting cultivation stabilization programme, which was implemented through land and forest allocation (LFA) activities between 1994 and 2006. Under LFA, shifting cultivation practices were limited to three parcels only per family for rotational use, and great emphasis was placed on forest protection. As LFA activities were carried out in around 50% of Lao villages, they had widespread impacts on the collective use of village land, contributing to decreased access to land and natural resources and food insecurity.

A further factor leading to the loss of access to land and land tenure insecurity has been the arrival of outside investors. In view of promoting increased investments in land, the Lao Government allocated numerous land concessions to domestic and foreign investors. The vast majority of these concession areas overlap with community land, thereby causing an increase in land disputes, and threatening rural livelihoods. Resettlement has also been a key strategy to facilitate the implementation of a range of rural development and poverty reduction policies. From 2004 onwards, Lao Government policies and strategies called for the resettlement of remote communities into consolidated village clusters to maximize poverty reduction activities and accelerate economic development. One result was that relocated villages lost access to their customary land and faced situations of land scarcity.

Challenges to the land administration sector in Lao PDR are constraining the overall development of the country. Only 1.5 million land plots, out of 3-3.5 million, have so far been registered. Unregistered land owners are at higher risk of losing their land; may not receive adequate compensation if their land is expropriated; pay higher interest rates on loans; and have higher tenure insecurity.

The land administration system is largely paper-based, meaning there is limited access and archives are difficult to manage. As land administration services (e.g. registration of transactions, mortgages, etc.) are not always accessible, residents often resort to informal land transactions.


Key policies and governance approach

In Laos, key policies on land include the Constitution of Lao PDR (2015); Law on Land  (Amended 2019); Ministerial Instruction on the Land Survey, Measurement and Mapping (No. 6035, dated 27 August 2014); Allocation of Land and Occupation Law (2018);  Eighth Five Year Plan on National Socio-Economic Development Plan (NSEDP 2016 -2020); Party Central Committee’s Resolution on Land Development and Management in new period, No.026, 2017, which guides the revision and implementation of the Land Law; National Land Use Master Plan, 2018;  and the National Growth and Poverty Eradication Strategy (2004).

Since 2012, the Lao Government has been revising land-related policies and legislation. Land-use rights are enshrined in the Land Law and the Constitution. The new Land Law, passed in 2020, recognizes the rights of individuals, customary land users, legal entities, and collectives to hold and use land. It includes, among other things, new provisions concerning the limited ownership of land-use rights by foreigners under certain circumstances, and the limited ownership of individual units in a condominium or apartment building. 

In addition, Lao Government policies continue to place significant emphasis on forest protection. The 2005 Forestry Strategy provided a target of 70% forest coverage by 2020, and this has been restated in the Party Resolution on Land Management, issued in 2017.



The government has set a target of issuing another 1.2 million titles by 2025 but faces various challenges. Authorities have needed considerable additional resources to scale up land registration activities and reduce the costs of delivering titles, a procedure that is currently too expensive for many land holders.

In addition, Lao PDR needs to prevent against and crack down on violations of the Land Law. The government should continue to improve its organizational structure, working method and personnel capacity of relevant authorities in a systematic and robust manner. It should also continue to improve laws, regulations governing land of each sector, management, income collection and fulfilment of obligations in the proper management of land use rights. There is an urgent need to enhance the enforcement of remedy measures to tackle difficult, sensitive problems and other negative phenomena notably on land-related disputes in compliance with laws and to expedite the finalization of the master plan regarding the national land allocation and use, and to implement it in a strict manner.


Initiatives and Development Plans

 A $31 million Enhancing Systematic Land Registration Project will be run by the government’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment over the next five years. Its objective is to modernize land administration and scale up land registration to support the country’s aim of extending the benefits of recognized land rights to more of the Lao population.

The new project will invest in modernizing land administration by making services faster, digitizing procedures and by using technology to record and maintain land information. It will also improve authorities’ capacity to sustain land registration and administration services over the long term and protect land records from fire or flooding.

The project will build on the work of two previous World Bank-funded Lao land titling projects that ran from 1996 to 2009 and issued over half a million land titles. In addition to increasing the number of land use certificates issued, the project announced it will create and expand the maps that show all land holdings across the country, and support the further development of land policies and regulations.

Co-financing of over $6.3 million for the project comes from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, which will support activities including land registration, enhanced engagement with the public, handling of grievances, and improved service delivery. In addition, the German development bank KfW is providing parallel financing of €7 million through a grant to accelerate land registration in four northern provinces, Xieng Khouang, Houaphan, Oudomxay, and Xayaboury, through a land management project.

  • Expand the dissemination of information on the danger of UXOs in at-risk areas.
  • Increase UXO clearance to ensure the safety of the people and national development; and ensure adequate investment in financial and human resources.
  • Foster collaboration on UXOs among relevant sectors and identify clear roles and responsibilities; and provide capacity building to government officials.
  • Raise public awareness on the importance of SDG 18 and to promote the participation of citizens to achieve the common goal and how the achievement will benefit the society including provide space for young people to have their voices heard and be part of a decision making.
  • Complement the new land regulatory framework for the legal recognition of customary tenure and prepare comprehensive implementation guidelines.
  • Strengthen capacity development and awareness creation.
  • Consolidated training of the District Office of Natural Resources and Environment/ District Agriculture and Forestry Office, and Provincial Office of Natural Resources and Environment/Provincial Agriculture and Forestry Office staff based on the new land guidelines and the revised legal framework will be necessary.
  • The various initiatives to create legal awareness and training for rural communities need to be continued and expanded. To operate effectively, the Lao Government needs to actively endorse and support these campaigns, which should not only be left to non-governmental organizations and donors. Legal aid could also be provided so that communities involved in land disputes are able to defend their customary tenure rights.
  • Prepare for and implement the rollout of customary land rights registration with a comprehensive and clustered approach.
  • Firmly establish targets for land registration in rural areas in national strategies and plans.
  • Clarifying the contribution of national programs to combat the land degradation in Lao PDR and integrate  LDN targets into national sustainable development policies.
  • It is necessary to identify the soil degradation hotspots for each province and focus efforts on hot spot of land degradations.
  • Survey and assessment the data and information regarding Land Cover, Land productivity dynamics (LPD) and Soil Organic Carbon.