「Land Investments and Community-based Environmental Governance in Laos and Myanmar」

「Land Investments and Community-based Environmental Governance in Laos and Myanmar」

Miles Kenney-Lazar

Photo 1: Rubber tree plantation in southern Laos

Prior to arriving at CSEAS, my work was predominantly focused on researching and writing about the governance of industrial tree plantation projects in Laos as part of my doctoral dissertation. From July 2013 to March 2015 I lived in Laos, conducting fieldwork on the politics, governance, and impacts of state land concessions, particularly for agricultural and tree plantations. While based in the capital, Vientiane, I made frequent field trips to eastern Savannakhet province of southern Laos, near the Vietnamese border, to conduct fieldwork. There, I studied the operations of two major tree plantation companies: a multinational Chinese paper and pulp company planting eucalyptus and acacia trees and a state-owned Vietnamese rubber enterprise. To carry out this research I held interviews and focus groups with farming households, village leaders, company representatives, and government officials. I collected project documents, maps, and photographs. And throughout the research I practiced participant observation. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Fulbright-Hays program, and the National Geographic Society of the United States.

After completing my fieldwork, I returned to Clark University in the US to analyze the data collected and write my dissertation, while also teaching undergraduate courses. Ultimately, my dissertation focused on the ways in which the state’s capacity to expropriate land from peasants for the development of tree plantations is governed in part by the capacity of peasants to resist, which in itself is shaped by varying political relationships among the state, peasants, and plantation companies. Furthermore, within the authoritarian political context of Laos, resistance moves with rather than against the state, meaning that it refashions various forms of state ideology, policy, connections, and ultimately state power. In doing so, some peasants have been able to engage in quiet acts of resistance that have enabled them to maintain access to significant portions of land. From this work, I have submitted three papers for publication in geography journals, which are currently under peer review.

During and after my dissertation research I have worked closely with a number of non-academic organizations on advocacy and research. My field research was hosted by the Lao Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, with whom I worked to develop a methodology for evaluating the economic, social, and environmental impacts of land concessions. I also worked with various NGOs such as the Land Issues Working Group and their network organizations, particularly Village Focus International and the Global Association for People and the Environment (GAPE), to conduct research in support of their land policy recommendations. I also worked these organizations to write a report on the links between land tenure and food security in Laos. Additionally, I have worked with the Center for International Forestry Research on a research project evaluating the governance and impacts of rubber production in Laos and Myanmar, with the NGO Forest Trends on research to investigate the impacts of agricultural plantations on forest conversion, and with GAPE to conceptualize a model of equitable access to protected areas in Laos. From this work I have authored a number of policy and advocacy oriented reports.

Photo 2: Conducting a village focus group interview