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Southern Peasant Federation opposes ill-conceived land rights policy

The Southern Peasant Federation of Thailand (SPFT) met with the Parliamentary Committee on Land Issues and Land Deeds on 26 – 27 June to discuss land rights issues and called for realistic allocation of land to achieve sustainable livelihood for the landless.

Members of the Southern Peasant Federation of Thailand (SPFT) attending the meeting.

On 26-27 June 2020, the Southern Peasant Federation of Thailand discussed land rights issues with the Parliamentary Committee on Land Issues and Land Deeds, led by Sathit Wongnongtoei, during its official visit to the province of Surat Thani.

Members of the delegation in visit to the province of Surat Thani during the meeting.

Bangkok 3 July 2020 – The Southern Peasant Federation of Thailand (SPFT) – one of protection international’s W/HRDs collective partner – restated its opposition to the National Land Policy Committee (NLPC) policy and called on the Parliamentary Committee on Land Issues and Land Deeds to provide for the realistic allocation of land in order to allow for sustainable livelihoods for the landless. The Parliamentary Committee on Land Issues and Land Deeds will have 90 days to study the land issues and make recommendations to Parliament.

Sathit Wongnongtoei, who formerly chaired the Southern Region Working Group, visited the province of Surat Thani along with three other parliament members in order to hear the concerns of the local community. The deputy provincial governor of Surat Thani Province, the Chai Buri district chief, and representatives of the Agricultural Land Reform Office and Police, also joined the visit to speak with women and men human rights defenders (W/HRDs) of the Klong Sai Pattana Community, the Chaiburi District, and Surat Thani.

The Klong Sai Pattana Community in Surat Thani Province is one of the five peasant communities of the Southern Peasant Federation of Thailand (SPFT). The community was established in 2008 by landless farmers who, on seeing the expiration of a private company’s license that had been illegally occupying the land, moved in to utilize part of the area.

The right to defend land rights is critical for the landless farmers in Thailand. Access to land is a multidimensional issue that affects a number of other economic, social and cultural rights, and disputes over land are often the cause of conflicts. It is key for their security and food sovereignty, eradication of poverty, and as well as their struggle to promote organic agriculture. It also contributes to mitigating the greenhouse effect and global warming.

After discussing with representatives of SPFT and visiting the Klong Sai Pattana community, Sathit admits that land allocation and use should be determined by the types of land and the communities’ needs. The proposed cookie-cutter approach to land allocation such as those imposed by the NLPC would only cause further problems. The Committee members also recognize that SPFT’s collective land management approach is more sustainable as it is based on collective decision-making and management of the land.

“What we truly want is the guarantee for land rights use, especially for those who have been utilizing the land for more than 10 years. We should be entitled to legal rights to use it. How are we supposed to be intruders, and still remaining as intruders for the rest of our lives?” said Mr Boonrit Pirom, a member of SPFT.

“I remember we discussed this issue 12-13 years ago, and we are still talking about it today. Why are we still not making any progress?” he asked.

A member of SPFT said that, in addition, problems still exist especially in terms of the necessary infrastructure needed to support the farmers in selling their produce to the market. He commented that the authorities should provide and invest in roads, as well as guarantee land rights use for all landless farmers.

These issues have persisted for over 10 years and have worsened with the junta’s incoherent land policy. After the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) came into power in 2014, the National Land Policy Committee (NLPC) was established to centralize the policies relating to land use and land titles. However, the SPFT finds there are multiple problems with the regulations that the NLPC issued. While one regulation states that only heads of the household can register for land allocation, for example, another states that those eligible must be so poor that they do not have any housing nor house registration.

Due to another problematic regulation, whoever owns land or has an annual income more than 30,000THB (82 THB/day) is not eligible to receive Sor Por Kor land*. This excludes many low-income families who already own small pieces of land from being eligible for additional land allocation from the state. Since the current minimum wage (325 baht/day) is lower than the set annual income indicator, it also excludes those that may be considered the country’s working poor.

The current land allocation managed by SPFT provides 10 rai (1.6 hectares) of land per family, in addition to collective farming areas used to grow marketable crops. The scheme is currently in conflict to the NLPC committee. The NLPC policy set the universal scheme of allocation to 6 Rai (0.96 hectare) provision per family, 5 of which to be used for farming and 1 for residence, which peasants consider to be barely enough to make a sustainable living.

In 2009, SPFT, along with the People’s Movement for a Just Society (P-Move) and the National Land Reform Network of Thailand, succeeded in getting a Regulation of the Office of the Prime Minister which would result in the issuance coordinate the issuing of community land titles around the country and allocation unused public land for landless farmers to utilise. In total, 486 communities received land based on community land titles, including the SPFT. If this regulation is implemented, it will enable landless farmers to be able to do the sustainable land management, which is also key to reducing the impacts of climate change.  Giving the rights to ‘community land title’ also means guaranteeing that this land will also pass on to future generations of affected families.

Formed earlier this year by the parliament, the Committee’s aim is to study the land rights issues related to land deeds nationwide and to issue recommendations to the parliament for effective solutions. The Committee commits to bringing contextualised issues forward to parliament in order to resolve ongoing land problems.

*Sor Por Kor land is agricultural land, usually found in rural areas, consisting of public land, which the government can allocate to needy families for agricultural purposes with a portion meant for residence.

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