Public Information and Awareness Services for Vulnerable Communities

Natural resources are an important asset for Laos. However, to ensure that they will continue to be so for a long time and for everyone, managing natural resources sustainably is key. Land rights are an integral part of this but too often, entire communities are unaware of their rights and/or face barriers in realizing them. Helvetas thus supports awareness-raising and legal counselling services for poor and vulnerable people in rural districts across 8 provinces to enhance protection and fulfilment of their natural resource and livelihood rights.

  • Project Name
    PIASVC: Public Information and Awareness Services for Vulnerable Communities
  • Project Phase
    2021 to 2025
  • Funding
    Japanese Social Development Fund (JSDF) (administered by the World Bank), co-financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC)
  • Thematic focus
    Voice, Inclusion & Cohesion

Shifting the focus from economic growth to sustainable development

With two thirds of its population living in rural areas and a low population density, Laos is an agrarian economy. Over the past two decades, natural-resource based investments including mining as well as land concessions and leases have played a critical role in the economic growth of the country. Between 2000 and 2016, the number of land concessions and leases increased from less than 100 to over 1000, while the area coverage of concessions expanded from 200,000 to 950,000 ha. However, without due attention to participation, social inclusivity and livelihoods of rural communities, the negative social and environmental costs of natural resource exploitation will outweigh the economic benefits. The sustainable management of natural resources is therefore crucial for the development of Lao PDR.

Secure land tenure needs to be a central part of an inclusive and sustainable management of natural resources. At the moment, the protection of land use rights of communal land holders and of residents in state forestlands remains limited. This is particularly true for minorities, indigenousethnic communities persons and the people living in poverty. Moreover, it is important to look beyond the legal framework itself to understand whether people are indeed able to access these rights. For instance, while women may not face legal obstacles to owning, inheriting, or transacting land, social norms often prevent them from accessing land on the same basis as men. Minority women, poor women and women using land in forest areas or under customary tenure are at additional risk of exclusion. Language barriers may also prevent some people from ethnic communities who do not speak Lao from accessing the necessary information and legal services. Finally, climate change puts these rights further at risk as evacuations due to climate-related disasters may lead to a permanent loss of land.


Working towards equitable access to natural resource rights

The PIASVC project responds directly to the challenge that rural communities often lack awareness of their basic rights to use and access natural resources, including information on how to work with existing government systems to access services, claim rights and access grievance mechanisms. Sufficient access to such information has become increasingly pertinent for the livelihoods of the socio-economically vulnerable and geographically isolated, especially in the context of the rapid expansion of plantation and mining concessions, contract farming, and related impacts on forest use rights and watershed rights. Consequently, improving governance, particularly increasing levels of voice and accountability, enhancing access to legal services and strengthening the rule of law have become critical.

PIASVC aims to improve public access to information on natural resource rights, by providing awareness-raising and supporting enhanced legal counselling services to poor and vulnerable communities with approaches tailored to their unique factors for vulnerability. This will help communities to prepare and address challenges and livelihood impacts stemming from climate change or natural resource-based investments.

Training Session on Contract Farming   ©LIWG
Training Session on Contract Farming ©LIWG
Training of Trainers on Diversity and Gender Inclusion & Community Strengthening on Women's Land Rights and Gender Equality Tools ©LIWG
Training of Trainers on Basic knowledge on customary land rights and Facilitation Skills  ©LIWG

The project focuses on strengthening existing Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) as enablers of change by offering dual support:

1.     Strengthening civil society capacity for improved public awareness: To ultimately reach those closest to the affected communities, Helvetas uses a Training of Trainers Approach. This means that Helvetas trains and coaches member organizations of the Land Information Working Group (LIWG) in relevant topics and skills to enhance public awareness on natural resources and livelihood rights. The participants of these trainings then go on to train other groups closer to the communities including village mediation committees or mass-organization members, local government officials, community facilitators and village-level paralegal volunteers. Those are the ones Helvetas wants to empower so they can ultimately conduct the legal awareness trainings and outreach campaigns, making themselves sure they are tailored to local issues and to the needs of their peers within their communities. 

2.     Providing financial support to awareness-raising initiatives: To enable the LIWG members to deliver the desired and relevant awareness-raising and strengthening of legal counselling services at the community level, Helvetas offers sub-grants that finance such initiatives.