Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of the Director-General of FAO, I wish to welcome you all to this important conference, sponsored jointly by FAO and the World Bank and hosted by the Department of Lands, Ministry of Interior, Thailand.
Thailand has made substantial progress in agricultural production. It is among the world’s leading food producing nations and has a wealth of expertise to offer to others in the fields of rural development and nutritional programmes. The keen interest and personal involvement of Thailand’s Royal Family have been crucial elements in these achievements.
But more needs to be done. The progress has been neither adequate nor equitable enough for the remaining 11 million undernourished people in Thailand. Major reforms in agricultural areas are still needed and development policies and programmes should further target the small landholders who constitute the majority of the rural poor. The government’s policy package in this regard is impressive, with the one-million-baht village development fund, the people’s bank micro-credit scheme and the ‘one tambon, one product’ initiative. Still in the pipeline is the prime minister’s idea for improved land property rights. This brings us to the subject of this conference. Land ownership is, not surprisingly, frequently complex in nature. Its value, its immobility, its permanence, its variety of uses and relationships, give i t a distinctive character as an asset and render the definition of its ownership liable to complication, doubt and dispute. In the case of goods, possession is ordinarily relied on as proof of full ownership; with land, the person in possession may well not be the owner. He or she may, for example, be a tenant paying rent to someone else. Both goods and land may be the subject of mortgage, but it is a particular and economically important quality of land that clearly owned land is a very good security for credit. If, on the other hand, there are undiscovered problems in the nature of the ownership, this might afterwards deprive the purchaser of a large part or even the whole of the value of a purchase.
In many countries in the developing world where land continues to be one of the main available assets, farmers often have very insecure rights to the land they cultivate. Where a household’s livelihood depends on access to and productive use of land, and much of their wealth is held in this form, insecure or ill-defined land tenure can greatly reduce their incentive to make investments that would lead to the most efficient land use. In such situations, establishment of mechanisms that can be used to identify parcels of land and formally recognize property rights reduce the potential for conflict and insecurity. Moreover, the ability to exchange ownership rights to land in the sales markets provides the basis for using land as a collateral in financial markets.
Through its technical cooperation activities FAO has been associated with land titling programmes in a number of countries of the Asia and Pacific region, including Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam. In Thailand, the Organization has been associated with the government’s National Land Titling Programme from the early 1990s onwards, largely through its Cooperative Programme with the World Bank. Assistance was provided to the Thai government in undertaking various project cycle activities, including design and preparation, supervision and evaluation.
In Thailand, all land belonged traditionally to the Crown, but landholders were commonly recognized as being rightful owners who could dispose of their property quite freely. Before the 20th century, land use rights were determined by custom, and villagers had free access to land. The first official system of land registration was introduced in Thailand in 1901 with the examination of claims, registration of documents, issuance of titles, and the establishment of a Department of Lands, but land use practices continued much as before. In the past few decades, population growth has exhausted the supply of unused agricultural lands and led to severe deforestation. Concern over the reduction in forest area and the legality of private settlements on public lands has prompted considerable land legislation and led to the establishment of the present system of land administration.
The government’s concerns over land tenure and productivity problems led to the establishment in 1980 of a policy to accelerate issuance of title deeds and improvements of the Department of Lands’ operation and land right documentation and registration. However, the implementation of the national land titling programme would have taken over a hundred years to cover the whole country and in 1984 the government launched a 20-year accelerated programme with support from the World Bank and grant co-financing from Australia for technical assistance and overseas training.
Since its inception over 8.8 million land titles have been issued to landowners. This programme has been widely imitated and features components of policy, institutional, technical, managerial, legal and educational development. The expansion of land titles has contributed to increased credit access, higher agricultural productivity, greater incentives in land and rising land values. These gains have contributed to sustained poverty reduction and economic growth. The programme, considered highly successful, is now in its eighteenth year of implementation. The last phase, the Fourth Land Titling Project, has been prepared by the Department of Lands for implementation during the period 2001 – 2004.
There are a number of principles that have emerged from a review of World Bank supported land titling projects. We are confident that this meeting will be an excellent opportunity to explore the lessons and impacts of the land titling programme and to discuss what worked well and what did not work, and to provide an opportunity to the government to identify gaps in land policy and administration that could be addressed with further interventions.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The poor and hungry are the invisible and unrecognized backbone of Thai agriculture. Yet in rural areas, they – women and men alike – remain hostage to backward, feudal traditions. They very rarely control assets, in particular land, which seriously reduces their ability to protect their basic rights and limits their potential for full development. Small farms could be at the centre of the revival of rural areas and agricultural development, benefiting the vast majority of the rural populace. Your deliberations and the outcome of your work should contribute to improving how farmers apply sustainable agricultural technologies and natural resource management practices and provide them with the means to participate in the country’s progress to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.