This article is from ECHO Asia Note # 40.
The Mekong region lies at the intersection of Southeast, East and South Asia, between two Asian giants: China and India. It comprises five countries that host the bulk of the Mekong river watershed: Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. The Mekong region is exceptional for its social and ecological richness. Home to 237 million people, the region includes 329 ethnic groups speaking 410 distinct languages, making the region one of the most ethnically-diverse in the world. The Mekong is also a global biodiversity hotspot, with a high degree of ecological and agricultural diversity.
The Mekong region has undergone rapid socio-economic growth over the past two decades alongside pronounced transformations in a number of key sectors. These changes have significantly altered relations between the rural majority and increasingly-affluent urban centres. Land—as both a foundation for national development and the livelihoods of millions of rural and agricultural communities—continues to play a central role in the Mekong region. In all five countries, smallholder farmers play a crucial role in the development of the agricultural sector and, through it, food security and economic growth. However, rural communities are being increasingly swept up into regional and global processes within which they are not always well-positioned to compete. Worse, they are often undermined by national policies that fail to ensure their rights or enable them to reap potential benefits.
Understanding the changing role and contribution of land to development is critical to inform policy, planning and practices toward a more sustainable future. The State of Land in the Mekong Region aims to contribute to a much-needed conversation between all stakeholders by bringing together data and information to identify and describe the key issues and processes revolving around land, serving as a basis for constructive dialogue and collaborative decision-making.