Framing the Debate in Asia

ILC initiated the Framing the Debate series in response to the clear need to facilitate a deeper understanding of the key topics at the centre of current land governance debates.

Framing the Debate comprises regionally or nationally focused thematic papers relating to on-going and emerging land-related debates. A single publication may treat a wide range of land governance issues or focus on a specific theme. This publication commissions renowned land experts to share their perspectives on key issues, while acknowledging and fairly discussing
other views.

The papers published in the Framing the Debate series are intended to be accessible to a wide audience of land specialists as well as non-land experts.  This publication serves to better understand the current state of the land governance debate, to trigger further debate and pave the way for future study.

This paper examines land tenure systems and legal frameworks in Asia, and the current major debates around processes of land reform and justice for poor land users. It sets today’s systems in their historical context, tracing their roots back to regimes imposed by colonising powers, mainly European, over a 450-year period. Colonial governance focused first on trade but then evolved to encompass land as a commodity and a source of revenue, with increased concentrations of ownership. Following World War II, many newly independent countries in the region initiated processes of land reform, which played an important part in state building. However, these efforts met with very different degrees of success, determined by individual country conditions and their historical legacies.

The land reform process has remained largely incomplete, but today there is a resurgence of interest. This paper examines various models for reform and their potential to protect rights and access for poor land users. Among the major issues it discusses are women’s access to land, the land rights of indigenous peoples, tenure for forests and public domains, the role of small farms, the phenomenon of land grabbing, and the emerging effects of climate change.