Most of the land reforms of recent decades have followed an approach of “formalization and capitalization” of individual land titles (de Soto 2000). However, within the privatization agenda, benefits of unimproved land (such as land rents and value capture) are reaped privately by well-organized actors, whereas the costs of valorization (e.g., infrastructure) or opportunity costs of land use changes are shifted onto poorly organized groups. Consequences of capitalization and formalization include rent seeking and land grabbing. In developing countries, formal law often transpires to work in favor of the winners of the titling process and is opposed by the customary rights of the losers. This causes a lack of general acknowledgement of formalized law (which is made responsible for deprivation of livelihoods of vulnerable groups) and often leads to a clash of formal and customary norms. Countries may fall into a state of de facto anarchy and “de facto open access”. Encroachment and destruction of natural resources may spread. A reframing of development policy is necessary in order to fight these aberrations. Examples and evidence are provided from Cambodia, which has many features in common with other countries in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa in this respect.
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The purpose of the Mekong Land Research Forum online site is to provide structured access to published and unpublished research on land issues in the Mekong Region. It is based on the premise that debates and decisions around land governance can be enhanced by drawing on the considerable volume of research, documented experience and action-based reflection that is available.