Vietnam farmers urge gov't to extend, expand land leases

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Farmers should be allowed to use land leased from the government for agricultural purposes for at least 50 years, heard a conference in the southern province of Long An.

The suggestion was made by local farmers and leaders at a community consultancy program meeting to review the draft of the Amended Land Law. The program was organized by the Institute for Legislative Research and Oxfam an international confederation of 17 organizations working together to find solutions to poverty and injustice.

In Vietnam, people were issued 20-year land leases for agricultural purposes under the 1993 Land Law. During the term, they also reserve rights to transfer, lease and mortgage the given land.

The 2003 Land Law and Decree 181 extended the allocation term, which had been slated to end in October of this year, for farmers who had been using the land purely for agricultural purposes.

However, speaking at the conference, Long An's farmers and authorities said if land is leased for a longer period, at least 50 years, or indefinitely, farmers would be able to work without worries about bank loans secured with the given land, and thus, be a benefit to agricultural development.

A leader from Thanh Tri Commune, Moc Hoa District, also suggested the government should stop limiting farmers' leases to three hectares.

Many people who leased land in 1993, when Vietnam's Land Law was established, have extended their leases to over 20 hectares. But when they mortgaged the land to secure bank loans, only three hectares were considered valid, which was unfair and unreasonable, he said.

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So far the institute and Oxfam have organized the same community consultancy program in the northern province of Hoa Binh and the central province of Quang Binh. The next meeting will be held in the Mekong Delta province of An Giang.

In other related news, the Ministry of Natural Resource and Environment on Friday started collecting public opinions on the draft of Amended Land Law. The survey is slated to end on March 31.

The draft is expected to be voted on this year and applied next year.

Vietnam's government has been urged to adjust its Land Law after several land revocation cases made headlines last year.

In the most high-profile case, on January 5, a farming family and authorities in Tien Lang District, the northern city of Hai Phong, became embroiled in a violent conflict that left six police officers and soldiers injured.

Investigations later established that both the lease and the eviction were illegal.

Five local officials have been dismissed and now face charges of "destroying property," and "lack of responsibility," and another has been reassigned for his involvement in the case. Meanwhile, the farmers have been charged with attempted murder and "obstructing an official mission."

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