By Analie Gepulani Neiteler*
Across the Mekong region, ‘development’ has become synonymous with rapid economic growth, to be achieved through predominantly large-scale, private investments. The development model promoted by the region’s governments prioritizes trade and investment liberalization, and privatization. Private investment is sought in virtually every sector of the economy from energy, oil, minerals, agriculture and food processing to education, health, tourism, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, transportation and urban infrastructure.
Forest destruction and encroachment on public land are issues that have figured highly on the agenda of the current military government. Since 2014, the introduction and implementation of controversial legislations, cabinet resolutions and policies, including NCPO Orders no. 64/2014 and 66/2014, have restricted access and use of land and forestry land by marginalized and landless peasants, indigenous peoples, and villagers, despite previous recognitions by the Constitution of their rights and a long period of settlement on the land.
On 21 March, the International Day of Forests, 200 organisations are reminding the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) that its misleading forest definition dating back to 1948 must be changed. The definition has allowed the plantations industry to hide the devastating ecological and social impacts of large-scale monoculture tree plantations behind a positive forest image.