Turning Land into Capital, Turning People into Labor: Primitive Accumulation and the Arrival of Large-Scale Economic Land Concessions in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic

Ian G. Baird


In recent years the Lao government has provided many foreign investors with large-scale economic land concessions to develop plantations. These concessions have resulted in significant alterations of landscapes and ecological processes, greatly reduced local access to resources through enclosing common areas, and ultimately leading to massive changes in the livelihoods of large numbers of mainly indigenous peoples living near these concessions. Many have lost their agricultural and forest lands, or means of production, making it difficult for them to maintain their former semi-subsistence livelihoods, and thus compelling many to take up employment on the same plantations that displaced them, despite having to work for low wages and under poor conditions. Using two case studies involving large economic land concessions in southern Laos, I argue that applying the theoretical concept of primitive accumulation is useful for better understanding the political processes and motivations of government officials, and their justifications for the rural dispossession that is occurring in a nominally ‘socialist’ country.


Capitalism, Socialism, Primitive Accumulation, Labor, Land Concessions, Land Grabbing

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