The Agricultural Land Reform Office (Alro) has revamped its regulations to allow Sor Por Kor landholders to develop their plots into apartment buildings, gas stations and food-processing plants, among others.
The Sor Por Kor programme was enacted in 1975 with the aim of distributing degraded forest tracts to poor and landless farmers to harvest crops.
However, some people have over the years abused the programme by developing their allocated land to house commercial buildings.
Vinaroj Sapsongsuk, secretary-general of Alro, on Friday said the office has revised the rules to permit farmers to maximise the use of their Sor Por Kor land by allowing additional economic activities. The move was also intended to close loopholes, he said.
“The previous regulation gave overly broad definitions of specific activities regarding Sor Por Kor land,” Mr Vinaroj told the media in a press briefing. “The broad definitions lead to various interpretations.”
“So, we decided to revise the regulation to show Sor Por Kor [land] holders of what they can or cannot do on the plots.”
Under the previous version of the regulation, each qualified farmer is entitled to a maximum of 50 rai of land. The land cannot be sold but it can be handed down to their children.
In practice, it had largely been misused. In some areas such as Wang Nam Khieo in Nakhon Ratchasima province, massive Sor Por Kor land plots were turned into luxurious country homes and resorts.
Alro began revising the Sor Por Kor regulation last year, specifically on what activities can be conducted on allocated land plots.
The new ruled now allows 12 uses: farming, gas station, drinking water plant, market place, vehicle dealership, retail shop, post office, healthcare facility, restaurant, school, apartment complex and food processing plant.
Mr Vinaroj said the revision opens the door for investors to open a processing plant on Sor Por Kor land.
“However, each investment project must be approved by Alro and must benefit farmers,” he noted. Regarding the controversy surrounding apartment construction on Sor Por Kor land, Mr Vinaroj stressed a housing project is possible if investors can prove it will benefit farmers.
He denied the accusation that the regulation was revised to favour politicians planning to develop service apartments.
The director-general said that on the contrary, Alro is working with the Department of Public Works and Town & County Planning to draft new regulations to draw demarcated lines for communities, zoning and set up protected land plots for harvesting crops.
“The number of communities has jumped from 5,000 in 1993 to over 10,000 right now,” he said. “If we don’t limit space, there will be less and less number of land for plantations.”
Alro has allocated up to 40 million rai of land to farmers, it said.