Assesses the potential of decentralization reform to improve rural livelihoods and natural resource stewardship in this rapidly-changing region.

Executive Summary


The aim of this report is to establish the linkages between the design and implementation of decentralization policies on the one hand, and the effects of those policies on poverty alleviation, equity, and environmental sustainability, on the other.

With a specific focus on the uplands of mainland Southeast Asia, we analyze how decentralization reforms are changing:

  • Incidence of poverty, and livelihood security;
  • Equity of access to and benefit from natural resources;
  • Natural resource management practices and their impact upon the environment.

Does local autonomy increase the voice of communities as a whole, in decision-making? Or just of local elites? What kind of development choices are prioritized? How does decentralization change institutional and individual incentives for environmental protection?

These are some of the questions that we explore through the case study analysis.

Our analysis is based upon seven in-depth case studies from Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Yunnan, China, accompanied by a survey of the relevant literature. Not only do we identify site and country-specific findings about the opportunities and risks of decentralization, but we also highlight common themes in the decentralization experience across the region.