The politics of the emerging agro-industrial complex in Asia’s ‘final frontier’

The war on food sovereignty in Burma

1 January 2013

Burma's dramatic turn-around from 'axis of evil' to western darling in the past year has been imagined as Asia's 'final frontier' for global finance institutions, markets and capital.

Burma's dramatic turn-around from 'axis of evil' to western darling in the past year has been imagined as Asia's 'final frontier' for global finance institutions, markets and capital. Burma's agrarian landscape is home to three-fourths of the country's total population which is now being constructed as a potential prime investment sink for domestic and international agribusiness. The Global North's development aid industry and IFIs operating in Burma has consequently repositioned itself to proactively shape a pro-business legal environment to decrease political and economic risks to enable global finance capital to more securely enter Burma's markets, especially in agribusiness. But global capitalisms are made in localized places - places that make and are made from embedded social relations. This paper uncovers how regional political histories that are defined by very particular racial and geographical undertones give shape to Burma's emerging agro-industrial complex. The country's still smoldering ethnic civil war and fragile untested liberal democracy is additionally being overlain with an emerging war on food sovereignty. A discursive and material struggle over land is taking shape to convert subsistence agricultural landscapes and localized food production into modern, mechanized industrial agro-food regimes. This second agrarian transformation is being fought over between a growing alliance among the western development aid and IFI industries, global finance capital, and a solidifying Burmese military-private capitalist class against smallholder farmers who work and live on the country's now most valuable asset - land. Grassroots resistances increasingly confront the elite capitalist class' attempts to corporatize food production through the state's rule of law and police force. Farmers, meanwhile, are actively developing their own shared vision of food sovereignty and pro-poor land reform that desires greater attention.

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About the authors

Kevin Woods

Kevin Woods has worked on resource politics in mainland Southeast Asia’s uplands since 1999, including northern Thailand, Laos, and Burma. Since 2002 Kevin has focused his research in and on Burma, with particular focus on resource extraction and land rights in northern Burma’s ceasefire zones. Kevin received a master’s degree at Yale University on political ecology with a thesis on China-Burma cross border timber trade and ceasefire development. Since 2008 Kevin has been a doctoral student at UC-Berkeley in political ecology and geography of war. Kevin’s current research and advocacy with TNI is on Chinese agribusiness, drugs, and cross-border development; ethnic land rights in political transition; and ceasefires, post-war investments, and land conflict in the borderlands.

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