The colour of money

TNI's Tom Kramer on human rights and investment in Burma
01 December 2010
In the media

Despite a questionable human rights record, foreign governments and companies are investing billions of dollars to get their hands on the country's natural resources

Published at
Bangkok Post

A drug policy briefing paper was released last week by the Amsterdam-based Transnational Institute (TNI), an independent international research and policy advocacy institute that produces briefing papers and reports on issues related to democracy and equality. The briefing paper focused on the impact China's huge agricultural investments in Burma will have on local communities and farmers. The TNI paper said China is motivated to promote agricultural investment in Burma as a means to eradicate opium production and drug trafficking on its borders.

"The huge increase in Chinese agricultural concessions in Burma and Laos is driven by China's opium crop substitution programme, offering subsidies and tax waivers for Chinese companies." TNI's Tom Kramer said these investments are shaping the future of Burma and the impacts will be felt by millions of people. "Unfortunately, big business is the winner. These investments were supposed to provide alternative sources of income and be a way out of poverty, but the poorest of the poor will benefit least."

The TNI briefing paper noted the agricultural investments include large-scale rubber, sugarcane, tea and corn plantations. Mr Kramer said that China encourages agricultural investment diversity, but the results are almost exclusively mono-plantations, usually rubber. "The increase in agricultural investments in northern Burma has impacted on local food security. People are losing access to income, access to land to grow other crops and to graze animals," he said. "Large mono-plantations have resulted in huge tracts of deforested land, degraded landscapes, land confiscation and even more landless farmers."

Mr Kramer said both the Burmese regime and the opposition groups need to talk more about developing sustainable agricultural policies and not just focus on politics. "Policies need to be developed, discussed and reflect the community views. It is in the long-term interest of all to develop sustainable policies that benefit the majority of the people and not just the well-connected few."