October 18, 2014 saw the official unveiling by the government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar of its much-awaited draft national land use policy. Once it is finalized, the new policy will guide the establishment of a new overarching framework for the governance of tenure of land and related natural resources like forests for years to come. As such, it is of vital importance.
This preliminary assessment aims to shed light on the key aspects of the draft policy and its potential implications for the country’s majority rural working poor, especially its ethnic minority peoples, although they are not the only ones whose future prospects hinge on how this policy making process will unfold.
The scope of the policy is national and clearly intends to determine for years to come how land will be used – especially by whom and for what purposes – in lowland rural and urban areas as well. Focused critical engagement by civil society groups will likely be needed to ensure that the policy process addresses the concerns and aspirations of all rural working people system wide.
Initial scrutiny suggests that those who see the land problem today as a problem of business and investment – e.g., how to establish a more secure environment particularly for foreign direct investments – are likely to be pleased with the draft policy.
Those who think that the land problem goes deeper – e.g., implicating the social-ecological foundations of the country’s unfolding political-economic transition – are likely to be seriously concerned.
This suggests that focused efforts at trying to influence the content and character of the draft policy are needed. The government’s decision to open the policy process to public participation is therefore a welcome one. Yet whether and to what extent this public consultation process will be truly free and meaningful remains to be seen.