The recent political and economic liberalization in Burma/Myanmar, while indicative of some positive steps toward democratisation, has increased foreign and domestic investments and geared the economy toward industrialisation and large-scale agriculture. Land governance procedures and implementation tend to favour the more powerful and well-connected, with little protection mechanism for the majority smallholding farmers in the country.
Jennifer Franco, Hannah Twomey, Khu Khu Ju, Pietje Vervest, Tom Kramer
28 January 2016
“Land is like our vein; it is vital for our living. After our land was confiscated, we don’t know what to do for our livelihood,” says a farmer from Kachin State in Myanmar. Today many inhabitants of rural communities in Myanmar live under threat of losing their lands in a battle for resources spurred by ethnic conflict, exploitative land laws, and powerful economic actors. The existence of a legal right to the land does not translate into that right being respected in practice, and people across the country are now working to protect their right to the land.
The phrase “land grab” has become common in Myanmar, often making front page news. This reflects the more open political space available to talk about injustices, as well as the escalating severity and degree of land dispossession under the new government.
New data shows that less than one-quarter of the area of large-scale land concessions awarded to businesses since 2010-11 is being used for agriculture. This raises “serious questions” about the government’s land use policies.
“Important steps have been made in national reconciliation during the past two years. But promises and ceremonies will never be enough. The long-standing aspirations of Burma’s peoples for peace and justice must find solutions during the present time of national transition.”
A briefing paper jointly published earlier this month by the Netherlands-based think tank groups has asserted that new ceasefires that have been signed since 2011 have further facilitated land grabbing in conflict-affected areas where large development projects in resource-rich ethnic regions have already taken place.
About 40 ethnic activist groups are calling on the government, ethnic militias and the international community to address a surge in land-grabbing, as companies move into Burma’s ethnic regions following recent ceasefire agreements.
The report “Developing Disparity: regional investment in Burma’s borderlands,” by the Transnational Institute and the Burma Centre Netherlands, said Burma’s reforms are helping to rapidly integrate it with the burgeoning regional economy and the country’s ethnic areas are likely targets for foreign businesses.
Jennifer C. Franco is a research associate in the Agrarian and Environmental Justice as well as the 'Myanmar in Focus' Programmes of TNI, and an adjunct professor at the College of Humanities and Development Studies (COHD) of the China Agricultural University in Beijing....
Saturnino 'Jun' M Borras Jr. is a Filipino political activist and academic who has been deeply involved in rural social movements in the Philippines and internationally since the early 1980s. He was part of the core organising team that established the international peasant movement La Via Campesina and has written extensively on land issues and agrarian movements. He is currently a...