Fears over growth in land concessions
Activists have raised concerns about continued growth in large-scale land concessions to agribusinesses, warning that small-scale landholders are being left without a source of income.
New farmland laws, particularly the Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Lands Management Law, are designed to encourage investment in large-scale agriculture projects, including from foreign companies.
However, in a report released on May 20, the Transnational Institute wrote that the new legislation is that agricultural communities, particularly in “upland” areas, “have no legal land rights and land tenure security”.
“This immediately puts ethnic upland communities under the real threat of losing their lands, which are precisely the areas heavily targeted by resource extraction and industrial agricultural concessions,” the institute said in the report, “Access Denied: Land Rights and Ethnic conflict in Burma”.
Kachin State has the largest land concessions in terms of area, with 1.39 million acres, and also saw the largest increase in concessions between January 31, 2011 and March 31, 2012, with around 800,000 acres added. Tanintharyi Region has almost 1 million acres and saw an increase of more than 322,000 acres in the same period, while Sagaing Region also saw a significant increase, from around 100,000 acres to almost 260,000 acres.
One of the country’s most well-known land disputes involves a concession awarded to Yuzana Company in the Hukawng Valley in Kachin State. Among those who lost their land to the company was Daw Bawk Ja, a coordinator with the Kachin Women’s Peace Network.
“No one knew what was happening. [The construction crews] just came and started building,” she said, adding that residents in her village were unaware that their land could potentially be given away to a company.
Daw Bawk Ja said Yuzana promised higher yields when it began cultivating the land and improved livelihoods for residents in the area. However, the plantation only generated employment at the beginning, when residents were given jobs digging ditches on the construction site, she said.
She said many of the people in the region are now unemployed and survive on money sent by relatives working in Yangon and Mandalay. Yuzana did not respond to requests for comment.