Land Reform Key to Burma’s Future

The much heralded progress on political and social rights could all be in vain if amendments are not made to the country’s property laws. Last month, about 200 farmers from three townships in rural Yangon did something that was until very recently impossible in Burma: they staged a legal protest, demanding that their land, confiscated by private firms and state bodies, be returned to them. Wearing bamboo hats and the traditional Burma longyi, the farmers, mostly in their late 40s and 50s, were escorted by police as they marched along main roads on the city’s outskirts, carrying signs made from cardboard and paper with messages such as “Farmers have to work the fields, but other people get benefits” and “Will you solve dispute according to the law?” hastily scrawled in marker. July 14 protest was the first to test limits of new Peaceful Protest Law, which requires protesters to seek permission from the police and local officials at least five days before planned date. With help of a local politician, the farmers negotiated the bureaucratic procedures and got the okay for the march, which ended peacefully at 11 a.m., after about two hours. “We reported these cases to the government many times but responses were not substantial enough for the farmers. So I hope every member of the public knows about the farmers and also hope that the president notices them,” Nay Myo Wai, chairman of Peace+Diversity Party, told local media. Demonstrations over land ownership, such as the one on July 14, have become increasingly common in Yangon and other parts of Burma over past year. Many of the land disputes are not new, dating back to the last time the country attempted to “open up” to investors in early 1990s. Over the past 20 years, some 1.9 million acres have ended up in hands of private Burmese firms through a variety of means, most of which had some pretext of legality. More than 70% of these private holdings have never been developed, however, and often original owners were allowed to continue farming on an annual basis. But anticipating a flood of foreign investment, private firms are beginning to reassert ownership over these increasingly valuable plots, beginning development projects, as well as seeking new concessions. The government has also started touting agriculture sector to potential foreign investors; 2nd Commercial Farm Asia expo, tagline: “Making Inroads into Asia’s Awakened Tiger for Sustainable Agri Investments!”, will be held in Yangon in October. Together with a relaxation on protests and media censorship, as well as introduction of two important new land laws earlier this year, this has resulted in land ownership rights and land confiscation re-emerging as national issues, and one that experts like Nobel Prize-winning Joseph Stiglitz warn could derail government efforts to reduce poverty if mismanaged. About two-thirds of the country’s population relies directly and indirectly on the agriculture sector, yet government figures show it comprises only 36.43% of gross domestic product. According to a joint UN-government survey conducted in 2009-10, 26% of population remains below a poverty line set at a meagre 754 kyats a day, about 85 U.S. cents, and poverty is most acute among landless rural households (…..)



Acerca de ignaciocovelo
Consultor Internacional


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