Myanmar Govt to Redistribute Vacant Land

By Htet Naing Zaw 26 September 2017

NAYPYITAW— The Myanmar government is developing a plan to redistribute vacant or fallow plots of land to rural landless people willing to farm the land.

The Union Minister for Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation Dr. Aung Thu told The Irrawaddy on Monday the government had obtained US$4.19 million from the Livelihoods and Food Security Trust Fund (LIFT)—a multi-donor fund established in 2009 to improve the lives and prospects of smallholder farmers and landless people in rural Myanmar—for the plan.

“We’ll start the plan within one or two months to provide land to landless people,” Dr. Aung Thu told reporters in Naypyitaw, adding that state and regional governments were already holding meetings.

The minister said authorities in Magwe, Mandalay, and Sagaing regions and Chin State had proposed suitable land for a trial project with LIFT but his ministry had not yet decided where to begin the pilot.

LIFT donors include the United States of America, Britain, Denmark, Australia, France, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden and funds are managed through the UN Office for Project Services (UNFOPS).

He could not comment on how candidates would be chosen and how land would be redistributed.

U Soe Myint, agricultural minister of Magwe Region, said the regional government had seized nearly 13,000 acres of unused land from two private companies in Minhla Township, and would distribute it to people without land, smallholder farmers, and those who did not receive compensation for previously confiscated farmland.

“We have to give back land to original owners, and will give the surplus to those wishing to be engaged in farming,” said U Soe Myint. “But they have to perform well within four years, otherwise we’ll take back the land.”

Farmer rights activist U Myo Thant of 88 Generation Peace and Open Society welcomed the government’s plan to provide free land, but said that the government should be transparent about the population of landless people as well as the amount of available land.

“It is important that land is not confiscated from other farmers,” said U Myo Thant.

He suggested land redistribution should take place in the mountainous areas home to ethnic minorities, not just Myanmar’s plains. “No matter where lands are reclaimed, it is important that locals’ voices are listened to,” he said.

The government of the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL) performed large-scale land redistribution after independence, according to lawyer U Kyi Myint. The government limited landowners to 50 acres and handed surplus land to farmers or smallholders.

“In the AFPFL era, communist and socialist beliefs were strong. The [proceeding] government Burma Socialist Programme Party didn’t distribute land, but enacted laws to protect farmers. The U Thein Sein government annulled all the laws protecting farmers, and introduced new laws to protect cronies,” he said.

“Farmers sold their land as they got a good price. Later, land prices increased exorbitantly, but farmers had already sold their land and got nothing. They faced hardship and were forced to work in foreign countries—mostly Thailand and Malaysia. Many have come to places like Hlaing Tharyar [industrial zone],” he said.