Hundreds of Myanmarese Farmers Await Return of Land Seized by Military

Nearly 80,000 hectares have been taken away from poor and marginalized farmers, who are struggling to make a living

July 18, 2018 by Umer Beigh
During a period of seven years - 2010 to 2017 - land confiscation in Myanmar reportedly increased by 170%. hoto:Patrick Brown/HRW

Farmers of Myanmar, where nearly 70% of the population directly depends on agriculture for their income and food, have been seriously affected by the systematic confiscation of their land. The prime culprit is the military, which is believed to have seized as much as 80,000 hectares of land from poor and marginalized farmers without providing them compensation. The condition of the farmers is very dire. “We don’t even have enough for a daily meal,” a farmer who lives in Shan State, said.

During a period of seven years – 2010 to 2017 – land confiscation in Myanmar reportedly increased by 170%. In 2016, a government official, Htet Naing Zaw, highlighted the findings of the Farmer Affairs Committee, saying that “as many as 2 million acres of land across Burma could be considered confiscated.”

The issue was highlighted by Human Rights Watch in a recent 33-page report, Gendered Experience of Land Confiscation in Myanmar. The report said that besides “the effects of continued militarization, a growing narcotics problem, continued forced recruitment of soldiers and administrators into armed groups, and double taxation by government and armed groups,” years of successive military rule and internal armed conflict in the country had furthered large-scale land confiscation.

“It has been difficult in our area to earn an income after our land was taken. After the land grab, women have become closer to God, but men are much more violent than before. Men think that growing crops is their only duty, but after losing their land they feel they have no more duties. So the men just get drunk and then come back home and bring trouble. When the land grabbing happens, the men and women have to separate. The men have to work further away and the wives stay near the home so it makes their relationship more difficult,” the report quoted a female farmer as saying.

Hundreds of farmers across Myanmar are undergoing the trauma of waiting for the return of their land or obtaining compensation. Most of the farmers who lost their land have begun working as manual labourers. As per reports, “farmers have been prosecuted for organizing and participating in public protests against the government or for trespassing by farming the land they claim.”

In 2015, another report, Guns, Cronies and Crops, was released by Global Witness, exposing the role of the military in seizing land from Lashio district and Hopan township. The report collected information from nearly 150 people, mostly farmers. The report found that the “(Myanmar) military helped Sein Wut Hmon company and other local actors to seize the hillside land used by the Kachin Shan and Palaung minority villagers in order to turn it into rubber plantations that produce latex for exports to nearby China.”