Since 2016 IDPs and refugees from different parts of the country, as well as the local frontline
organizations that support them came together to discuss their land issues related to return and
restitution in order to strengthen their advocacy on this issue.
Decades of war in Myanmar has resulted in the widespread displacement of ethnic nationality
communities and undermining of their human rights including their right to land. Refugees and IDPs
seeking justice, including the full and meaningful recognition of our right to land, face many
challenges. With these challenges in mind, Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) and refugee
communities from Mon, Karen, Karenni, Shan and Kachin States and from local civil society
organisations(CSOs) that provide support to them, came together to share the challenges and
experiences particularly regarding the IDP and refugee right to land and to deliberate on how to
respond through a strategy of working together in the near future.
In this joint position paper, we first outline the similar and different situations we are facing, before
proclaiming our basic principles and laying out our key demands. This position paper is a “living
document”; with it, we do not claim to represent all IDPs and refugees, but rather we aspire to reach
out, focus attention, generate discussion, and build political unity and momentum toward the full
and meaningful recognition, restitution and protection of our IDP and refugee right to land.
A Commentary by TNI on the Right to Land of People Displaced by War and Militarization
26 August 2019
Displaced people in Myanmar have been suffering layer upon layer of injustice over the past decades. Today the situation is as bad as ever.
“In Myanmar, people are suffering from the fighting, while the government is also trying to manipulate and divide the displaced people. Some people go back, some remain in the IDP camps. It’s like a hell in the country.” (Internally Displaced Person (IDP) meeting, 13 August 2019, Myitkyina)This is how one IDP, displaced since 2011, recently described the current situation in the north of the country. In both the north and the east of Myanmar, displaced people have been suffering layer upon layer of injustice over the past decades. Today the situation is as bad as ever. Ongoing conflict, militarization and business-oriented mega-projects continue to drive fresh displacements, while keeping those displaced previously from returning to their homes, farms, forests and villages. Since 2010, a raft of national laws and policies has been enacted regarding land, forests, conservation and investment. They do not, however, reflect the needs or the rights of people who have been displaced. There is currently no law that properly addresses the terrible situation confronting displaced people by recognising the right of IDPs and refugees to restitution based on their right to land. Instead, current government policy seems to be encouraging re-allocation of the lands of IDPs and refugees to business interests. Key areas include agriculture, mining, industry, infrastructure and even ecotourism, whether in the pristine islands in the far south or the majestic mountains in the far north. In particular, the 2012 Vacant, Fallow and Virgin (VFV) Land Management Law – and its 2018 Amendment – pose a major threat to IDP-refugee lands and to the moral obligation to guarantee and ensure the right to return and restitution of displaced people,1 and to peace.2 The VFV law and its amendment are currently being used by unscrupulous individuals and business actors to claim and register IDP and refugee lands. The failure of the government and other key actors to put displaced people first has led to lengthy displacements, an additional trauma on top of the original trauma caused by conflict and loss of homes and livelihood. Meanwhile the nationwide peace process, which has never really picked up momentum under the National League for Democracy (NLD) government, is now badly faltering. Fighting and militarized conditions continue in many parts of the north and the east as well as Rakhine State in the west. Intense skirmishes continue to regularly erupt. People living across the border in refugee camps, particularly in Thailand, are increasingly under pressure from authorities on both sides to return to Myanmar regardless of the many risks, while the international community is reducing humanitarian support to the population in these camps. At the same time, the Myanmar government is planning to close down IDP camps across the country, including in areas still affected by armed conflict and militarization. It is no wonder that displaced people liken parts of Myanmar at present to a kind of hell on Earth.
IDPs and refugees uniting around their right to land
Amidst growing pressures on local communities and their lands, the Border Consortium and Transnational Institute have been helping displaced people (mainly IDPs and refugees from armed conflict) and the frontline organisations that support them to come together to build advocacy to defend and claim their right to land. Since 2016 several joint meetings have been organised, in Yangon and in Myitkyina, bringing together IDPs and refugees from five nationality states – Kachin, Shan, Kayah (Karenni), Karen and Mon – to share their experiences and aspirations, to analyse these according to human rights principles, conventions and agreements, and to build a joint position on their right to land.3 Now, the new land law amendments, especially VFV, and government plans to close all IDP camps in the country are really compelling people to try to speak louder to gain recognition and defend their rights. Displaced people – both IDPs and refugees – are realizing that they have no choice but to face up to the situation. Many increasingly are turning to their own resources and to each other to find common ground in their experiences and work together to build a united front and undertake advocacy in partnership. Recently, displaced people from the five states decided to make a joint position paper and launch it at a public event in Yangon. The group held separate briefings with the LIFT Fund Board and with the United Nationalities Alliance (UNA) of political parties before holding a public event to introduce their joint position paper. At each event, a panel of speakers shared the trauma of displacement and the struggle for peace, recognition and justice, with five different people speaking each time from the five different areas. More than 130 people attended the public event at the Summit Park View Hotel in Yangon, coming from various embassies, UN agencies, international non-governmental organisations, political parties, civil society groups and the media. This public event demonstrated the extraordinary situation of displaced people: ordinary people who have been victimized by war and land-grabbing, trying to make good from destitute situations that are not of their own making but which they find themselves in nonetheless.
During the briefings the delegation told how, after they had been displaced by fighting, their lands were taken over either by the armed forces for encampments or by government authorities who reallocated their lands to companies for so-called “investment” or “development” projects. This was the pattern across all five states, whether the displacement occurred long ago or more recently. Replying to questions about what they want, the delegates were clear in stating that the lands from which they were displaced should be returned to them, but that there should be no return until their safety and security are guaranteed and their land and livelihoods can be restored. They also said that the VFV Law should be abolished; that their customary rights of ownership should be recognised; and that land should be recognised as owned by the people who live and work on the land. To ensure this, they said that a new law should be developed through an inclusive, bottom-up process that truly involves IDPs and refugees and recognises their right to land. This new law also needs to recognise that ethnic nationality peoples have long had their own customary systems of land ownership and management. The land law in Myanmar should therefore aspire to serve the poor and obtain the consent of all the people – not just the handful whose business interests are currently being served.
Quotes from the IDP-refugee briefings:
“Some IDPs are recent, others are from a long time ago. It started in 1974 with the Myanmar Army “Four Cuts” Strategy. Maybe people in the city do not know about this, but we will never forget. Since 1984 there are refugee camps in Thailand.” (Karen refugee, 21 August 2019) “In 2012 the VFV law was adopted. We are very worried about that. In our village of origin many businessmen have registered our land. We have no legal documents; we have our customary system. The government keeps saying it is a black area, and they refuse to come and demarcate our land, so we cannot get Form 7. They ask us to protect them if they would come and visit, but who should protect who?” (Kachin IDP from northern Shan State, 21 August 2019) “After the VFV law amendment, over 50 acres of land in Pruso were registered under the name of a Burma Army commander. These laws should be for the people, but now they benefit only a small group of people.” (Karenni IDP-refugee right to land defender, 21 August 2019)
‘’The main issue we now face is our land. Tissue banana plantations are threatening our land and our village. The Forest Department now designated our land as forest-land. These signboards only appeared after the banana companies came in; before that we had never seen them. The government also is very active with the VFV Law and is conducting a land survey. We have already lost our human rights and are living in displacement. Now we are facing additional problems with our land.” (Kachin IDP from Kachin State) “Land is important to secure our life and to feed ourselves. The Mon region has no active fighting but many landgrabbing issues and impacts from the VFV law. We have no VFV land in Mon area, but the government keeps on enforcing this law on us. Many government projects are planned in the villages of origin of Mon IDPs. Our key demand is that we cannot accept this VFV law. We do not have VFV land in our area.” (Mon IDP-refugee right to land defender, 21 August 2019) “In 2012 the government and the Karen National Union signed a ceasefire. From that time many international organisations said that it is already peaceful so IDPs and refugees can go home. There are many pressures on us to go back, and support to refugees is reducing. If we decided to go back: where to live? There are secondary occupants and Burma Army outposts. The government housing for returnees is too small and no land and no economic opportunities. If IDPs and refugees return, the Burma army should withdraw their outposts, landmines should be cleared and livelihoods provided.” (Karen IDP, 21 August 2019) “The authorities want us to go back. The Myanmar army outposts are still in our village. Who will guarantee fighting will not break out again? There is no durable solution yet reached in political dialogue.”(Kachin IDP, 21 August 2019)
Canary in the coal mine
One of the key demands of the IDP-refugee delegation is the following:“All authorities (Government and EAOs) should prioritize the restitution of IDPs’ and Refugees’ displaced lands in their villages of origin and take any and all necessary steps to ensure their safe, dignified and voluntary return and meaningful restitution, including access to decent and sustainable livelihoods and the basic physical, social and economic conditions necessary for them to reconstruct dignified lives in peace and in safety.”Almost certainly anyone in the country (or indeed in the world), who finds themselves trapped in the same situation, would make this very same demand and would be motivated by the same desire for real peace with justice and democracy from which their demand springs. It is possible that both government and business actors have been hoping that, over time, the IDPs and refugees in Myanmar will just disappear. But this is manifestly not happening. Instead, those displaced from their lands are becoming better organised and clearer and stronger in their advocacy. All they have ever wanted is to be fully and meaningfully recognised as having the right to fundamental human rights, including the right to land through restorative justice. IDPs and refugees should not be written off as unfortunate people who just happen to be on the wrong side of history and whose day will never come. On the contrary: they are the canaries in the coal mine – what happens to them is a signal to the rest of society of what possible fate lies ahead for all. If human rights cannot be guaranteed for the most marginalized and impoverished in society, it is a terrible indictment on the direction of political change in the country.
The Peoples Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) demands the members of the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB) to stop funding projects especially of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that result to landgrabbing and rural peoples’ displacement. On the occasion of the AIIB’s annual meeting this July 12-13 in Luxembourg, we stand with the rural peoples on their call for greater accountability and transparency, as well as justice for the violations of the people’s rights.
While AIIB asserted that it is a multilateral bank for the longest time, recent pronouncements show that it is ultimately a financing institution of the BRI with over 7,000 China-funded projects that focus on transportation, maritime navigation, energy, and trade spanning more than 60 countries in the Global South.
As a multilateral lender, AIIB has been consistently behind most of the BRI projects – as a co-funder or as a key lender. This will surely accelerate as AIIB President Jin Liqun declared to focus more on the bank’s own portfolio and sees the bank as a “twin engine” with BRI.[i] More than 60 out of the 87 member countries of the AIIB are part of the BRI. As it is, AIIB is currently bankrolling China’s expansionist lending strategy that ultimately impacts the most vulnerable in the Global South – the rural peoples.
Last month in Hong Kong, PCFS together with the Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN) conducted a forum on China’s BRI and its impact on the rural peoples. Discussions and accounts of the participants from Asia, Africa, and Latin America regions paint a dismal picture of the BRI projects’impacts to rural peoples and the right to food sovereignty. Numerous cases of rights violations such as displacement, landgrabbing, harassment, corrosion of traditions, and aggravation of fragility in regions have been reported.
A threat to the right to land. Without adequate environmental and social assessment in the regions and countries, AIIB has been co-funding multiple BRI projects that are opaque and inaccessible to the public. As mentioned above, these include megadams, large roads, ports, and energy plants that often result in landgrabbing and displacement.
Today, China is the fastest growing landgrabber in the world. With over 5.6 million concluded deals and 12.7 million in the past decade alone,[ii]the BRI is fast becoming one of the key drivers of rural peoples ruin in the Global South.
In Cambodia alone, around 370,000 hectares under 42 ELCs have been granted to Chinese companies, including the 36,000-hectare sugarcane plantation of Guangdong Hengfu Sugar Group Co., Ltd. in the province of Preah Vihear. Thousands of farmers and Indigenous Kuy peoples are being displaced to produce sugar for export.
In the Philippines, the China government funded New Centennial Water Source-Kaliwa Dam Project in Quezon worth USD 374 million. It was pitched to be funded by the AIIB, and is set to displace thousands of farmers and Indigenous Peoples while tens of thousands more affected.
A threat to the right to food. Securing China’s position in the global agricultural trade is at the heart of the numerous BRI projects in agriculture. In a span of 14 years, China has invested USD 98 billion in agriculture[iii] –75% of which were in the last five years.[iv] According to a study by GRAIN, China has “gone on massive shopping sprees, buying up operations in global production chains like pork in the US and soybeans in Brazil, and gaining greater control over the global seed industry by taking on majority ownership of the Swiss-based seed giant Syngenta.”[v]
These agricultural land deals include large agro-industrial parks in Mozambique, Uganda, Zambia, Kazakhstan, and Laos. The pressure of Chinese imports in Brazil’s soybeans is one of the key drivers of the catalyzed destruction of the Amazon forest and the ejection of farmers and Indigenous Peoples in the region.
In Sri Lanka, the BRI Colombo Financial District, which AIIB funds some of the periphery projects,[vi] has dramatically reduced fishers’ access to their waters and decimated their fish catch. Beach erosion from offshore sand extraction for the reclamation project is displacing whole villages of fisherfolk.
The large-scale acquisition of farmlands and establishment of agro-industrial parks in Kazakhstan is a threat to the regional food sovereignty. Central Asia largely relies on the said area for grain and grain production. With China buying and controlling the agricultural production and supply chain in the region, rural hunger and malnutrition will not be abated.
A threat to biodiversity.According to World Wildlife Fund Hong Kong, China’s BRI will affect hundreds of already threatened animal species. This includes endangered tigers, giant pandas, saiga antelope, and much of the biologically richest real estate on the planet – some 1,800 important bird areas, key biodiversity areas, global biodiversity hotspots and global 200 eco-region.
The push of China’s BRI, with the full backing of the AIIB, will continue to adversely impact the rural peoples of the Global South. We call on the members of the AIIB to investigate and pursue the impacts of the projects funded by the multilateral bank. We call on the members and networks of the PCFS to actively engage their governments on AIIB funded project and demand for transparency and accountability. Finally, we reiterate our call that decisions and plans on infrastructure should be founded on the right of rural communities to decide their needs and development priorities. ###
The First Community Forest Forum was held in Hpa-an District, Karen State, Kawthoolei from July 1 to 3, 2019; contributing to forest conservation as well as the global warming and climate change solution. There were 244 participants in total including indigenous peoples, representatives from civil society organizations, Kawthoolei Forest Department (Central, District and Township levels) and representatives of community forest committees.
During 2011 to 2019, 151 community forests have been established in 7 Districts within Kawthoolei; altogether 244,588.03 acres in total area. The forum set out 18 missions regarding community forest and also urged the government to halt the one-sided projects and activities (such as amending land related laws, specifying national park and expanding the conservation areas) those undermine the community practices and affect the livelihoods of indigenous peoples.
How the Myanmar Government’s Repressive Land Laws are Catalyzing Conflict and Insecurity: An Analysis of the Vacant, Fallow, and Virgin Land Management Law
By Saw Alex Htoo and Frank Scott
Burma’s (Myanmar since the junta changed the country’s name in 1989) generals continue to hold sway over key areas of government, and though direct military rule has transitioned into ‘democracy’, political power remains concentrated in the hands of the army or Tatmadaw. The army, and effectively the government, which was established through the controversial 2008 constitution, have long been in pursuit of absolute control over land and natural resources. Such situation has long been a key catalyst for the country’s protracted civil war, which has driven millions of civilians from their land and homes in the past decades. Widespread armed conflict has been accompanied by oppressive laws aiding in the dispossession of smallholder-farmers of their land and livelihoods, particularly in ethnic nationality areas.
On 11 September 2018, in the latest push of government to consolidate control over the country, the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (Parliament) passed amendments to the 2012 Vacant, Fallow, and Virgin Land Management Law (VFV Law), imposing criminal penalties on rural people for continuing to use land that the government has deemed vacant and fallow or virgin. According to the amendments, after 11th March 2019, farmers will face up to two years in prison and a 500,000 kyats ($300) fine if they
continue to use the land, even if it has not yet been
leased to anyone else.
The 2012 VFV Law, and 2018 amendments, provide a legal mechanism for the Myanmar Government to confiscate land in rural areas across the country, constituting a massive statutory land grab. The most pervasive impacts of this legislation will be in ethnic areas where, according to government statistics, there are about 35 million acres, or 75 percent, of the country’s vacant, fallow and virgin lands.
Civil society organizations across the country are calling for the VFV Law to be abolished, and for a democratic federal land law to be drafted and passed as part of an inclusive and participatory legislative process. Endorsed by ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), ethnic political parties,and local communities, these calls spearheaded by Burma’s ethnic civil society networks form part of a longstanding campaign for the legal recognition and protection of diverse customary land tenure systems administered by ethnic communities across the country. It is argued that the full recognition of customary land tenure rights will be a crucial foundation upon which genuine, federal peace can be built.
“Kaw” Customary Land Seminar
“Our Customary Land, Our Life and Our Future”
May 30, 2019
The “Kaw” Customary Land Seminar, held from May 29th to 30th, 2019, at Lay Wah, in the Karen
National Union (KNU) administrated area of Hpa-an District was attended by 519 representatives
from 56 organizations, including: local community and civil society representatives, donors, INGOs,
political parties, and leaders of the KNU. The seminar discussed the problems and challenges facing
“Kaw” customary land systems and the ways in which they can be strengthened and promoted,
collaborating with other stakeholders.
“Kaw” are Karen customary land management systems. This is land which is collectively used,
managed, conserved and governed. These practices are based on the conservation of land, forest,
water, and other natural resources, and emerge from a combination of traditional value systems and
traditional/customary law. Therefore, these practices are inherently linked to the preservation of
Karen culture and beliefs and local biodiversity and ecosystems protection.
Therefore, the collective preservation of land, forest, water, natural resources and the environment
inherently requires the preservation and maintenance of Karen “Kaw” management systems. We must
have well-developed and well-maintained “Kaw” management systems which address the challenges
of the current political situation. As a result of this, the KNU land and forest policies include a full
recognition of “Kaw” land management systems, and have set up and begun implementing policies.
Importantly, the “Kaw” (Customary) management systems have never been influenced by any
external authorities; they are a deeply entwined set of land management practices, strong local
administrative justice mechanisms and traditional beliefs which holistically come together. These
beliefs and practices are representative of a comprehensive traditional relationship to land, from
which has emerged a strong set of land management and governance practices which we call “Kaw”.
According to research conducted between 2015 and 2018, it was found that there are 198 “Kaw”
customary land systems in Kawthoolei. Community-based research focused on three “Kaw” found
that these customary land management systems successfully provided land protection and sustainable
livelihoods, and they are still very much relevant and applicable to the current situation.
The current Myanmar government’s Vacant, Fallow and Virgin (VFV) Land Management Law and other land laws fundamentally undermine the authority of Karen “Kaw” customary land systems. These systems, in contrast with Myanmar government land laws, allow for collective participation in political decision-making. Suppressing such customary systems hinders the peace building process, preventing the establishment of federalism. The Myanmar government’s land laws therefore must be abolished and accordingly rewritten. In addition, we strongly oppose the current survey law (draft) which will hinder the peace building process while posing threats to the maintenance of “Kaw” Customary land systems.
Therefore, in order to have strong and effective realization of “Kaw” customary land governance
systems, as independently allow to be governed and in line with the KNU’s land and forest policies,
we make a firm commitment to continue to strengthen and implement the “Kaw” customary land
governance systems within our administrative territories.
Reference: Sylvia Mallari, PCFS Global
Co-chairperson – email@example.com
the 2012 VFV Law in Burma!
a genuinely pro-people land reform policy!
Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) joins the international clamor demanding
the repeal of the 2012 Vacant, Fallow, and Virgin (VFV) Lands Management Law in
inception, the VFV Land Management Law has been used to facilitate large-scale
landgrabs throughout Burma. It denies the Burmese rural peoples, which compose 70% of the
their customary and communal land rights by declaring all lands without
official land titles as “vacant, fallow, and virgin,” in order to
herald these lands for use of domestic and foreign investment. This has long been disputed in the country, yet the government of Burma has opted
to bolster the law to fast track the turnover of these lands to corporate
The law was
amended in September 2018, requiring land tillers to register for land use
permits with 30-year validity within six months. Deadline lapsed on March 11,
and now more than 20 million hectares of land – a third of Burma’s total land
area – have become subjected to private interests. About 75% of the “VFV” lands
are territories of ethnic minorities. And considering that 95% of the VFV land residents surveyed a month
before the deadline of registration had no knowledge of the law, majority of the people in these areas
are subject to penalties up to 500,000 kyats (US $328) of fine and/or two years
in jail for “trespassing” the lands they customarily owned.
PCFS slams the
Aung San Suu Kyi-led Burma government for pushing this law and its
impracticable amendments – a far cry from its promise of protecting the land
rights of farmers. In fact, the VFV law was made stricter. Four years since NLD
broke the country’s military junta, the government has opted to abide with the
trends on land policies perpetuated by international and development finance
institutions that undermine food sovereignty and deny the land rights of
farmers and Indigenous Peoples. No plan to amend the law or even the constitution will be able to resolve landlessness in
Burma if the development framework is to “draw more investment.”
PCFS is one with the rural peoples of Burma in calling for the repeal of the 2012 VFV Land Management Law. We call our members, networks, and fellow food sovereignty advocates to support the struggle of the rural peoples in Burma in defense of their ancestral lands and natural resources! ###
All of the large dam projects built in Myanmar have had severe and negative impacts on peoples’
lives, as a growing body of evidence clearly shows. We, Land in Our Hands (LIOH) network,
oppose efforts to construct large dam projects, and call for the far-reaching damage to peoples’
lives caused by existing and under construction projects to be fully addressed.
The Ayeyarwaddy River is a major artery of Myanmar’s cultural heritage. We oppose any acts
that attempt to place a financial value on the Ayeyarwaddy River, the Myitsone and the larger
river basin, whether it is calculated in kyat, dollars, euros or yuan. The Ayeyarwaddy is not for
Plans and actions which support the conversion of the Ayeyarwaddy River and the Myitsone into
electric megawatts are insulting to ethnic peoples residing in these areas, and continues to drive
the country further from national reconciliation and sustainable peace.
We clearly warn that the five-year government does not have the authority to decide the future
of societies living at the Myitsone or along the Ayeyarwaddy River and its basin.
We demand that the current government completely abolish the Myitsone Dam project, and the
other 6 dams in the cascade, within its remaining 2-years term.
We denounce the Myitsone project proponents, including the Chinese Government and its State Owned Enterprises, for their attempts to force the project forward in a clear sign of disregard for the will of the people of Myanmar. We demand the immediate abolishment of Myitsone Dam project and the full restitution of land and livelihoods to those who have already suffered displacement and dispossession.
LIOH Statement regarding the World Bank’s 2019 conference on Land and
25 March 2019
From the 25-29 the World Bank is hosting its annual
conference on “Land and Poverty Conference 2019”. This conference is pitched as a platform for
experts to gather and present on solutions to the world’s land issues,
including those afflicting Myanmar’s people today.
We, the Land in Our Hands, [a multi-ethnic national
network in partnership with civil society and community based organizations
across Myanmar], firmly believes that the World bank is the wrong institution
to be leading communities out of land related poverty at a global scale, and
has a major conflict of interests as the Bank has arguably exacerbated land
related inequality through its investments and structural adjustment programs.
Myanmar is facing a serious land crisis that has
been built on decades of successive military government’s systematic and
widespread land expropriations from the country’s people. The current
semi-civilian government, led by the NLD, has followed in the footsteps of
previous authoritarian dictatorships in attempting to corner land as an investment
opportunity while ignoring the history of land expropriations and how they
continue to fan the flames of inequality, conflict and poverty.
Sadly, the NLD-led government’s land reforms are
deepening the existing land tenure insecurities of millions of farmers across
the country, and foreclosing opportunities for genuine federal democratic
reforms and lasting peace.
The recently amended Vacant Fallow Virgin Land
Management Law effectively designates 45 million acres of land in Myanmar as
“untitled” or vacant land, leaving it open for investment – 82 per cent of this
land lies in non-Bamar ethnic States. There is no such thing as vacant land in
Myanmar, and by ignoring the diversity of existing land tenure systems
practiced by local farming communities, this law will transform these farmers
into landless criminals, deprive them of their livelihoods and strip them of
their cultural heritage and identity. In response to this situation, 346 CSOs
across Myanmar (https://lioh.org/?p=46); the ethnic political parties (https://lioh.org/?p=53) and war affected displaced community from Kachin (https://lioh.org/?p=61) issued statements calling on the Myanmar government
to repeal the VFVL law.
Land conflicts that are now emerging throughout the
country will worsen as foreign companies, supported by foreign governments and
International financial institutions, rush in to profit before any meaningful
or far-reaching political and economic reforms have taken root in Myanmar. The
World Bank’s engagement in the Myanmar land issue will lead to an acceleration
of land grabbing and compound the dispossession of local communities from their
lands and resources; and further fuel conflict and rights violations including
displacement in Myanmar.
End the Enabling the Business of Agriculture Program and its Land Indicator
Dear Ms. Georgieva,
As the World Bank’s 20th Annual Land and Poverty Conference gets underway, we urge you to immediately put an end to the Bank’s attack on land rights orchestrated though the Enabling the Business of Agriculture (EBA) project.
The EBA project was launched in 2013 to push governments to adopt measures and policy reforms favorable to agri-business. The EBA ranks countries on the “ease of doing business” in agriculture. It identifies the “legal barriers” for agribusinesses and prescribes reforms to remove them. With the introduction of a land indicator in the project in 2017, the Bank is now asking governments to ease access to land for agribusiness and ranks countries on their “laws and regulations that impact access to land markets for producers and agribusinesses.” The scores countries obtain are intended to condition aid and investment money.
As detailed in our latest report, The Highest Bidder Takes It All: The World Bank’s Scheme to Privatize the Commons, the Bank claims that low-income countries do not manage land effectively and thus recommends the privatization of land and its sale to private interests as a means to achieve economic development. The EBA thus pressures governments to formalize private property rights; ease the sale of land for commercial use; systematize the sale of public land by auction to the highest bidder; and improve procedures for the expropriation of land. While the Bank claims that such policy changes will bring more freedom and equity to land access, our report clearly demonstrates that the land indicator instead represents an unprecedented push to privatize land and facilitate private interests’ access to the commons, to the detriment of billions around the world.
Perhaps most shocking is the EBA’s prescription that developing country governments, particularly in Africa, transfer public lands with ‘potential economic value’ to private, commercial use so that this land can be put to its supposed ‘best use.’ This ignores the fact that over 3.1 billion people – half of humanity – relies on land for their livelihoods, the majority in developing countries. Communally managed resources such as farmland, water, forests, and savannas are essential to the livelihoods of millions of family farmers, pastoralists, and Indigenous Peoples and are generally also valued as ancestral assets with deep social and cultural significance.
Rather than providing solutions to poverty and promoting shared prosperity, as per the Bank’s mission, the recommendations put forth via the land indicator clearly prioritize the interests and agendas of the EBA’s main donors—the US, the UK and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation- and corporate advisors over the well-being of smallholder farmers, pastoralists, and Indigenous Peoples.
Previous Land and Poverty Conferences have focused on the need for evidence-based approaches to land governance. However, the EBA’s land indicator runs counter to prevailing research and evidence. For instance, a comprehensive study by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) involving over 400 scientists and cosponsored by the World Bank and others, widely discredited the supposed benefits of capital intensive, industrial agriculture. The report urged a shift toward agroecological practices that are less dependent on capital and external inputs. The World Bank’s own research staff has debunked the economic efficiency argument that is used to favor the privatization of land and expansion of land markets. The study states that the creation of land markets ultimately leads to land concentration for industrialized agriculture and monocultures in large mechanized land holdings, which are less productive than family farms.
It is time that the Bank comes clean about its true agenda and quits pretending that it is working in service of poverty alleviation. The EBA and its land indicator do nothing to alleviate poverty. It encourages the expansion of large-scale farming, which results in dispossession and loss of livelihoods for the rural poor, while failing to bring promised economic development and food security. It leads to massive environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity while worsening the climate crisis through deforestation and industrial agriculture.
By making land a marketable commodity that must be offered to the highest bidder, the land indicator will shift land from being an essential source of livelihoods and the basis of resilient farming and ecological balance, to an increasingly speculated upon financial asset that will expand corporate agriculture.
Governments should be urged and helped to design food and agricultural policies that put family farmers, pastoralists, and Indigenous Peoples at the centre to address the major challenges of hunger, environmental degradation, and climate change. Instead, the World Bank has launched an unprecedented attack on their land rights and their future.
Since 2014, the multi-continental, 280-organization strong Our Land Our Business campaign has demanded an end to the EBA program because of its bias towards industrial agriculture and agribusiness corporations. Given the serious threat that the new land indicator poses, it is time to terminate this harmful initiative now.
Anuradha Mittal Executive Director The Oakland Institute