The People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) joins the international clamor demanding the repeal of the 2012 Vacant, Fallow, and Virgin (VFV) Lands Management Law in Burma

STATEMENT | 12 May 2019

Reference: Sylvia Mallari, PCFS Global Co-chairperson – secretariat@foodsov.org

Repeal the 2012 VFV Law in Burma!

Carry out a genuinely pro-people land reform policy!

The People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) joins the international clamor demanding the repeal of the 2012 Vacant, Fallow, and Virgin (VFV) Lands Management Law in Burma.

Since its 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 county’s population, 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 landlords.

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. 

There are, in fact, reports of local authorities filing charges against villagers for violating the VFV Land Management Law, and more are expected to arise with the amendment in implementation. These cases are ongoing despite the confirmation of a member of the ruling party National League for Democracy (NLD) executive committee that the law is yet to be enforced until the bylaws are completed. PCFS condemns the criminalization of occupying the land that the Burmese people have cultivated for decades even prior the law’s existence. The Coalition denounces such harassment that aims the massive displacement of rural communities.

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.”

We condemn the Aung San Suu Kyi government for implementing the VFV law. We call its attention to carry out a genuinely pro-people land reform policy that can not only alleviate the widespread poverty especially in rural areas, but also address the country’s peace situation. Burma is riddled with armed conflict with ethnic minority groups that seek liberation and self-determination. Given this context and with the VFV Land Management Law in order, the refugees – who are already made vulnerable by the ongoing civil wars – have no more lands to return to.

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! ###

. . . Download the statement here . . .

PSLF’s Statement on VFVL

Palaung State Liberation Front (PSLF) / Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) released a statement on the Vacant, Fallow & Virgin Land Management Law (VFVL) on 11th March 2019. The statement is claiming that the peoples living & making lives on the land are the original owner of the land thus no need to use the VFVL; reminding the peoples from Ta’ang area to claim back the lands grabbed previously; promising PSLF/TNLA would uphold land policy that protect the community from losing land and would take actions against those any individual or organization attempting to grab the land from its people.

PPST’s Statement from its Special Meeting 03-2019

The Peace Process Steering Team (PPST) of Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement Signatory – Ethnic Armed Organizations (NCA-S EAO) released a statement from its special meeting (03/2019) happened during 5-7 March, 2019. The statement urged to review & amend the Vacant, Fallow & Virgin Land Management Law (VFVL) accordingly as it is opposing democracy norms and federal principles; and to stop enacting similar laws in the future.

Ethnic Literature & Cultural Development Organizations released statement on VFVL

Ethnic literature & cultural development organizations held a workshop reviewing the Vacant, Fallow & Virgin Land Management Law (VFVL) in Lashio of Shan State (Northern Shan). Together with Kachin, Ta-ang & Shan Literature & Culture Development Organizations, 62 participants representing 25 organizations participated in this workshop happened during March 5, 2019. A statement come out from that workshop demanding to cancel the VFVL, to recognize customary tenure practices and to ensure the land restitution for displaced persons by armed conflicts.

SSEYF’s Statement on VFVL

Shan State Ethnic Youth Federation Leading Committee (SSEYF) released statement on the Vacant, Fallow & Virgin Land Management Law (VFVL) on March 5, 2019. The statement has raised 6 demands;

  • To abolish the Vacant, Fallow & Virgin Land Management Law
  • To recognize & respect ethnic customary land management systems & rights
  • To draft the law that guarantee management, decision making, ownership & interest of farmers and local peoples
  • To ensure the land laws making process is democratic & human rights based
  • To remove the charges completely from farmers those are currently facing on trial under VFVL
  • To give the lands back to original owners

CLAN Statement on VFVL

Chin Land Affairs Network (CLAN) released a statement on the Vacant, Fallow & Virgin Land Management Law (VFVL) after its executive members’ meeting and land law review workshop happened during 12-13 of February, 2019.

The statement is available in Burmese and has raised 4 points:

  • Chin people are original owners of all land & related resources thus this status must not be altered without the consent of Chin peoples
  • VFVL makes more conflicts to Chin peoples’ livelihoods, live makings, histories & cultures and is also undermining federal system, thus to be abolished.
  • VFVL facilitates land grabbing from ethnic peoples and specifies the original owner of the land as criminals, thus to stop the land grabbing & large-scale projects under VFV label.
  • Denounce the quote of U Shwe Htee Yo, Minister for Road & Transport, saying there’s no ancestral land in Chin State; because there are only ancestral land handed over generations in Chin State.

LIOH’s Additional Questions on LIFT’s “REAL DEV” Programme

LIFT (Livelihoods and Food Security Trust Fund) has launched a REAL DEV programme that invites partner agencies to work with the Government on land reclamation and reallocation in Magway, to develop a replicable approach and framework for reallocating State land reclaimed from concessionary holders to the rural poor, landless, and others; according to its website and Facebook page; on 14 December 2018.

Land in Our Hands (LIOH) and Myanmar Alliance for Transparency & Accountability (MATA) jointly send the open letter to LIFT regarding its recently launched call for proposal “REAL DEV Programme”; in 24 December 2018. LIFT responded to the open letter on (28 January 2019) with its safeguarding measures and additional steps based on the concerns raised by LIOH and MATA.

Based on the response of LIFT, the concerns have been come out and raised in addition to previous letter. The following is the letter sent to LIFT on 6 February 2019.


6 February 2019

Dear Katy Webley,

Thank you for your clear and detailed response. We appreciate that LIFT has taken our concerns into account, and has taken steps to change the programme to reflect this. Despite the changes, we still have several concerns and questions. Please see our concerns and questions below; 

There is no clear indication that LIFT intends to change their strategy for implementing the programme. The programme will still use the VFV law, and through doing this will strengthen the capacity of department to implement the VFV law through building their technical capacity.  The alterations to the programme made after our discussion, instead of improving it will only strengthen and legitimise the VFV implementation process via the introduction of conflict sensitivity, transparency, and accountability protocols and procedures. We are concerned that although LIFT does not endorse all aspects of the VFV law, your actions in the programme continue to legitimise it. 

Point 1: Stop-go mechanism

  • How will the open, transparent, and participatory process lead to secure land tenure? The tenure is being granted under the VFV law which offers very little tenure security?
  • The establishment of a dispute mechanism is a good step, but it is important to work on the details. Who will be in charge of the process should a dispute arise (GAD, MoALI, DALMS, LARC)? How will a rightful claim to the land be assessed? Under the current land legislation, it is very difficult to prove land ownership, especially in cases where land was confiscated prior to 2012, and where it has been granted as a concession under the VFV law as VFV land.

Point 2: Conflict Sensitivity

  • We very much appreciate that LIFT has taken our concerns seriously around conflict sensitivity, and is taking swift actions to remedy this.
  • We are somewhat concerned about the independent monitoring mechanism, critical friends, and conflict sensitive advisory group. It is important that LIFT contact civil society working in conflict areas who have experience in and knowledge on the conflict context when looking for advice, rather than relying only on larger more centrally established expert peace groups. This will lead to more reliable and context relevant information to support conflict sensitive programme planning and implementation.

Could you share the results of LIFT’s meeting with MoALI on January 14th 2019? Did you raise the concerns of civil society about the VFV law that we shared with you with Ministers, and if so what was their response?

In response to specific questions:

Question 2.

In your response, you state that LIFT has ensured that this implementation will not impact on larger states and regions because you are encouraging MoALI to view this as a unique case, rather than a replicable process. In your response you highlight that the land is State land, returned after the concession recipients broke their agreement with the government. Our concern is that LIFT does not take into account the history of the land concessions, looking at how the land became State land in the first place, who the landowners were before and whether they received compensation, and how the the companies it was granted to were selected.

In response to Question 2 about programme governance and implementation.

Question 2.

In the implementation Committee, what processes will be in place around decision making, especially to ensure that the final decision making powers are not vested in one stakeholder? Considering Myanmar’s political history, we are concerned that the chosen Chairperson will hold disproportionate sway in the Committee, and will be able to make all final decisions without much resistance.

We welcome LIFT’s motivations to improve the attitudes, behaviours, approaches, and to build the competency of those charged with land allocation and registration. This is key to pushing equitable reform in the country, and LIFT is strongly positioned to have a positive impact here. Taking this into consideration we encourage LIFT to establish a clear policy on Myanmar’s land reforms that contributing to peace, sustainability, and equitable reform. This could be achieved through facilitating open and robust dialogue between stakeholders involved in land use and governance, especially the GAD, MoALI, LARC, civil society, smallholder farmers and Ethnic Governance representatives. We also encourage LIFT to recognise the Ethnic Land Governance administrative structures already in place across the country and their associated policies when approaching future programming. By promoting dialogue between those who work with and rely on land across the country, and all of the systems currently in place to govern this, LIFT will much better positioned to promote actual secure land tenure, and programmes that support peace in Myanmar.

With best regards,

Secretariat Team | Land in Our Hands (LIOH)


LIFT’s Response to Open Letter of LIOH and MATA

LIFT’s response to Open Letter of LIOH and MATA

Land in Our Hands (LIOH) and Myanmar Alliance for Transparency & Accountability (MATA) jointly send the open letter to LIFT regarding its recently launched call for proposal “REAL DEV Programme”; in 24 December 2018. LIFT responded to the open letter that it has added safeguards in the development of the project:

  1. Stop-go mechanism: A key element in ensuring that there is progress towards securing land title to beneficiaries, is the inclusion of a ‘stop go’ point in the design of the project. Without an open, transparent and participatory process that leads to secure land tenure, the agriculture development component of the project will not be implement.
  2. There are clear principles outlined in the documentation associated with the call that will guide the process of land reallocation that include an inclusive, participatory and transparent approach that is in line with LIFT’s principle of do no harm. Further, noting the contentious nature of land, the project will develop a dispute mechanism to support those who may have a rightful claim or grievance to voice.
  3. A Conflict sensitive advisor: LIFT is in the process of retaining the services of a conflict sensitive advisor to support its programming.
  4. A call for proposals for Support to Strengthen Conflict-sensitivity: LIFT and Access to Health, both multi-donor funds, have published a call for proposals for technical assistance focused on three key areas: 1) Promoting conflict sensitivity capacity across the funds; 2) Providing best tailored assistance to implementing partners (IPs); and 3) Adherence with NCA and Bilateral Ceasefire Agreements.

In response to the concerns of LIOH and MATA, LIFT has decided on the following additional steps.

  1. An independent monitoring mechanism: we plan to elaborate and request for assistance with such an accountability mechanism for the land projects. This will be actioned as soon as possible.
  2. Critical friends: a small group of specialists working on conflict issues and with particular expertise on the peace process with whom LIFT, as a fund, can consult.
  3. Conflict sensitive advisory group: we anticipate these to be either groups or regular meetings in order to appropriately convene and consult with stakeholders in ethnic states concerning LIFT programming in conflict affected areas.

Read the full LIFT’s response in English and Burmese.

Mon Communities’ Statement on VFVL

New Mon State Party and Mon peoples released a statement after land law review workshop happened during 25-26 December, 2018. The statement highlights the VFVL undermines Mon customary land tenure practices; is not aligned with human rights norms, democracy norms & federal norms; is not supporting current peace process; and thus to be abolished.

Mon Statement on VFV (1)
Mon Statement on VFV (2)

Civil Society Organizations’ Open Letter to LIFT for its call for proposal “REAL DEV”

Land in Our Hands (LIOH) and Myanmar Alliance for Transparency & Accountability (MATA) jointly send the open letter to LIFT regarding its recently launched call for proposal “REAL DEV Programme”; today in 24 December 2018.

24 December 2018

Land in Our Hands (LIOH) and Myanmar Alliance for Transparency & Accountability (MATA) jointly send the open letter to LIFT regarding its recently launched call for proposal “REAL DEV Programme”; today in 24 December 2018.

On 14 December 2018, LIFT (Livelihoods and Food Security Trust Fund) has launched a REAL DEV programme that invites partner agencies to work with the Government on land reclamation and reallocation in Magway, to develop a replicable approach and framework for reallocating State land reclaimed from concessionary holders to the rural poor, landless, and others; according to its website and facebook page.

Since the government adopted the Vacant, Fallow & Virgin Land Management Law (VFV law) in 2012, peoples from ethnic areas declared that they don’t have vacant, fallow & virgin land but the ancestral lands they have been living, using & managing for centuries. And many civil society organizations asked the government to abolish the VFV law. Although NLD government initiated to amend this law in 2017, it becomes worse – criminalizing the peoples defending their lands and setting the time for registering the lands. Land in Our Hands is continuously supporting for federal land government and customary practices; thus calling to abolish the VFV law. During May, LIOH released a statement at national level reckoning the voices from different states & regions. That workshop and statement is representing over 1,600 peoples and over 400 civil society organizations across the country.

Despite these continuous public oppositions, the Government adopted the amendments to VFV in September 2018. Thus, LIOH launched the campaign against VFV law and also released a joint statement. The statement is endorsed by 346 local organizations. The international community is also supporting the movement of LIOH and issued the concern letter recently.

At this fragile moment, LIFT called proposals for its programme above-mentioned. Although LIFT says “LIFT’s programme is relevant and responsible – perhaps even more so at this time than before”, it is lacking the political sensitivity around land rights and peace building process as wider impacts. In this regards, LIOH & MATA prepared and sent an open letter to LIFT calling to suspend the call for proposals and reassess its operations in Myanmar in accordance with its 12 conflict sensitivity principles.

Open letter to LIFT: (English) (Burmese)