People’s Farmland Committee Formed in Kachin State

Friday, November 15, 2019

The Kachin State People’s Farmland Committee formed this week with the aim of protecting land ownership and resolving land disputes in the face of what locals say are unjust laws.

Current laws including the 2018 Vacant, Fallow and Virgin (VFV) Land Management Law, the forest law, as well as this year’s land confiscation and resettlement law and existing investment laws have threatened local land ownership, Kachin civil society representatives said.

“The farmland of local people has turned into VFV land because of this VFV land law. After that, investment companies have come to invest in these farmlands,” Dr. M Kawn La, chair of the Kachin National Congress party (KNC), which is included in the committee, told NMG.

The committee released a statement on November 13 stating that their objectives would be to amend, rewrite and repeal laws related to land in Parliament. They will also work to resolve current disputes concerning land ownership and hold exchanges with civil society on land issues. Their formation earlier this week followed multiple meetings in October.

“First, how can we work to return seized lands to the hands of farmers? Second, how can we work to get back lands located in protected forests?” a civil expert within the Kachin State People’s Farmland Committee said, adding that the committee would also explore how to return land to internally displaced people in the state—of whom there are up to 200,000—and how to protect land owned by whole communities under customary land management systems.

KNC said that in the committee their party would focus on legal reform in their work on land issues, including how forest protection laws have dispossessed people of rotating farmland in favor of helping the state’s economy.

“In the 2019 land confiscation and resettlement law, there are two sections that are really scary: those on temporary and urgent land confiscation,” Dr. M Kawn La told NMG. “According to these sections, the Tatmadaw can seize land for national security reasons. They can seize land whenever they want. It does not fit with democratic federal principles.”

The land committee has five groups, including representatives of Kachin political parties, legal and civil experts, and civil society and farmers’ association representatives.

“Land disputes occur in everywhere in Kachin State including in natural resource-rich Hpakant and Tanai townships,” Dr. M Kawn La explained, pointing out that displaced people have become landless following Burma Army operations in areas like Tanai.

Land issues are also linked to special economic zones like Nan Kyin and hydropower projects like the Myitsone Dam, which implicate governmental departments, the military, and other powerful authorities, he said.