Burma's Forgotten Farmers
Wednesday, November 9, 2011


You would think that in a country as overwhelmingly agrarian as Burma, the plight of the rural poor would receive far more attention than it does. Agriculture accounts for more than 40 percent of Burma's GDP and supports around 70 percent of its population. And yet, since President Thein Sein vowed in his inaugural address to Parliament in March to do something about the persistent poverty of those who toil in the fields, precious little has been said about this issue by those in high places.

Indeed, amid all the talk in recent months about possible political and economic reforms, hardly anyone seems to have noticed just how regressive the new Parliament's proposals for changes to the country's land laws—which lie at the heart of the hardships facing Burma's farmers—have been.

Thankfully, last week the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) released a statement that reveals much about the mindset that still prevails in Naypyidaw. Far from moving forward, Burma appears to be heading in the direction of the bad old days of centralized government control over land rights with a draft law modeled, according to the AHRC, “on 1960s quasi-socialist legislation.”

Burma's agricultural sector has long been plagued by edicts issued from on high by the country's rulers,  but in recent years, another, equally deleterious, factor has added to the pressures on already hard-pressed farmers: land-grabbing by private-sector companies run by or with close ties to retired or actively serving generals.

In an interview with The Irrawaddy in August, Pho Phyu, a lawyer who has represented many farmers forced off their land—either through outright confiscation or by more devious means that take advantage of their perpetual indebtedness—described the struggle of farmers deprived of their right to a livelihood. In some cases, he said, farmers have even been charged with stealing while harvesting their own crops.

“This kind of situation can only be altered if the agricultural policy of the state is changed and the government enacts new laws,” said Pho Phyu, rightly highlighting the need for fundamental reforms aimed at protecting the rights of those who struggle to feed themselves, even as they feed the rest of the country.

Unfortunately, the new law that he called for has not materialized; in its place is a piece of legislation that will only enshrine social injustice and ensure that the vast majority of Burma's people will remain cut off from any progress the country may make if it ever fully integrates into the global economy.

As the AHRC says in its statement, “Rather than protecting cultivators' rights, [the new law] undercuts them at practically every point, through a variety of provisions aimed at enabling rather than inhibiting land-grabbing.”

Clearly, this is not the product of a reform-minded legislative body. It is, rather, what you would expect of an entrenched oligarchy acting solely in its own interests. This is not what the people of Burma want, and not what its farmers need.

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Ali Tanggoon Wrote:
Since General Nay Win took power to the present Government, the governments set a rice export target. Farmers must sell rice to the Government at about 50% less than market price. If the production is not enough, they have to purchase from traders at higher price and fill the supply quota.

leif Wrote:
Couldn't agree more. Burma will become another China: a tiny minority of the super-rich, a small middle class, and a vast underclass of the permanently impoverished.

For that 70 percent, nothing will change at all. The 'reforms' and the embrace of the west will only help the rich get even richer, and allow the relatively well off to feel like they can finally enjoy the fruits of consumerism, without having to go to Bangkok on shopping trips.

Of course, in Bangkok they also shoot uppity rural types who demand respect; but the "new" Burma will be much, much worse.

Ohn Wrote:
This is the wholesale theft and armed robbery of the traditional farmers whom we owe our utmost gratitude for feeding us all our lives.

Now the greedy thieves running the country with guns want to make it look legal not the law means anything in Burma.

If NLD manage to get in the great parliament they would be just in time to endorse legalizaing wholesale indirect murder of the people who everybody owes so much.

But then again, there will be wide straight roads, fast,fast trains, large high rise buildings and high speed Internet who everybody would kill their mother to get to live in pollution, filth, drugs and prostitution.

Welcome to new improved Myanmar!

More Articles in This Section

bullet Courage and Cowardice in the Courtroom

bullet The President's Speech

bullet Burma’s Trust Deficit

bullet Burma’s Much-Awaited News Finally Arrives

bullet A Cruel Clemency

bullet Human Rights in Burma: No Excuse for Delay

bullet Time for Thein Sein to Prove the Skeptics Wrong

bullet Making it Legal

bullet One Year Later: Bogus Election Offers Some Hope

bullet Asean Should Bide Its Time on Burma Getting Key Role

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