This case study has been produced in response to a request made to the
Evidence on Demand Helpdesk. The objective of the request was to write a
detailed case study on land tenure reform in a fragile and post-conflict
state, Burma, and provide the reader with an understanding of how land
tenure reform can work under the country’s particular social, political
and economic conditions.
Burma is a fragile state undergoing a period of profound economic and
political reform following a period of conflict and isolation. As the
poorest country in South Asia, land is the main asset for many people,
especially in rural areas where most of Burma’s population lives.
However, most farmers have weak tenure security, and in the recent past
have been exposed to land expropriation by the Burmese army and the
other state institutions of a military dictatorship. Additionally, in
conflict-affected border states, the strategy of government forces and
non-state armed groups to finance military operations by leasing land to
investors has led to land grabbing on both sides.
The recent political changes that have put the country back on the road
to civilian rule have profound implications for security of land tenure.
Land legislation passed in 2012 is meant to strengthen the formal land
administration and provide more rights for landholders, including the
right to lease and sell land. It also introduces a system for issuing
land use certificates, which the government plans to roll out swiftly
over the next few years. At the same time, the government’s policy to
open up to foreign investment for large-scale agriculture, mining and
industrial zones threatens to place further pressure on access to land.
How recent legal reforms translate into land tenure reform, i.e. into
changes in the terms and conditions of how land is held and transacted,
remains to be seen and depends on whether state institutions desist
from, and prevent, further expropriation, and whether the new Farmland
Management Boards that administer land at the local level function
effectively. Commentators warn that weaknesses in the legal framework
potentially disadvantage farmer’s tenure security in the face of
powerful state-backed interests; however, evidence suggesting if these
fears are confirmed is unavailable. This case study discusses the
content of these legal reforms in the context of Burmese politics,
noting how some of the changes intended in the laws may have an impact
on the tenure security of landholders.
Donors can support improved land administration by increasing dialogue
on land issues with political leaders, by funding technical expertise to
assist land administration functions and land governance processes, and
by highlighting learning experiences from other countries with similar
characteristics. They can help rural landholders to improve their
security of tenure by funding civil society groups to carry out research
and awareness-raising campaigns among landholders, by providing direct
training to farmers to better negotiate land sales or leases, and by
funding activities that raise the awareness of private sector entities
on how to avoid poor practices associated with leasing land.
This report has been produced by the Overseas Development Institute
(ODI) with the assistance of the UK Department for International
Development (DFID) contracted through the Climate, Environment,
Infrastructure and Livelihoods Professional Evidence and Applied
Knowledge Services (CEIL PEAKS) programme, jointly managed by HTSPE
Limited and IMC Worldwide Limited.
Henley, G. Case study on land in Burma. Evidence on Demand, UK (2014) 21 pp. [DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.12774/eod_hd.march2014.henley]