A network of land-focused civil society organisations has raised concerns that bylaws for two new pieces of land legislation fail to offer proper protection for upland farmers who use shifting cultivation, leaving millions at risk of losing their land tenure rights.
Land Core Group chairman U Shwe Thein said that the recently introduced bylaw for the Farmland Law interprets taungya, or upland farming, as only fields under permanent cultivation. This leaves farmers who practise upland shifting cultivation with little protection from losing their lands.
“The law recognises the existence of taungya but when the bylaws came out we couldn’t see any regulation related to upland farming with rotational cultivation,” he said. “Very few upland farmers also have documentary evidence of land use and land without legal title can be legally reallocated by the state to the private sector for agriculture development so you can imagine the scale of risk for upland farmers … we don’t see anything in the bylaws that can properly protect the land user rights of those upland farmers.”
Shifting cultivation is practised in Myanmar’s upland areas and sees farmers leave fields fallow to regenerate. While there are no exact figures, it is thought to account for about 30 to 40 percent of all cultivation in Myanmar, the Land Core Group says.
Article 12(i) of the Farmland Law states that fields should not be left fallow without good reason – implying that they can be left fallow – while article 17(i) states that land management committees are responsible for guiding and supervising shifting cultivation.
While the clauses in the Farmland Law related to taungya were inserted by Pyidaungsu Hluttaw representatives after lobbying by the Land Core Group and other civil society organisations, the bylaws were drafted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation without public consultation or parliamentary oversight.
“In our advocacy work, we also suggested a definition of taungya be inserted into the Farmland Law before it was approved but we were not successful,” U Shwe Thein said.
He said the Land Core Group wants hluttaw representatives to again take up the issue and urge the ministry to amend the new bylaws to protect shifting cultivation farmers.
Rotational cultivation has a long history in Myanmar and is administered by customary law, which is also not properly recognised under the Farmland Law or the Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Lands Management Law, U Shwe Thein said.
“In many areas the village head or clan leaders decide who uses what land and when it will be rotated. It is left with the intention of regenerating, to allow the soil to recover. They don’t have any registration papers for this,” he said. “And in the two new laws, those customary practices are not recognised.
“Myanmar could look at examples from neighbouring countries, such as Thailand, the Philippines and others. They have recognised customary practices in their land laws.”