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In this report Namati and Landesa highlight the pressing need of Myanmar’s rural population – and recommend potential solutions – as the Myanmar government embarks on wide-reaching land policy reform.
Myanmar is undergoing a major transition, opening space for significant change for the first time in decades. Secure land tenure for smallholder farmers and rural communities is essential in a heavily agrarian nation like Myanmar, where millions in the rural population – nearly 70% of the country – depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Despite some updates to the legal framework, such as the 2012 Farmland Law and Vacant, Fallow, and Virgin Land Law, millions of Myanmar farmers remain vulnerable with insecure land tenure due to a complex and opaque set of land laws, unresolved historical land grievances, and widespread landlessness.
The common aim of Namati and Landesa is to support the development of a protective, pro-poor legal framework, that will empower farmers to use the law, make informed decisions about their land, and maintain secure land tenure – ultimately leading to poverty alleviation for poor, rural women and men.
Since the start of its Myanmar program in 2013, Namati and local partner Civil and Political Rights Campaign Group (CPRCG) have deployed 30 community-based paralegals in seven states and divisions to help farmers secure land tenure under Myanmar law. In two years, the paralegals worked alongside farming families and large groups of farmers to seek solutions to over 2500 land issues.
The Namati-CPRCG paralegals also rigorously track every case to build an understanding of how farmers experience interactions with land-related laws and administrative systems. With paralegals across Myanmar including central lowlands and ethnic states, the geographic breadth of the program allows for meaningful comparisons of implementation and government decision- making across regions.
Landesa, a US-based nonprofit, has worked on issues of secure land rights for poor, rural women and men, including landless families, in over 50 countries since 1967, including comparative fieldwork and policy review in a dozen Asian countries (including five that have successfully carried out major land tenure reforms: Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, China, and Vietnam). In addition to this extensive regional experience, Landesa has carried out fieldwork in multiple areas of rural Myanmar.
The discussion and recommendations below are informed by the complementary perspectives and experience of Landesa and Namati – international and comparative examples of land reform and best practices, grassroots data from the experiences of Myanmar farmers, and additional fieldwork conducted by both organizations throughout the country.