In January 2016 the government adopted a National Land Use Policy, which included the recognition of customary land management practices. While this is a welcome first step in the necessary integration of Burma’s customary land management systems with the national-level system, there is an urgent need for constitutional reform and devolution of land management powers prior to any such integration.
This report by the Ethnic Community Development Forum (ECDF) presents how Burma’s diverse customary land management systems in seven ethnic communities are structured, and provides ideas for how these systems could be supported and potentially integrated into a future devolved federal national land management system.
Customary land management systems have co-existed with the national land management system in Burma for centuries.
The national land management system is highly centralized and has facilitated widespread land grabbing for natural resource extraction and agribusiness projects, resulting in loss of livelihoods and environmental degradation throughout the country. Updated Land Laws adopted in 2012 were based on poorly defined land classification and despite some democratic reforms, the military maintains a central role in land management through the General Administration Department. Upland agricultural lands – mainly tilled by ethnic nationalities practicing shifting cultivation – are defined by law as either forest lands or as vacant, virgin and fallow lands. Lands defined as “vacant, virgin and fallow” are particularly problematic as these are designated for “State Economic Development” and contracted to extractive industries, agribusiness and infrastructure development projects.