Demand for rubber leads to land confiscation and food shortages

Apr 11, 2009 (DVB), China's insatiable hunger for rubber has led to land confiscation and forced labour in eastern Burma as the ruling junta look to increase exports to its key trading partner, a report released this week said.

The rapidly growing demand has also sparked a battle for control over production between armed ceasefire groups and the Burmese government, said a report by the Lahu National Development Organisation.

Burma cultivated 302,000 hectares of rubber in 2006; the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation stated their aim to increase that by a further 100,000 acres last year.

"Many other villagers' lands have been confiscated by military, village or town authorities," said a retired soldier from Tachilek township in Shan state.

"They announce that the land must be developed for the country, and then they take it."

Ceasefire groups, such as the United Wa State Army, and smaller militia groups are becoming increasingly involved in the rubber trade, the report said, adding that China's growing demand is the reason behind the Burmese government and militia groups' forcing of local people to grow rubber.

The recent interest in rubber by the government and other groups also intends to prove that they are not involved in opium cultivation.

Chinese company Yunnan Hongyu Group Company Ltd has introduced rubber cultivation in Shan state under the banner of foreign assistance in Burma's opium eradication campaign.

With growing numbers of plantations springing up on land previously used for crops, villagers in Shan state also reported food shortages and loss of important resources.

"Rubber takes our conservation forest and cleans out the fire wood," said a poppy farmer from Mong Hsat township.

"There is no wood to build a house and no land for our cattle grazing."

Reporting by Francis Wade

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