The Myanmar Farmers Network met with local farmers in Kachin state’s Namtee township on 5 September as part of a nationwide tour where they have been spreading warnings to rural townsfolk about the Law to Protect Farmers’ Interests, which was recently approved by the union parliament, and which the Network deems “fragmentary”.
The group says it has been touring the country to raise awareness among local farmers about the law and address questions.
Network leader Tin Ko Linn told DVB that about 100 local farmers attended the Namtee meeting. He said although farmers were mostly unaware of the ruling, they showed interest in hearing about its pros and cons.
“We explained the nature of the law and pointed out several irregularities, such as a lack of provisions for farming in mountainous areas,” he said. “These issues are crucial to highland farmers who need to be aware of the need to protect their rights. The law is rather vague when defining the difference between barren land and pasture.”
Thursday marked the group’s first meeting in Kachin state. Previously, they held similar public forums with farmers in Arakan state and Mandalay division.
Tin Ko Linn said the group is looking to draft an alternate farmers’ law with input from farmers across the country as well as legal experts.
Attorney Ko Ni of the Myanmar Lawyers Network said the current law is flawed, and that it was drafted and approved in a “hurried manner” by the parliament.
“There are a lot of complications at this juncture because the country is going through a transition period and the parliament has enacted quite a few new pieces of legislation relating to farmers’ rights and land ownership,” he said. “First they passed the Farmland Law, then the Vacant Lands, Fallow Lands and Virgin Lands Management Law, and now this so-called Law to Protect Farmers’ Interests.
“Instead of proceeding this way, it would be more practical and astute for parliament to commission legal experts to study the situation and draft a law based on their recommendations,” said Ko Ni.
“I think farmers are becoming despondent because these laws are being rushed through parliament with such little input from experts,” he added.
For example, the 2012 Farmland Law allows the government to arbitrarily confiscate land from villagers if it is deemed to be in “the national interest”. Critics say this will fuel a land-grabbing “epidemic” as Burma continues to emerge from decades of military rule.