How rubber plantations are affecting local livelihoods in Myanmar: One woman’s story

Kyoko Kusakabe By Kyoko Kusakabe - Apr 4, 2016

By GIAI Rubber Research Team (Kyoko Kusakabe et al.)

Rubber plantations are expanding in northeastern Myanmar in Shan State. In Main Pa village, Lashio district in Myanmar, armed ethnic groups have been involved in taking away about 1000 acres of land in this village tract (group of villages) and turning them into rubber plantations since 2005.

When their lands are taklen away, the villagers are too scared to protest or stand up against the armed groups. Sometimes, the villagers are even forced to volunteer their time and labour to clear the land for the rubber planting. Once they lose their lands, the local people do not have any land left to cultvate rice or other crops. Without arable land and lacking jobs in the area, most villagers migrate to work especially in Thailand.

Of the 42 households in this village, about 62 people have moved to find work in Thailand. In about five households, the entire family has moved to work in Thailand. Its mostly women who migrate more than men, and now the village depends mostly on the remittances from the migrant labour.  

Local impacts of rubber concessions: One woman’s story

The wife of the head of the Main Pa village tract married into this village from a neighboring village. She lives with her husband’s parents and they used to cultivate his parents’ land until it was taken away by the armed group. She said how she felt saddened when the armed groups took away their lands that their family depends upon for food and income.

She wanted to sue the company (which is actually owned by the armed ethnic group) but did not dare to do so. She said that the village is very quiet now, with few people remaining, since many people have lost their lands and moved away.

After losing their lands to the rubber plantation, she had to clear new land elsewhere which is exhausting and time-consuming work . She took up most of the farming since her husband was busy with official duties as the head of the village tract. She also needed to reduce household expenditure, since their income decreased with the loss of the land. One of the main expenses they had to cut was on food. However, she has tried very hard to not cut their education expenditure so that their children can continue to go to school. As both she and her husband are educated, they also want their children to go to school. Her daughter is now in middle school in Lashio district town.Private sector rubber plantation and cleared fields in Lashio, Myanmar

Getting back their lands

Since 2012, a new land law has helped the villagers who have been trying to get back their lands. The land law states that lands that are lying vacant would be taken up by the government. Villagers without land could get access to these lands with the government.

The company still had 300 acres where they had not yet planted rubber. In 2014, the wife learned about this land law from her husband and she urged her husband every day to go to the company to claim back the land. Finally the husband agreed to go. She said  that it is due to her effort that the village got the lands back.

Armed with an official letter from the township, the village tract head and his secretary went to the company to negotiate and got them to return the 300 acres back to the village. Since 2014, villagers were able to start farming on this land.

Project update dated March 2016 from: Gendered impact of cross-border agricultural investment: Case of rubber plantations in northern Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia (GIAI-Rubber).

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