Tanintharyi govt eyes unused farmland
THE Tanintharyi Region government has announced it will take back undeveloped land from companies that have failed to implement proposed agriculture projects, but will need the support of Nay Pyi Taw to put the plan into action.
Chief Minister Daw Lae Lae Maw, who has been tackling misuse of the region’s natural resources since she took office earlier this year, said the government is looking into land use because it has been a major driver of social and environmental issues in Myanmar’s southernmost state.
In mid-August, the local government discussed the future of land confiscated by the military government, to loan to private companies for agriculture projects, and agreed it should be taken back if it was not being used, she said. The local government has also announced the decision on its website.
The state has the right to take back farmland if it has not been cultivated for four years after an initial landlease agreement contract is signed, under the Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Lands Management Law of 2012, said Daw Lae Lae Maw.
“We have been surveying unused land and submitted our findings to the central government,” she said. “Once we have taken the land back, it will be given to its original owners, or to migrants who want to return home, to allow them to cultivate small-scale farms.”
In practice, taking back unused land may take some time, according to U Myo Tint Tun, deputy secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock office, who said the regional government only has partial authority over land use.
He confirmed that anyone allowed to cultivate vacant, fallow or virgin land must carry out their proposed business plan within four years.
“Most companies fail to follow the law, so issues arise,” he said. “The regional government can carry out onsite visits and if they find unused land they can submit the case to the Central Committee.”
If the committee determines that the land should be returned, the landholder will have to respect the decision, he said.
Some larger plots in Tanintharyi Region were confiscated by the military government, which ordered private companies to meet agriculture production goals in the 1990s and 2000s, said U Hlwan Moe.
In 1999, for example, the government launched a palm oil drive in Tanintharyi Region, granting permission over several years to 44 companies to develop a total of almost 1 million acres (405,000 hectares) in Tanintharyi, according to a recent report by Flora and Fauna International (FFI).
Much of the land was formerly forested, or farmed by local villagers, who were told to make way for the projects. The government at the time hoped to make Myanmar self-sufficient in oil palm production, according to FFI, but paid little regard to land Tanintharyi chief minister occupation by local populations, land suitability and conservation of forest reserves, water sources or endangered species.
Companies cut down forests, but many failed to develop plantations, in some cases because the land was unsuitable, or because they had only agreed to the project under state instruction and had no interest in production.
Of the 1 million acres, almost 350,000 have been planted, while Myanmar still imports around 400,000 tonnes of palm oil annually, according to FFI.
U Hla Than, managing director of oil palm company Pyi Phyo Tun International, said the military government gave his company permission in 2006 to turn more than 30,000 acres of forest land in Maw Taung town, Myeik township, into palm oil plantations.
The decision to take back unused land is “not a problem for companies that are actually running agricultural projects,” he said.
Only 60 percent of Pyi Phyo Tun’s land is suitable for growing oil palm, while the other 40pc is made up of hills and valleys that are too steep to plant, he said. The company has planted 15,000 acres so far.
The land lease agreement with the government is for 30 years and the company has to pay annual tax to the regional Forestry Department, he said, at around K2500 per acre. It paid tax on 11,800 acres under last year’s contract with the regional department, but has since expanded production.
Other large plots of land have been rented voluntarily by companies wanting to cultivate seasonal crops, or for livestock farming, mining or other projects, said U Hlwan Moe. In some cases, the companies have not followed through on their plans.
In Sagaing and Ayeyarwady regions, some companies have already had to return land because they failed to meet the four-year deadline, he added, while in other cases, companies have voluntarily returned the land to the regional government as they are not able to use it any more.
‘Once we have taken the land back it will be given to its original owners, or to migrants.’
Daw Lae Lae Maw
A motorbike rides past an oil palm plantation owned by Union of Myanma Economic Holdings Limited in Hnyin Maw village, Launglon township.