Tanintharyi govt eyes un­used farm­land

The Myanmar Times - - Business - SU PHYO WIN su­phy­owin@mm­times.com

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

Photo: Thiri Lu

A mo­tor­bike rides past an oil palm plan­ta­tion owned by Union of Myanma Eco­nomic Hold­ings Lim­ited in Hnyin Maw vil­lage, Laun­glon town­ship.

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