Palm oil sec­tor au­dited

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

A coali­tion of land rights groups will sur­vey the palm oil in­dus­try to de­ter­mine how much land is used for the sec­tor and how it is be­ing farmed.

THE Land Core Group (LCG), a net­work of more than 50 land rights groups, led a work­shop last week aimed at help­ing the Tanintharyi Re­gion gov­ern­ment tackle land own­er­ship and us­age in the palm oil sec­tor.

“Land is­sues in the re­gion have been very com­pli­cated for years,” said U Shwe Thein, LCG’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor. “The Tanintharyi re­gional gov­ern­ment is try­ing to tackle the is­sue se­ri­ously. There­fore we are sup­port­ing the re­gional gov­ern­ment in pro­mot­ing a multi-stake­holder plat­form start­ing with oil­palm as­sess­ment.”

A sur­vey will ex­am­ine how much land is owned by palm oil com­pa­nies, how much of that is cur­rently be­ing used for ac­tual pro­duc­tion, how the land is farmed, and the own­er­ship his­tory of the land, he said.

At the work­shop on Oc­to­ber 8, a lead­ing com­mit­tee for oil palm in­dus­try land use was formed, which in­cluded stake­hold­ers from the re­gional gov­ern­ment, civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions, and rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the pub­lic and lo­cal eth­nic groups.

The com­mit­tee also in­cludes rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the One Map project, an eight-year ini­tia­tive that be­gan in 2015 im­ple­mented jointly by the Univer­sity of Bern’s Cen­tre for De­vel­op­ment and En­vi­ron­ment (CDE) and the LCG.

One Map aims to de­velop an “open-ac­cess spa­tial data plat­form on land is­sues”, ac­cord­ing to the CDE.

The LCG-led work­shop on palm oil also agreed on the pri­or­i­ties for the next three months, said U Shwe Thein.

“Land use man­age­ment and in­vest­ment in the re­gion are chal­leng­ing at the mo­ment, and need to be well han­dled,” he said. “I was very im­pressed with the gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to form the multi-stake­holder lead­ing com­mit­tee with rep­re­sen­ta­tives from all rel­e­vant stake­hold­ers in the re­gion. I was also very im­pressed that even some of the oil palm com­pa­nies pro­vided their con­cerns in the work­shop.”

U Thant Zin, co­or­di­na­tor for the Dawei De­vel­op­ment As­so­ci­a­tion (DDA), said that land use is­sues “seemed to arise al­most ev­ery day”, and that it was pos­i­tive that all stake­hold­ers were com­ing to­gether to re­solve the is­sues.

“Palm oil com­pa­nies have bought up huge amounts of land in the re­gion,” he said. “In some cases the land had been oc­cu­pied by peo­ple for a long time, or is in a con­ser­va­tion area. But pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ments failed to man­age land is­sues and many are still in need of res­o­lu­tion.”

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, U Hl­wan Moe, di­rec­tor of the Agri­cul­tural Land Man­age­ment and Sta­tis­tics Depart­ment, pre­vi­ously told The Myan­mar Times.

Tanintharyi Re­gion’s chief min­is­ter Daw Lae Lae Maw an­nounced in Au­gust that the re­gional gov­ern­ment was sur­vey­ing un­used land and sub­mit­ted its find­ings to the re­gional gov­ern­ment. That sur­vey is de­signed to re­turn some land con­fis­cated by the mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment back to orig­i­nal own­ers or dis­placed work­ers in or­der to let them cul­ti­vate small-scale farms.

Un­der the Va­cant, Fal­low and Vir­gin Lands Man­age­ment Law of 2012, the state has the right to take back farm­land if it has not been cul­ti­vated for four years after an ini­tial land-lease agree­ment con­tract is signed.

Sai Myint Thein, a di­rec­tor at Asia World, said that to­day’s land use is­sues are the re­sult of the old ad­min­is­tra­tion forc­ing com­pa­nies into agri­cul­tural projects and not ne­go­ti­at­ing with lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties.

Asia World is su­ing two vil­lagers in Band Mae vil­lage, Myeik dis­trict, for de­stroy­ing palm oil trees. Civil so­ci­ety groups say the vil­lagers left their land in the 1990s be­cause of the fight­ing be­tween the Karen Na­tional Union and the Tat­madaw. Al­though they are now ready to re­turn, Asia World and other firms have set up plan­ta­tions on the land.

Sai Myint Thein said that Asia World is will­ing to re­turn land that it has not used for pro­duc­tion if that is what the re­gional gov­ern­ment’s new pol­icy dic­tates.

“We are ready to re­turn that land,” he said, adding that the palm oil busi­ness is in many cases not go­ing par­tic­u­larly well. “It’s not a suc­cess­ful busi­ness for most oil palm com­pa­nies, be­cause we can’t pro­duce ed­i­ble palm oil, we end up with oil that can only be used for soap.”

‘Pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ments failed to man­age land is­sues and many [cases] are still in need of res­o­lu­tion’

U Thant Zin Dawei De­vel­op­ment As­so­ci­a­tion

Photo: Staff

A shop as­sis­tant pours palm oil into bot­tles at the shop in Kyauk­tada town­ship.

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