The Implementation of the Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Land Law: a case study in Sagaing Region (in Burmese)

This Case Study looks at the implementation of the Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Lands Management Law (VFV Law) in seven villages in Sagaing Region, to assess the practices on the ground and how the law impacts the land tenure security of smallholder farmers.

In 2012, the Government of Myanmar enacted the VFV Law with the primary objective of fostering large-scale agricultural investment through concessions. The law has been criticized as ignoring the customary tenure rights of local communities and as a major source of land conflict across the country. The law was amended in October 2018 compelling farmers to register the use of land which fell under the categories of vacant, fallow or virgin (VFV), and threatening fines and imprisonment if failing to do so. From the government perspective, this amendment was a unique opportunity for farmers to legitimize their existing land use. On the contrary, for civil society and various groups, the amendment represented a threat to the many farmers cultivating land in unregistered areas. One year after the amendment to the law was passed, questions have arisen around the real situation on the ground and the consequences of the law to date.

This Case Study provides a unique overview of the implementation of the VFV Law in Sagaing region with the following key findings:

1. Farmer awareness of the opportunity and obligation to register their land under the amended law is limited and interest low, excepts when they have land claims related to previous land acquisitions.

2. Since the amendment, none of the farmers who have applied have succeeded obtaining the VFV land use permit; the process is constrained by complex and non-transparent approvals. The criteria used to review the applications are not known and there is no independent mechanism to address farmer grievances. Farmers are overly dependent on staff from the land administration to manage their applications creating strong incentives for informal payments.

3. In the study area, the law amendment per se did not create new conflicts, however it did not address past land conflicts and grievances that arose from the earlier land acquisitions. Cancelled concessions are not returned to farmers who were originally dispossessed but become available for new claims and at risk of creating new conflicts.

4. The VFV Land Law and the process of applying for land use permits looks irrelevant for smallholder farmers. It would make greater sense for them to get Land Use Certificates on cultivated land as per the Farmland Law (2012) rather than 30-year land use permits of VFV land which offer much less tenure security.

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