The Political Economy of Land Governance in Myanmar

This country level analysis addresses land governance in Myanmar in two ways. First, it summarises what the existing body of knowledge tells us about power and configurations that shape access to and exclusion from land, particularly among smallholders, the rural poor, ethnic minorities and women. Second, it draws upon existing literature and expert assessment to provide a preliminary analysis of the openings for and obstacles to land governance reform afforded by the political economic structures and dynamics in the country. 

Myanmar is marked by a rapid opening of its economy to foreign investment. This has exacerbated insecurity over land in a country where arbitrary use of authority has troubled smallholders for decades. Close association between the military (which still controls the levers of government), domestic big business and foreign corporate interests produces a powerful force for land alienation in a country where the current accelerated development path is largely based on land-demanding projects. These projects include agribusiness plantations, extractives projects in the energy and mining sector, and special economic zones (SEZs). The space for open dialogue and challenges around these issues has opened up rapidly, leaving civil society, government officials and the international community scrambling to stay abreast. Meanwhile, new and complex issues have emerged on top of old problems as neoliberal approaches to turn land into capital see tenure reforms move in the direction of private land titling for smallholder sedentary lowland farmers. In addition, new land and investment-related laws enable foreign capital into land-based deals, particularly for agribusiness.

This report on Myanmar is one of a series of country reports on Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Viet Nam (CLMV) that seeks to present country-level analyses of the political economy of land governance in the Mekong region.

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