RESOURCE RIGHTS AND CLIMATE CHANGE
The majority of Burma’s population is rural and depends heavily on access to shared resources — like communally-managed land and forests — for livelihood. Most of Burma’s rural population, however, does not have clear or documented rights to these shared community assets, which are owned entirely by the state. Estimates of landlessness among Burma’s rural population currently range from 30 percent to 50 percent. As a result — and as outside investment in Burma continues to increase — rural families are vulnerable to losing access to the forests and agricultural lands they depend on to larger, more powerful interests.
Global research and experience has shown that when individuals and communities do not have clear rights to resources like land and forests, they are not incentivized to protect or sustainably use those resources for the long term. Without secure rights, farmers are less likely to invest in common climate risk reduction strategies, such as irrigation or agroforestry, which often require long-term investment and maintenance. This lack of incentives can result in deforestation, soil degradation, and water depletion. Additionally, the limited understanding of resource boundaries and land rights hampers basic land use planning capabilities for sustainable land management. This is particularly important in Burma where the unchecked expansion of resource extraction efforts has led to widespread land and water pollution, and alarming rates of deforestation — a key driver of global climate change.
USAID is on the ground in Burma, supporting rural families, communities, and the government to create the fundamental policies needed to strengthen community land and forest rights, empower communities to manage their shared assets effectively, curtail deforestation, and ultimately combat global climate change.
WELCOME TO LET MAUNG KWAY
Let Maung Kway, a rural village tract in central Burma, consists of eight villages that were settled over 100 years ago. The 2,600 people that live here grow rice, ginger, peas, and canola, and depend on forest products for subsistence. Villagers live and work on land that is owned by the state. Their long-term rights to this land, the forest, and other resources accessed by the community are undocumented, unclear, and often called into question.
The people of Let Maung Kway rely on shared assets for survival, yet there is no community land or resource management committee, and little coordination over resource use. Over time — and with each household making independent decisions about how community resources are used — deforestation, forest conversion for agriculture, soil degradation, and water depletion have increased.
At the same time, and as the country continues to open for trade and business, villagers are becoming increasingly concerned that their lack of land rights makes them vulnerable to private sector companies obtaining concessions to their land, and that their forest access rights may be restricted. As in many countries, the clearing of forested areas for commercial agriculture in Burma is one of the main drivers of carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.
MEET U CHAW
U Chaw has lived in Let Maung Kway his entire life, and has seen first-hand the challenges that arise when individuals, families, and communities do not have documented rights to their land and shared assets. As Burma opens its markets to foreign investors and pursues policies to increase industrial agricultural production, fear of “land grabs” — a historical source of conflict in Burma — has escalated in many communities. U Chaw echoes these concerns.
“We need to document our village boundary, and we need this to be recognized by the government. By doing this we will protect our land, our forests, and our resources,” said U Chaw.
BUILDING TRUST, CREATING ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY
Sound policies that document and protect the resource rights of rural communities are needed to build community trust, motivate sustainable resource use, reduce deforestation, and ultimately, mitigate climate change. To encourage participatory policy formation in Burma, USAID supported a two-year inclusive public consultation process on the National Land Use Policy. During the consultations, the resource concerns, needs, and suggestions of rural citizens were solicited and documented. Women, minorities, and other vulnerable groups played a key role in this exercise, and shared their unique perspectives on community land and resource challenges.
During that time, USAID worked with communities to take an inventory of shared community assets, and discuss resource challenges and constraints. USAID then supported communities to identify, map, and verify their boundaries. Solutions to resource challenges were identified, and committees were formed and given the tools needed to engage in land-use planning and natural resource decision making, particularly around forest areas. U Chaw felt that this exercise would bring great benefits to his community.
“Mapping is important for our land tenure security. With [this information] we can protect our land, do our own land use planning, [increase] development, and bring profits to our people,” U Chaw said.
USAID — working simultaneously with local- and national-level government actors — served as a link between high-level government officials, civil society organizations, and rural families. USAID supported outreach efforts to help the national government communicate the implications of the National Land Use Policy to local communities, such as the expectation that community land and resource rights will be recognized by the government. Following the consultations, villagers understood the key role that they play in the formation of this and other policies that affect their livelihoods.
In 2016, after a long and successful broad-based, multi-stakeholder consultation and design process, the National Land Use Policy was finalized, endorsed, and officially adopted by the government of Burma. The policy promotes the resource rights of rural families, farmers, and communities, and forms the foundation for a future unified land law that will protect the land and forest rights of rural families in Burma. The policy will lay the groundwork for future legislation and action that protects Burma’s globally significant forests while promoting sustainable rural economic growth.
The National Land Use Policy supports U Chaw and communities like Let Maung Kway to make secure and sustainable decisions over their land. As one of the first communities in Burma to pilot these activities, Let Maung Kway will soon be able to demonstrate how secure land rights improve resource management and decision making. USAID will continue to support communities across Burma to conduct community mapping and create land use plans that promote sustainable use of their resources. This will be of the utmost importance as the nation continues its economic transition and faces challenges related to global climate change.
To learn more about USAID’s efforts to strengthen land tenure and property rights, visit www.land-links.org