Rural Transformations

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Annapia Debarry—Food Sovereignty in Rural Myanmar: a case study on drivers of agrarian transformation and impacts on small-scale farmers

With the economic and democratic opening of Myanmar the commercialization of agriculture is one of the main goals of the government. Small-scale farmers in rural Myanmar are struggling with these commercialization processes: Pro-business land reform and local power structures along with foreign investments in export-oriented, large-scale agriculture are undermining local food systems and customary land tenure rights pushing small-scale farmers into deeper poverty and wage-labor. The food sovereignty approach aims to return power and control over the food system to producers and consumers. This presentation introduces the results of a field research which was mainly conducted in two villages in Southern Shan State and puts small-scale farmers and their struggles over land, food and rights at the center of discussion by using the approach of food sovereignty to examine the factors which are pushing commercialization. Furthermore, it explores aspects of the academic discourse and narratives of food sovereignty and gives some critical insights to the approach.

Einzenberger, Rainer—“Legal dispossession”: Formalization of Customary Lands and Indigenous Rights Discourses in Chin-State

Conflicts over land and resources have become a widespread feature of Myanmar’s economic and political transition over the past couple of years. While many areas of the country have been affected by land conflicts, the implications and patterns are not the same in all places. This is in particular true for the ethnic states, with a long history of (partially ongoing) armed struggle for self-determination, and very specific historical, political and economic contexts. Whereas the eastern and northern states bordering Thailand and China have been heavily affected by land grab and resource exploitation, less is known of the situation on Myanmar’s western border. Nonetheless, despite its relative isolation, conflicts over land and resources seem to be also on the rise in Chin-State. Land conflicts are reinforced here by a recent legislation which seems biased against upland dwellers and their customary land tenure. Despite the government’s declaration to recognize ethnic customary land rights, little has changed so far. The presentation will focus on conflicts over customary land tenure and traditional land use systems in Chin-State. It will also discuss emerging transnational discourses of indigenous rights, promoted by local civil society actors in defense of customary land rights.

Huard, Stéphen—A Headman’s Dilemma: Power and Land Relations in Central Myanmar

This presentation questions what is being a village headman in contemporary Myanmar countryside. It describes how U Kyaw, headman from 2013 to early 2016, navigates headship and daily life in the village of GawGyi, near to Monywa in Sagaing Division, where I conducted fieldwork for eighteen months. More precisely, it shows how a person faces demanding interactions related to headship that overlap with relationships developed across one’s life. Indeed, being the headman placed U Kyaw in a specific set of relations because headship is about navigating contradicting expectations, affiliations, responsibilities and duties. So, what is U Kyaw’s story? He is coming from a relatively well established family living on the oldest settlement area of the village. Son of the village doctor, he is known for being a helpful person. Through the support and affiliation with the village lu-gyi (influent people) he candidated for
headship in 2013. Selected as headman, he had to remake the village-tract families’ registration and the land cadastre. He had to officialise land agreements, setting loan scheme, dealing with NGOs, assuring village “security”, and managing land conflicts for instance. As a broker between villagers and government agencies, he had to find trade-offs between collusion and support. He also learnt how to negotiate with officials. Meanwhile, he became married and father, implying change in residency and issue of inheritance. He also had to support his family after his father’s death. He distanced himself from the local monk due to the latter’s demeanour. Eventually, he hosted me, acting as an introducer and caretaker. Later on, he organised headman selection under the patronage of local lu-gyi and managed to find a gateway from being candidate for headship one more time. From that moment onward, he gradually declined involvement in village affairs. Across this period, U Kyaw faced challenging interactions related to his authority and role as headman. He navigated those relationships by keeping distance and avoid collusion. But also by adapting governing practices in respect to his evolving position and status in the village and with authorities. U Kyaw’s story is thus an entry for understanding what being a headman is in contemporary Myanmar countryside. It emphases that performing across a social space is about relations’ overlaps and contradictions. Finally, it shows how local relationships with the state are conceived and practiced.


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