Land use policy in Myanmar

Myanmar forest scenary

Sun going down on Myanmar. Photo: Joe Le Merou (

Extractive industries and social conflicts are frequently bedfellows. Land use issues inevitably raise questions: ‘What are our economic and social priorities? Who are we giving priority to?’. Extractive industry is often controversial because it raises environmental challenges, in the face of multi-million dollar revenues and the coexistence of competing economic activities and cultural traditions. However in the last two decades Latin American countries have experimented with new approaches to land access for extractive industries with interesting lessons: good land access regulation increases the chances of achieving the social license that is vital for the sustainable success of extractive activities.

On the other side of the world, Myanmar is learning about these issues, with an active civil society trying to influence and reform processes in government, which has resulted in some interesting progress. David Allan is the Director of Spectrum – Sustainable Development Knowledge Network in Myanmar.  He has used the example of the ecological and economic zones in countries in Latin America for the benefit of the work that Spectrum is doing with government and other land actors, to improve transparency in natural resource allocation and nature conservation.  David participated in a Learning Alliance under the ELLA Programme, a UK Aidfunded south-south knowledge initiative that mixes research, exchange and learning to inspire evidence-based policies and practices. Together with GRADE, a Peruvian think tank, Practical Action Consulting Latin America managed a Learning Alliance on Extractive Industries in which David and peers from Latin America, Africa and Asia, discussed, land use planning and access in relation to the extractives sector, and many other issues.  After a four-month dialogue, it was evident to all participants that clear and legitimate land tenure systems help to tackle challenges related to the value of land, land transaction procedures and the compensation methods for extractive resource projects.

David considered that one critical thing in considering land use issues is how to come up with a satisfactory menu of mixed land use options: “This is one of the things that came from the ‘ZEOT process’ (the Ecological and Economic Zoning  process practiced in Peru) and is something that can be reinforced in Myanmar processes where we deal with mixed land-use issues very badly”, said David in a recent interview.  In one of the national parks in Myanmar, Spectrum are supporting buffer zone mapping and land use negotiations with local communities, using some lessons from Latin America. “Had I not been on the study visit to Peru I’m not sure it would have been so apparent to me that mixed land use was one of the key issues that  we had to deal with”, says David. So Spectrum is supporting an initial land use planning project around the borders of that National Park with the buy-in of the government and communities.  Many complexities need to be resolved. But this is just one case in the wider reform that Myanmar is experimenting with, for improvements to its land use policies.

Group shot at Study Tour in Peru

Participants of the Extractive Industries Study Tour at Peru

David has become a key advocate in Myanmar, sharing best practice ideas for the way forward in the country. Some of these ideas are feeding into reforms that are happening in Myanmar. “So what’s happened in the multi-year process is that the national land use policy has gone from nothing to being in existence, (…) and overall awareness of land use conflict issues are now considered a much bigger issue and treated very seriously”, says David.  Latin American experience has shown that greater state and civil society involvement contributes to more effective land use regulation and management in the impact zone of extractive projects, and the hope is that civil society involvement in Myanmar will result in improved land use policies to reduce social conflicts.

Three years after David participated in the ELLA south-south knowledge sharing initiative, he commented that now discussions in Myanmar centre on revenue sharing arrangements, and experiences like the ones he learnt about in Peru where the high percentage of mining canon that was passed on to local government, posed a great challenge for local capacity in managing such a large and sudden increase in the flow of funds.  David  noted that Such experiences have allowed me to put a lot more valuable comment into policy discussions in Myanmar, which are really important, and a big factor in unresolved civil conflicts”. Myanmar has recently released its first public report under the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a voluntary global standard that asks countries to publicly report the revenues that extractives companies make to national governments[1].

Stories like David Allan’s and his advocacy role in Myanmar show that south-south exchange can contribute to change when there are windows of opportunity, and where programmes work with committed, capable individuals able to deploy the knowledge they picked up when the opportunity develops.

In the ELLA programme UK Aid bet on the benefits of south-south learning. David’s story is just one case among the many registered by the programme.  Knowledge exchange between regions of the ´global south’ can work, even where countries are very different, when sufficient attention is paid to identifying and understanding context.  In this case, David used Latin American practices and lessons as  basis to advocate for a land use policy as a mechanism to avoid civil conflicts in Myanmar.

[1] Mendoza, Naki B. What to know about Myanmar’s first EITI report, Devex Impact, Washington DC, 12 May 2016

This article has been written by Alicia Quezada, Manager of Practical Action Consulting Latin America, and is based on an interview with David Allan (18 March 2016) and programme reports, including a report on the ELLA Learning Alliance on Extractive Industries “Module 1: Land Use Planning and Access” and the ELLA Brief “Accessing Land for Extractive Industries: Socially and Environmentally Sustainable Approaches”.
You can contact Mark Lewis if you want to know more about the ELLA Programme and Alicia Quezada if you want to engage with Practical Action Consulting Latin America.
CCThis article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license
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