Burma was a dominant country in the world in terms of rice exportation during the first half of the 20th century, accounting for nearly three quarters of the world’s rice exports. This production was severely disrupted by World War Two. With the new independent government, Burma’s rice production and exportation began to decrease immensely.
Currently, natural resources are concentrated along the borders with Thailand, China, Bangladesh and India, regions mainly inhabited by Burma’s numerous minority ethnic groups. This combination of valuable natural resources and high ethnic diversity has contributed to political unrest in Burma and is shaping into an “ethno-ecological crisis”.
Despite (or because of) Burma’s great biological, cultural and ethnic diversity, Burma remains embattled by the world’s longest running civil war. The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the present name for the Burmese military junta, focuses on unitary state-building through military conquest. Its goal is to end political and ethnic resistance, control all territory within Burma, bring the people of Burma – and specifically the ethnic minorities – into the “national fold”, and exploit the natural wealth of the border regions. The SPDC now controls much of the country, but some ethnic political/military groups still have effective control over some regions. SPDC corruption and human rights violations, especially in ethnic areas, have been extensively reported upon by international and Burmese media, exiled opposition groups and international organizations.
According to the latest UN Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma (1), “[g]rave human rights violations are committed by persons within the established structures of the State Peace and Development Council and are not only perpetrated with impunity but authorized by law.” There exists a “...widespread practice of land confiscation throughout the country, which is seemingly aimed at anchoring military control, especially in ethnic areas. It has led to numerous forced evictions, relocations and resettlements, forced migration and internal displacement.” Due to the increase of militarization, land confiscation occurs regularly all over the country. Not only have the lowland farmers been denied their own land by the authorities but highland indigenous farmers have also been forced to leave their land. So, farmers no longer have the freedom to grow rice and other crops which has resulted in greatly reduced paddy production.
Furthermore, there are serious implications for ecological conservation projects in Burma. Efforts to conserve wildlife and to practice sustainable agriculture are severely limited because local / indigenous people have no rights to expand their knowledge and put their beliefs into practice.
SPDC, high class business people and other people from the authorities have been controlling all natural resources while the local and indigenous people have no right to ownership and can’t make decisions about how the land where they live is managed. In order for the SPDC soldiers’ families to collect their food and rations, all the military camps have to confiscate land to grow rice and then force the local farmers to work on the paddy fields without any pay.
1 Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, February 12 2007,page3, http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G07/107/31/PDF/G0710731.pdf?OpenElement