Customary laws related to land
|Title:|| ||Our Customary Lands - Community-Based Sustainable Natural Resource Management in Burma
|Date of publication:|| ||05 July 2016|
|Description/subject:|| ||Executive summary:
"In January 2016 the government adopted a National Land Use Policy, which included the recognition
of customary land management practices. While this is a welcome first step in the necessary
integration of Burma’s customary land management systems with the national-level system,
there is an urgent need for constitutional reform and devolution of land management powers
prior to any such integration.
This report by the Ethnic Community Development Forum (ECDF) presents how Burma’s diverse
customary land management systems in seven ethnic communities are structured, and
provides ideas for how these systems could be supported and potentially integrated into a future
devolved federal national land management system.
Customary land management systems have co-existed with the national land management system
in Burma for centuries.
The national land management system is highly centralized and has facilitated widespread
land grabbing for natural resource extraction and agribusiness projects, resulting in loss of livelihoods
and environmental degradation throughout the country. Updated Land Laws adopted
in 2012 were based on poorly defined land classification and despite some democratic reforms,
the military maintains a central role in land management through the General Administration
Department. Upland agricultural lands – mainly tilled by ethnic nationalities practicing shifting
cultivation – are defined by law as either forest lands or as vacant, virgin and fallow lands. Lands
defined as “vacant, virgin and fallow” are particularly problematic as these are designated for
“State Economic Development” and contracted to extractive industries, agribusiness and infrastructure
Customary land management systems have operated independently of the national government
since colonial days and independence, due to lack of government access into remote ethnic
areas and decades of civil war. In recent years, ethnic resistance governments in Karen and Mon
States have developed their own land registration and management systems in order to protect
the land rights and interests of ethnic farmers in areas governed by these ethnic governments.
These systems, in contrast to the national land management systems, are decentralized and have
evolved/adapted to local situations and needs, prioritizing sustainable livelihoods and environmental
The ECDF has conducted grassroots participatory research and issued publications on customary
land systems in Burma’s ethnic states since 2014. This has included: conducting a household
survey in 26 townships; commissioning a report on international experiences with customary
land management systems; and facilitating participatory community research in order to document
the land management systems in seven ethnic villages located in six states. Summary findings
of this research include:
a) Customary practices have been passed on for many generations and have sustained
strong connections between villagers and their lands:
Communities that are practicing customary land management have been living on their lands
for many generations, passing their lands and traditions onto their children and grandchildren.
Community members regard land as more than just a commodity which has no spiritual connection
to the nature that has produced these resources. The administrative and cultural institutions
that have arisen among ethnic groups over numerous generations of living on their lands are tied
closely to the geographic features of their lands, as well as the experiences about how to best
conserve surrounding natural resources in order to survive and prosper. Everyday customs and
traditions, including the roles of those governing customary lands, are woven into the natural
environment where communities are based and the corresponding worldview that community
members have received from their ancestors.
b) Customary practices provide sustainable environmental protection:
Nearly all communities practicing customary land management reside in forests, and therefore
are dependent upon the health of these forest lands for their survival and livelihoods. Customary
communities have developed land use rules and regulations which have allowed sustainable use
of the forest for food, shelter and medicine without endangering long-term ecological health.
Villagers also preserve their natural resources by respecting the spirits of the trees, lakes, water
resources, animals and lands on ‘auspicious’ days each year and through composing stories and
poems in order to teach the new generations about protecting the community’s natural resources.
Customary Land communities have established a number of land use zones (community forests,
protected forests, reserved forests, use forests, watersheds, conservation areas and wildlife
conservation zones) – each with explicit rules that regulate the use of the lands and natural resources.
There is a wide range of classifi cations for these conservation areas.
c) Customary practices provide self-reliant and ecologically sustainable livelihoods:
A vast majority of community needs are produced or collected from local lands, forests and waters.
Apart from organized production of foods – through lowland and hillside agriculture as well
as livestock breeding – forest resources provide supplementary foods (wild fruits, vegetables
and animals); materials for housing and clothes; and herbal medicines. These communities have
regulations that prioritize ecologically sustainable, equitable and needs-based production rather
than extraction for sales and profit.
d) Customary practices provide local communities with eff ective decentralized and participatory
governance and judiciary systems:
Governance, judiciary and administrative systems exist in the communities that have evolved
over generations and are both participatory and resilient. Community members view the rules
and regulations as their own, and therefore adhere to them much more closely than a set of
regulations imposed upon them by outsiders. Elected village committees (including specific
committees for land, water and forest management) update, arbitrate and enforce village land
regulations. Important decisions are made with the participation of a majority of the villagers.
Customary land management systems are holistic and incorporate all lands, waterways and forests
within specified village boundaries.
Customary land management structures and policies have been integrated nationally in countries
on every continent. International institutions – including the World Bank – have stated the effectiveness
and effi ciency advantages of communal and customary tenure over formal individual
titles. The World Bank has also urged caution about state-led intervention in land tenure systems,
suggesting building on existing systems.
Protection and recognition of ethnic customary land management systems is an important component
in achieving sustainable peace and must be enshrined in a future federal constitution
and decentralized legal framework – one example of this is outlined at the end of this report. In
order to protect these lands and systems until peace accords, constitutional amendments and new
land legislation formalizing these systems have been fi nalized, there should be a moratorium
on land acquisition in areas where customary land management systems are being implemented
or were implemented before displacement due to armed conflicts."|
|Source/publisher:|| ||Ethnic Community Development Forum|
|Format/size:|| ||pdf (9.1MB-reduced version; 13.2MB-original)|
|Alternate URLs:|| ||http://www.ecdfburma.org|
|Date of entry/update:|| ||05 July 2016|
|Title:|| ||Land Tenure: Burma - Chapter VII of "The Economics of the Central Chin Tribes"
|Date of publication:|| ||1943|
|Description/subject:|| ||CHAPTER VII. Land Tenure:
"Salient differences between tenures in autocratic and democratic
groups rights and claims in autocratic group of chief, headman,
specialists, the whole community, the individual resident
and the individual cultivator the principles governing these rights
and claims the rights and principles of tenure in democratic group
land tenure in practice the "bul ram" individual tenure and its effects
communal land possible solutions to land problems".|
|Author/creator:|| ||H.N.C. Stevenson F.R.A.I., Burma Frontier Service|
|Source/publisher:|| ||Government of Burma|
|Format/size:|| ||pdf (718K)|
|Date of entry/update:|| ||06 December 2014|