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Citation Information

Type Thesis or Dissertation - Master of Laws
Title From conflicting to complementing: The formalisation of customary land management systems governing swidden cultivation in Myanmar
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2015
URL http://researcharchive.vuw.ac.nz/xmlui/bitstream/handle/10063/4640/thesis.pdf?sequence=2
Swiddening is a traditional and widespread agricultural system in mountainous regions of
Southeast Asia. It is prevalent in Myanmar’s hilly border region. However, economic, political,
demographic, social and technological drivers in this region are causing this form of land use
to undergo significant transition. This transition is affecting the customary land use rights of
swidden farmers.
Throughout Myanmar’s tumultuous history, customary land management systems and
the state land management system have been poorly integrated. This has led to customary land
use rights receiving little formal recognition and left customary right-holders vulnerable to
Recent political and economic developments within Myanmar have prompted changes
to the state land management system. The Myanmar government introduced the Farmland Law
2012 and the Vacant Fallow and Virgin Lands Management Law 2012 which significantly
altered how agricultural land is managed. However, these laws also contain minimal interaction
with customary land management systems. In relation to swidden cultivation, the legislation is
unclear how land under customary tenure is identified, how communally-held land is
recognised and what swidden practices are legally permitted.
The draft National Land Use Policy released in late 2014 reveals progress in addressing
these issues. However, greater clarity is needed with regard to how the policy is implemented.
Many lessons may also be derived from the experiences of surrounding Southeast Asian
countries, such as the Philippines and Cambodia, in the way customary land use rights are
incorporated into state legislation.
The goal of this thesis is to propose how customary land management systems may be
integrated into the state land management system in order for customary land use rights over
swidden land to be recognised as comprehensively as possible by the state. The legislative
framework should also allow sufficient flexibility for local farmers to adapt to changing
circumstances. The identification of swidden land will be considered in the context of
producing maps of customary land use, the management of swidden land under collective landholding
structures will be discussed with regard to pressures to individualise land-holding and
the use of swidden cultivation practices will be considered in light of proposed development
The current political and economic climate in Myanmar indicates some willingness to
acknowledge and address these issues. There is hope that customary land management systems
and the state land management system will begin to complement, instead of conflict with, each
other in order to enable swidden farmers to access their customarily held land into the future.

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