Farmers in Mon State urge formation of a Farmers’ Union

September 18, 2012

HURFOM: After years of land confiscation and unfair labor practices, farmers and agricultural workers in Mon State are looking to the formation of a Mon Farmers’ Union as a way to prevent future abuses and advocate for better conditions. Many residents depend on farming or plantation work as a way of life, but express feelings of powerlessness to protect or advance their rights, or to cooperate with other Mon farmers and plantation owners. Now, with added concerns that foreign investment may trigger new land confiscations or further destabilize the price of agricultural products, farmers are eager to come together to pursue their common goals.

During the country’s 23 years governed by the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) and the subsequent State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the government and military confiscated large portions of land in several areas of Burma, including Mon State. As recently as 2010, Burma Navy Unit No. 43 began seizing 4,000 acres of land spanning houses and rubber plantations on Kywe Thone Nyi Ma Island, located in southern Yebyu Township. In July 2011, almost four months after the dissolution of the SPDC, residents of Thanbyuzayat Township reported that government officials were placing markers implying looming land confiscation across more than 1,000 acres of privately owned rubber plantations, orchards, and paddy lands. Even now, in Kwan Hlar and Wan Rai villages of southern Ye Township, villagers continue to allege forced sentry duty and extortion by the local military.

These experiences, both previous and ongoing, have led many villagers and farmers in Mon State to identify the need for a unified voice to protest cases of land confiscation, extortion, and unfair market pricing. Many people hope that abuses by the military and exploitative practices by companies will decrease through the bargaining power of a union, even in the face of deep-rooted government and state authority interests.

A resident of Min Thar village on Kywe Thone Nyi Ma Island explained that the military’s confiscation of local farmland in 2010 was due in large part to the absence of a group capable of speaking out against the violations. He said, “Among that [confiscated] land, my uncle lost 12 acres. If we create a union to support farmers’ rights, this will not happen again.”

One farmer living in the Sain Taung quarter of Pa’ga village said, “I would be happy to have this union for our Mon people to unite with each other. In the past, we used to plan to start a union, but due to the instability of the rule of law in Burma, we could not carry out our plan. Five years ago, monks suggested that Mon people set up a union, but again the plan failed when the 2007 uprising began.  Now, if a union is established in our state, there will be many benefits for our Mon farmers, plantation owners, and businesses.”

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