Farmers in central Shan State are facing a very difficult choice as the Burmese Army expands its presence in their area. Do they sell their family’s farm for less than fair market value, or risk having troops force them off the land being used to build a new regional army headquarters?
The Burmese Army began construction of its new Central-Eastern Military Command headquarters in Karli sub-township, in Kunghing Township, in Southern Shan State, just a few weeks ago.
The military has taken nearly 300 acres of farmland from 40 farmers since then, to make the construction possible.
Some land was forcibly confiscated, but other farmers were forced to sell their precious farmland for less than current market price.
As compensation, the army gave some farmers 100,000 Kyat per acre of uncultivated farmland, 200,000 Kyat for one acre of land used to grow vegetables, and 300,000 Kyat per acre for paddy farmland, according to local farmers.
However, current market price of vegetable farmland is more than 300,000 Kyat per acre, and one acre of paddy farmland is more than 700,000 Kyat.
“If I don’t take their money, which is below fair value, they will confiscate my farmland without paying,” a farmer from Shan state who fled to the Thai border area said in a recent interview.
“Therefore, farmers have to take what they offer, without arguing. We get one third of the price (for uncultivated land). We lose money. Farmers are angry and dissatisfied with it. But, they don’t have any choice.”
Shan farmers from the area are crossing the border into Thailand from Tarchilek-Mae Sai Road, and Mong Ton-Nawng Ook-Chiang Dao Road, looking for jobs because they are losing their livelihoods when their land is confiscated.
Sources inside Shan State said some farmers have tried to clear new farmland in the forest. As well, some have found jobs as farm laborers in the Thai border town of Fang, where they earn 120 baht ($4) per day.
But, many of those who lost their farmland have become unemployed.
One Shan farmer who lost his family’s 3 acre paddy filed, which he worked with his wife and eighteen year-old son, expressed his frustration when he arrived at the Thai border.
“My family depends on this paddy farm, which is an inheritance from my parents,” he said.
“We cannot survive without the land. I am very upset. I have no power to oppose them.”