The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog


Livelihoods in Myanmar: Unproductive if land-based, destructive if forests-based

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on May 18, 2014

This blog post presents my preliminary findings from a study that was conducted in Tualzaang and Ngalzaang villages of Tedim Township in Chin State of Myanmar. The two villages are selected based on the types of resources mostly used for livelihoods and the study mainly focuses on land and forest resources.

In Tualzaang village, most households engage in farm work especially by growing maize (of local variety) as staple crop and groundnut as cash crop. Unlike many other villages in Chin State, farmers of Tualzaang village cultivate on freehold lands and most principal households own 3-4 plots of land. Extended households ensure access to land through social ties and rarely through formal purchase or rental. The shifting cycle of cultivated land is more than 15 years compared with the 6-7 years cycle practiced in other parts of the region, thereby making the farming system semi-permanent. Most households are self-sufficient only for about 4 months through their own maize production. Other resources available in Tualzaang include mangoes, fig fruits, gooseberries, fresh water fish, pine trees, and firewood, etc. Most households have separate plots of land for firewood, but there is no common practice for sustainable production.

In Ngalzaang village, farm lands are nominally freehold, but all are managed by village authorities. The village authorities first designate respective plots for farm land and allow land owners to choose their preferred plots. Then the rest are randomly allocated among all other households of the village. Most households in this village grow maize and upland rice alternately and the shifting cycle is about 6-7 years. In cases of both maize and upland rice, no household repeats cultivation on the same land since arable land is still abundant for this village. Most households are food-sufficient for 6 months through their own production. Available forest resources in this village include teak and other hard woods, wild elephant foot yam, various wild plants especially orchids, honey, and wild animals, etc. As in Tualzaang Village, all households in Ngalzaang also have separate plots of land for firewood, but the difference is that they also have a productive and sustainable practice in collecting firewood.

In both villages, villagers are not convinced about the standing rules and regulations as to access to land and the exploitation of forest resources. The villagers themselves have realized that their uses of land and forests are neither productive nor sustainable. In addition, coping strategies (for food and income) take longer than major livelihood activities that there is a vicious cycle of food insufficiency since cash income earned through the coping strategies is mainly used for purchasing food. Where people depend on forest resources as their major income source, there is no measure of conservation or reproduction or value addition. Therefore, most forest resources are increasingly threatened by the risk of extinction without any increase in income. However, the relationship and coordination among government departments are still limited while there is increased collaboration between government departments and development agencies.

This blog post has been written by Cin Khan En Do Pau (John).  John is Actions Coordination Director for the Center for Resources Mobilization, Research Fellow at RCSD-Chiang Mai University (2012–13) and Junior Fellow (2013-2014) under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

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