A report released by a coalition of local and international NGOs this month examines the negative impacts of oil palm plantations in south Myanmar conflict zones, using the controversial Myanmar Stark Prestige Plantation (MSPP) project in Tanintharyi as a case study.
Oil palm companies have been awarded more than 1.8 million acres of concessions in the area and have also been allowed to cut High Conservation Value (HCV) forest, a result of poor land use planning.
MSPP set up its 38,000 acre, $36.75 million oil palm project in the Myeik District of Tanintharyi in 2011. However, according to the report, a lack of transparency in the area makes it difficult to establish the actual size of the concession, with a project signboard erected by MSPP saying the concession is 42,200 acres, while a company map from 2015 shows a concession boundary of an even greater size, at 49,227 acres.
The concession overlaps with more than 38,900 acres of community and agricultural lands belonging to four villages, incorrectly classified as ‘vacant land’ by the Central Government.
The area has seen more than six decades of civil war between the government and the Karen National Union (KNU), and has caused severe trauma to indigenous populations, including several human rights offences inflicted on them by the Myanmar army.
A ceasefire agreement was signed in 2012. Currently, the villagers living within the concession boundaries are under the joint administration of the Myanmar Government as well as the KNU, which has reportedly resulted in both bodies using civilians as scapegoats to shift the blame of the plantation’s impacts.
Villagers have been unable to register their lands with the Myanmar Government or the KNU due to the civil war, the resulting displacement their communities have suffered and lack of land tenure security.The report is a result of 18 months of research by local civil society organisations, and draws on interviews with people directly affected by MSPP’s activities. Highlights:
- Since 2011, MSPP has cleared more than 6,000 acres of land, including the betel nut and cashew orchards historically used by villagers for their livelihoods. This has caused several families to fall into high levels of debt and forced many to accept day labourer jobs at low wages.
- Run-off from chemical fertilisers and pesticides used by the Company for growing oil palm has polluted local water sources, causing dysentery and skin irritations among villagers as well as cattle deaths. No fair compensation has been offered by the Company.
- MSPP has violated domestic land law. There is no evidence that the MSPP has acquired the relevant land use permissions from the Central Committee for the Management of Vacant, Fallow or Virgin Lands. No public notification processes were followed.
- MSPP has violated international human rights principles by failing to follow Free Prior and Informed Consent principles enshrined in UNDRIP.
- In July 2016, the body charged with monitoring complaints in the ceasefire region held a meeting to discuss the MSPP concession, following a request by an impacted community. A temporary suspension order issued by the Tanintharyi Township Police was sent to MSPP as a result of this discussion. The letter requires the company to suspend operations until it has properly negotiated with villagers and resolved the land dispute.
- A total of 13 villages have been affected.