Yukari Sekine is a PhD Candidate in Development Studies, Political Ecology, at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), The Hague. In Myanmar, her PhD research covers rural politics, the intersection of climate change mitigation and land grabs, and struggles for agrarian climate justice. She has conducted fieldwork in the southern Tanintharyi region, a hub of palm oil, extractivism, conservation and land related conflicts, and is also interested in reflecting on potentialities and challenges of scholar-activism. She has an M.A. in Global Studies from Sophia University in Tokyo, Japan, and a B.A. in Journalism from the Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo, in Brazil.
Bridging the rural-urban divide: The challenge of including peri-urban struggles in the wider pursuit for agrarian climate justice in Myanmar
Recent debates on the peasantry and the changing relations in the countryside have looked at how the traditional concept of ‘peasant’ may not apply to the diverse classes of working people, who may be landless workers, semi-proletarian, petty commodity producers, or have diversified livelihoods. Sometimes, their livelihoods include seasonal migration, selling labor occasionally or hiring in labor for those who are small-holders (Bernstein, 2010). Urban farmers and food producers also tend to be overlooked by agrarian movements for food sovereignty (Siebert, 2020). While land for agricultural purposes has been at the center of struggle, land in peri-urban areas, for example, often has multiple functions, including as crucial site for building homes and houses and serve also for those who seek proximity to jobs, health care and education in the cities. Urban expansion means that agricultural lands are being swallowed by the city. In Myanmar, as we see a deepening of liberalization, influx of foreign capital and the promotion of infrastructure development, connectivity and urbanization in a strive to ‘modernize’, we see a simultaneous increase in prices of urban lands due to speculation, the tendency is toward expanding urban areas and engulf small-scale farming, sometimes through piecemeal dispossession and debt (Boutry et al., 2017; Forbes, 2016). Based on research in one small peri-urban town in southern Myanmar, Dawei, located in a region set to be the hub of a Special Economic Zone, port and road link to Bangkok, this paper looks at what began as a small-town land struggle in small agricultural land area engulfed by speculation, urban development and coercive government-led dispossession. It highlights the challenge of maintaining a cohesive struggle over time, under surmounting pressures from the market (speculative interests and high value of land) and coercive, authoritarian pressures from the local and regional governments in collaboration with the police, as activists are jailed, threatened and sued. It discusses the challenge of current struggles for agrarian climate justice (Borras and Franco, 2018), which are simultaneously trying to scale up to national levels, while including these diverse struggles.
Affiliation: International Institute of Social Studies