Two villages are caught in a land dispute in Kachin State’s Hukaung Valley after the state government declared an area between the communities of Nawng Mi and San Pya “new farmland.”
Hpakant Township’s new farmland creation committee has designated more than 200 acres of land near Nawng Mi as farmland, which the village has rejected because it is unclear if they will benefit from it.
Yet residents of nearby San Pya had requested that the committee allocate them new farmland. At least 25 San Pya farmers asked the Kachin State government to designate the farmland through the Kachin State Lisu Affairs minister last year.
The Kachin State government ordered the committee to create an order recognizing new farmland in “Nawng Mi San Pya village,” which are actually two villages.
“The order came from the minister’s office to the township GAD [General Administration Department] office. After that, the township GAD officer ordered us to identify vacant land. We couldn’t find any vacant land near San Pya village,” Zaw Zaw, head of the agricultural department in Hpakant, told KNG. “In the order, it stated “Nawng Mi’ village. Therefore, we tried to find virgin and vacant land near Nawng Mi village. We finally found virgin and vacant land near Nawng Mi village. Then we reported it to the GAD office. At the moment, state officials have yet to give permission to both Nawng Mi and San Pya farmers.”
Locals in Nawng Mi said that township officials promised to give new farmland to them, so they agreed to the plan at the time.
“Township officials observed the situation on the ground when they started this project. Local people opposed this project, because they had already applied for ownership of the vacant land in the area,” Seng Awng, who lives in Nawng Mi village, told KNG. “[The officials] said that the new farmland would be for local people. We now realize that this new farmland is for San Pya villagers, not for us. That’s why we have a problem.”
Nawng Mi villagers said that they had reclaimed the land in question from business conglomerate Yuzana and applied for ownership of any vacant land in the area, so, therefore, feel that any land newly designated as farmland should be cultivated by them.
The directive issued to the Nawng Mi village headman in March reportedly had the signature of the Kachin State agriculture and irrigation minister, the Lisu affairs minister, and the director of land management. The order said that the new farmland must be shared with the villagers of San Pya.
“The state government approved the budget for creating an area of new farmland without observing the situation on the ground. The new farmland creation committee had to spend their budget but did not actually go and find vacant land,” Ah Tee Yaw Han, the state’s Lisu Affairs minister told KNG. “In the end, they created new farmland near Nawng Mi village. The committee needed to negotiate with the Nawng Mi village headman and villagers before they started the project. The problem is that they did not follow the procedure.”
Naw Hpa Lao, who lives in San Pya village, said that villagers in his community would take farmland wherever the state government found it and gave it to them because of the ongoing economic hardships they are facing.