MCRB/OXFAM workshop on Responsible investment in plantation agriculture, with a focus on land
On 27 April, Oxfam and MCRB hosted a multistakeholder discussion on ‘Responsible investment in plantation agriculture' in Yangon. The workshop, which discussed examples of good and bad practice in Myanmar relating to oil palm, bananas and rubber, focussed on the Myanmar legal framework for investment, including land acquisition and regulation of environmental impacts.
Over 50 participants attended, including Members of Parliament from Amyotha and Pyithu Hluttaws, Kachin State and Tanintharyi Regional Hluttaws, as well as government officials; Myanmar and foreign companies active in perennial industrial crop agriculture, including oil palm and rubber and sector associations; researchers and other non-government experts; lawyers advising investors on investment in Myanmar; and international representatives involved in guidance for foreign companies investing in Myanmar, including the China Chamber of Commerce of Metals Minerals & Chemicals (CCCMC).
Discussion focused on the role of different government departments in monitoring and managing the sector, including responsibilities, oversight and dealing with legacy problems. Companies and sector bodies voiced their concern over difficulties in operating existing plantations. The polling session revealed that 44% of respondents thought that access to market and export was the biggest challenge when operating a plantation in Myanmar, followed by land disputes (23%). Issues for domestic and foreign investors in achieving responsible investment in plantation agriculture, and how to address these were also discussed, with 38% of respondents agreeing that land acquisition was the major challenge when investing in plantation agriculture in Myanmar, followed by lack of support from the government and lack of relevant legal provisions (26% each). Polling results also revealed that there was a lack of understanding of how the land acquisition and MIC Permit procedures interacted.
In his welcoming remarks Country Director of Oxfam in Myanmar, Mr. Paul Joicey, observed that in recent years, the Union government had adopted policies and rules which could help repair historical problems, such as unfair land acquisitions, and could help ensure future investments benefit both business and communities. He highlighted the Myanmar Investment Law and Rules, and the Environmental Conservation Law and associated process for Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA). He explained that MCRB and Oxfam had decided to collaborate to identify pathways to more responsible investment in agriculture in relation to issues in plantation agriculture, drawing on international standards. Both organisations hoped that the event would contribute to a deeper understanding of the challenges and the requirements for agriculture investors and related stakeholders.
On behalf of the government, U Aung Kyi Nyunt, Chairperson of the Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Development Parliamentary Committee, (Amyotha Hluttaw) gave an opening address in which he spoke about ongoing amendments to laws aimed at addressing concerns of smallholder farmers and stressed the importance of the agriculture sector for Myanmar and the urgent need to stop unfair land acquisitions.
Representatives of relevant government departments briefed the audience on developments in Myanmar law, and how these could support more responsible plantation agriculture investments. These speakers included Daw Marlar Myo Nyunt (Deputy Director General Directorate of Investment and Company Administration (DICA)); Daw Thin Htay (Deputy Director, Perennial Crop Division, Department of Agriculture (DoA), Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation (MOALI)); U Hlaing Min (Assistant Director, Department of Agricultural Land Management and Statistics (DALMS), Tanintharyi Region); and U Htin Aung Kyaw (Assistant Director, Environmental Conservation Department (ECD), Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation (MONREC)).
Participants were interested in how DICA monitored investment through quarterly reporting requirements and a monitoring committee. U Hlaing Min (DALMS) clarified the procedure for land acquisition for smallholders and the problems of legacies of land confiscation. Participants agreed that the EIA procedure lacked detailed guidance for plantation agriculture and sectoral guidelines would benefit companies and EIA consultants. Polling results also revealed a lack of knowledge about which size and type of plantation required an EIA.
MCRB’s Director Vicky Bowman, set out the Myanmar policies and international standards related to responsible investment from organisations such as the UN, OECD and World Bank/IFC as well as the more detailed legal framework for regulating investment in plantation agriculture from various ministries. She emphasised that responsible business conduct means compliance with Myanmar law, as well as the exercise of due diligence. That includes meaningful engagement with relevant stakeholders, including affected local communities, at local level, informed by international standards and guidance. Mr. Gaurav Gupta, Sustainable Business Programme Manager, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) talked about developing rubber sector sustainably and issues in the rubber sector in Myanmar; and how this needs to be addressed. U Mg Mg Thet, Managing Director of MAX Myanmar’s Shwe Yaung Pya Agro Co., Ltd shared their experience of running a rubber plantation and addressing community and other local stakeholder interests.
Ms. Junzuo Zhang from the China-UK Collaboration on International Forest Investment and Trade (InFIT) Programme based in Beijing, and Ms. Zhang Huichun, from CCCMC, introduced the Guidance for Sustainable Development of Natural Rubber led by CCCMC, and the Guide for Overseas Investment and Production of Sustainable Palm Oil by Chinese Enterprises, both of which are important outputs under the framework of China-UK Intergovernmental Cooperation Project. The workshop concluded with a panel discussion moderated by Oxfam’s Policy Advisor, Duncan Pruett, on challenges faced in applying the national legal framework and international standards. U Zaw Win – former director of MOALI, Land and Agriculture Administration Consultant, and Advisor to Myanmar Oil Palm Planting and Manufacturing Association (MOPPMA) noted that the development of the oil palm sector in Tanintharyi Region under the military government had led to challenging land legacies which had yet to be resolved. Stefan Chapman (Partner, SCM Legal (Myanmar)) discussed how international standards could act as a leverage for change, and how the new Companies and Investment Law could regulate a company’s activities, including the new emphasis on company director’s duties. U Kham Lan, Deputy Speaker, Kachin Regional Hluttaw expressed his concerns about the uncontrolled expansion of banana plantations in Kachin State.
All participants expressed their hope that in future Myanmar plantations would be able to operate according to international standards in the future, while 72% felt that, at present, no plantations in Myanmar were operating according to international standards.
This multi-stakeholder workshop was part of MCRB’s current focus, working together with Oxfam, on responsible investment in large-scale agriculture. The organisations are currently working on a joint paper (part summarised in MCRB’s presentation that discusses legal requirements for responsible investment in large-scale agriculture in Myanmar. The paper will cover company regulation, investment Law, land, environment, including EIA procedure, etc. MCRB/Oxfam will invite comments on the draft in coming weeks. If you are interested in contributing, please contact .