Villagers in Myanmar’s Kachin State are calling for compensation for farmland lost to a Chinese backed development project, for which authorities have pledged to pay only for destroyed crops, sources say.

Farmers displaced by the planned Namjim Industrial Zone, as part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitious Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) designed to link China with Asia, Africa, and Europe say that proposed compensation will support them for only a few months.

“The farmers will be landless,” Khun Myat Min Aung, a farmer growing crops on project land, told RFA’s Myanmar Service.  “We have suggested in meetings with government officials that they give us land to replace the land we’ve lost.”

Also speaking to RFA, a local farmer named Malongdi said he will need new land on which to grow crops as the project moves ahead. “I want to receive this as compensation,” he said. “Because I am now too old, I won’t be able to establish my livelihood again without it.”

Launched in May 2018 as a joint venture between Kachin State and China’s Yunnan Tengchong Heng Yong Investment Company, the Namjim Industrial Zone is expected to cost more than U.S. $400 million and include factories producing farm equipment, finished wood products, and electronics, according to media sources.

Tourism will also be promoted in the area, sources say.

Unoccupied Land

Speaking to RFA, Kachin State Land Record Department Director Than Lwin said that farmers growing crops on project land will be compensated only for their crops, as the land they work is now listed as unoccupied or fallow.

“The law mandates compensation only for the actual cost of the plants grown on the land. It doesn’t include the land itself,” he said.

“If the land was designated as farmland, they would be entitled to compensation for both their crops and the land . . . But the law allows this land to be used for activities carried out under the joint venture agreement.” In a Joint Venture Investment with China, the investing company should offer compensation for the land at the current market price, though, Kachin State lawmaker and Court Attorney Aung Thein said.

“The District administration office needs to issue a notice for the compensation in line with the Land Confiscation Law, and if the farmers object, they have the right to submit a letter to the district office within 30 days of the notice,” he said.

“And they can ask for a replacement of their lost land if they don’t receive compensation for the land,” he added.

Money for Development

In May, Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi returned from a visit to China with a grant of 1 billion yuan (U.S. $148 million) for development projects, while her spokesman said Myanmar’s controversial Myitsone Dam Project, also located in Kachin State, was not discussed in meetings.

Construction of the Chinese backed U.S. $3.6 billion hydropower project on the Irrawaddy River, begun in 2009, has stalled since 2011 because of concerns over potential flooding and other environmental impacts and anger that 90 percent of its electricity would be exported to China.