TNI’s Myanmar programme works to strengthen ethnic-based civil society organisations (CSOs) and Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs) to engage in policy development with respect to land and related resources, and drugs. TNI is helping to build the capacity and confidence of opium farmers and other rural working people (including fishers), with an emphasis on women, youth and internally displaced people (IDPs), to develop their own policy position; to normalize dialogues with EAOs towards achieving a social compact; and to facilitate people-to-people exchanges among the regions to collectively strengthen their engagements with the Myanmar national state on common policy areas. TNI works in Karen, Kachin, Karenni, Mon, Shan and Kayah States and Tanintharyi Region, and at the national level. It brings international context and experiences to bear on the process, and helps CSOs to analyse national legal proposals and understand their implications for grassroots communities while encouraging them to articulate their own perspectives.

In 2019, as an outcome of processes TNI has facilitated since 2013, two EAOs finalised land and natural resource policies, bringing to four the total number of finalized EAO land policies developed with support from TNI. Based on research and consultation, these policies reflect customary practices and tenure systems in use in different ethnic regions. Implemented by EOAs on the ground, they provide evidence that recognising customary systems is possible and contributing to environmental sustainability and peace building. These policies serve to promote a more inclusive and democratic land governance vision for the country, including in peace negotiations between EAOs and the government. They reflect international best practices, including on the right to land for women as well as for displaced communities, and have been developed in close cooperation with local civil society organisations (CSO) and through extensive grassroots consultations. CSOs are often in the lead in policy development, thanks to the capacity-building support they have received from TNI and the Myanmar NGO partners with which cooperation has been built over the years.

TNI also brought representatives from these different land policy processes and from key ethnic-based CSOs with which we have been working for many years, to strategise together. After developing a joint position on the critical issue of recognition of customary tenure, these same CSOs and EAOs next began discussing a federal land law and began working on drafting a framework for engaging with this.

TNI has also facilitated processes with The Border Consortium (TBC) since 2014. In 2019, representatives of internally displaced people (IDP) and refugee committees from Mon, Karen, Karenni, Shan and Kachin communities came together and developed a joint position paper on their right to land. They presented their shared vision in separate meetings with international donors, with ethnic political parties, and at a public launch.

Meanwhile, TNI continued to support the Myanmar Opium Farmers’ Forum (MOFF) in various activities. As opium farmers’ livelihoods are still criminalised by law, speaking up for themselves is difficult but necessary, and 2019 brought several milestones. MOFF members joined an exchange visited to the Illicit Crop Monitoring Survey Team of the Thai Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) in Chiang Mai and joined an ONCB illicit crop monitoring and eradication team visit to a Lahu village. This gave them insights into alternative policy options as well as the possibility of more positive relations between government and opium farmers as practiced in Thailand. Also, the MOFF/TNI film ‘The lives of producers of prohibited plants in Myanmar’ won the award for best documentary at the Wathann Film Festival. MOFF representatives introduced the film in person, bearing testimony to their growing confidence to speak out in public about their plight. Finally, the official statement from MOFF’s annual forum was read out at the Governmental Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control (CCDAC) coordination meeting. It was used by the National League for Democracy (NLD) to raise questions in the national parliament.

In other work in 2019, TNI organised a political economy crash course on demand for 125 CSO representatives. They gained deeper understanding of the paradigms driving the world’s economy and how they impact on national and local conditions. The course provided participants with analytical tools to help interpret and navigate developments unfolding around them, thus better positioning them to shape positive investments.

Meanwhile, TNI’s report ‘Selling the Silk Road Spirit – China’s Belt and Road Initiative in Myanmar’, based on Chinese language sources and thus bringing a new perspective, received significant attention in the Myanmar media. It was used in workshops by CSOs and ethnic political parties to strategise and develop policy to address the negative impacts of Chinese investment in Myanmar.

Finally, taking on a very sensitive subject, TNI’s report ‘Arakan (Rakhine State): A Land in Conflict on Myanmar’s Western Frontier’ was well received by key local and international actors. Outlining grievances and aspirations of Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya political movements, the report shows how Arakan represents Myanmar’s post-colonial failures in microcosm: ethnic conflict, political impasse, militarisation, economic neglect and the marginalisation of local peoples.


The key results to which TNI contributed significantly in 2019 include:

  • A further two ethnic regions (now four in total) produced land and natural resource policies reflecting local customary practices and tenure systems, developed by CSOs and implemented by EAOs
  • Cross-regional cooperation between CSOs and EAOs result in agreement on customary tenure, and cooperation towards a common position towards a federal land law.
  • IDPs and refugee committees from five ethnic minority regions develop a joint position on land rights which they present to international donors, ethnic political parties, and publically.
  • The Myanmar Opium Farmers’ Forum grows in confidence, develops relations with the Office of the Narcotics Control Board, and with government officials. Their film wins best documentary at the main national film festival.
  • 125 CSOs participate in an international political economy course providing them with tools for understanding the bigger context for contestations over development paths.
  • CSOs and ethnic political parties are able to develop responses to Chinese investments based on accurate information on Chinese strategies towards Myanmar. The report garners significant media attention in Myanmar.
  • A report on Rakhine State provides a perspective from both Buddhist and Muslim communities is well received by local and international actors.