Thai landless movement
- The article below, forwarded from the "smygo" anarchist list, doesn't
mention engaged Buddhists. I assume that some are involved in this movement,
but perhaps others shy away in accordance with Thich Nhat Hanh's precept
"Respect the property of others"?
Bureau of Public Secrets
Date: Sat, 20 Jul 2002 00:31:59 -0700
Subject: Thai Landless Movement under Attack
News for Anarchists & Activists:
Asheville Global Report
Squatting Thai farmers under attack
Reports indicate that as much as 70 percent of all
productive land in Thailand is either unused or
Photo courtesy of CIA World Factbook
By Teena Amrit Gill
Lamphun, Thailand, July 10 (IPS)-- On one early morning
toward the end of May, Sai Thong was rudely awakened to the
sound of more than 30 policemen knocking loudly on her door
here in this northern Thai province.
Her mother and father were dragged out and taken straight to
the lockup in Phae Tai village, Wiang Nong Long
sub-district, as their fearful eight-year-old grandson
looked on. No documents were shown, no reasons given.
This was just one more in a recent spate of arrests and
assassinations, which have continued right through June in
the northern provinces of Lamphun and Chiang Mai. Over 20
farmers have already been arrested, and during these two
months alone there have been threats by the police to take
in another 200.
The reason is clear. An increasingly strong and bold
farmers' land reform movement in the north of Thailand -
which has systematically taken over tracts of unused, idle
land - has threatened for the first time in decades the
stranglehold of the rural and urban landholding elite, and
vested political interests.
Stretching across the provinces of Lamphun, Chiang Mai and
Chiang Rai in the upper north, the movement has included
land occupations in 23 farm areas by thousands of local
villagers. In mid-June, one farmer activist involved in the
land movement in Chiang Mai province survived an
assassination attempt - but has since disappeared. Another
was brutally killed. Four other assassination attempts have
been made against other farmer leaders in recent weeks.
"For decades now land has been concentrated in the hands of
the rich, but for what use?" asked Serbsakun Kidnukorn of
the Northern Farmers Assembly, a farmers' body under the
Northern Peasants Federation (NPF) that has been organizing
landless and poor farmers in the northern region.
"Not only has public land, which rightfully belongs to the
people, been sold to rich, well-connected individuals, but
even land which should be distributed to the poor by the
Land Reform Department has been acquired by the better-off
through corrupt practices," Serbsakun added.
Thailand has one of the most un-egalitarian landholding
structures in the entire region. A 2000 study by economist
Preecha Watanya, formerly with the Land Reform Department,
says that while as much as 90 percent of the population own
plots of land of less than one rai (0.16 hectares), the
richest 10 percent own an average of 100 rai (16 hectares)
per head. And much of this land, claim northern Thai
activists, is encroached upon or illegally purchased by
powerful and influential figures.
"In the Lamphun area where there is a lot of conflict
regarding land issues, the provincial office set up a
committee to look into this matter and found that 80 to 90
percent of the land had in fact been issued illegally,"
explains Professor Anan Ganjanapan, an expert on resource
management issues from the Regional Centre for Social
Science and Sustainable Development at Chiang Mai
"No action has been taken, however," said Anan, "because the
provincial governor wants to protect his own officials, who
have been involved in these illegal land transactions."
It is this lack of action by provincial authorities and the
government's land reform scheme that drove the poor and
landless farmers to take matters into their own hands,
explain academics and activists.
There are more than one million landless farmers in Thailand
today, and close to another million agricultural families
who do not have enough land to subsist on.
Started in 1997 soon after the recession, the farmers' land
reform movement decided to systematically occupy unused and
illegal holdings of land with dubious land title documents.
These included public lands, lands in state forest reserves,
and watershed areas, as well as those in the state's
agricultural land reform areas, which were purchased for
distribution to landless farmers.
However, even as far back as 1975 there were cases of
farmers occupying illegally transferred land in the upper
north of Thailand that had been abandoned or left unused.
According to land laws, land rights can be revoked by the
state if land is abandoned and unused for up to five or 10
consecutive years, depending on the title in question.
While initially dozens of families were involved in the land
grab movement, sometimes 100 to 200 families would move
together and occupy large areas of unused land, in a move
reminiscent of a very successful landless workers movement
Some of this land taken over by farmers had been bought by
rich businesspeople for speculative purposes during the 80s
boom period, and used as collateral to obtain loans from
banks. Today, this unused land is controlled by these
institutions because many clients have defaulted on their
Thus far, some 3,798 families are part of the farmers' land
reform movement and have put around 2,150 hectares of land
to productive use, activists say.
According to some experts, as much as 70 percent of all
productive land in Thailand is either unused or
It was under such circumstances, and with growing poverty
due to the lack of jobs, that landless farmers like those in
Lamphun, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai provinces decided to do
for themselves what a failed land reform program was meant
to do for them.
In early July, the Agricultural Land Reform Office (ALRO)
secretary-general Pisarn Kuwalairat admitted that wealthy
farmers had disrupted the land reform program.
"Land reform officials failed to seize land from landowners
that illegally occupy the lands or leave them unused. The
agency needs more time and power to negotiate with these
landlords," he said.
Of the some 60 million rai (9.6 million hectares) of land
under ALRO's agricultural land reform scheme, only 20.11
million rai (3.22 million hectares) has been allocated -
although the program has been around for close to three
"There is no justice for villagers like us," complains
Sukaew Manodharm from Phae Tai village in Lamphun. "The
landowners and the capitalists have ganged uptogether versus
poor villagers like us, and we are not sure if we can find a
way out of this situation."
Villagers like Sukaew and Sai Thong, from the same area in
Lamphun, cultivate .192 hectares per family of the 27.2
hectares of land they have occupied. Ninety-eight families
have been involved in this occupation movement in this area.
"Thailand has a land reform policy," says Sen. Prateep
Ungsongtham Hata, who recently visited some of the conflict
areas in Lamphun province. "But it is not faithful to this.
Instead of giving land to the poor, it gives it to the rich.
In such as situation, I feel the farmers have the right to
occupy this land."