Kravis Prize winners all strive towards raising awareness of issues that people may or may not encounter in everyday life. For example, the New York Times published an op-ed this week by Roy Prosterman, 2006 Kravis Prize winner and founder of rural developer Landesa, and land-rights specialist and Landesa senior attorney Darryl Vhugen, who discuss the importance of land rights in Myanmar. Here in the U.S. it’s easy to take these basic rights for granted, since we have a rule of law and certain institutions in place.

Prosterman and Vhugen, however, point out how these seemingly deserved rights are very much lacking in some countries, such as Myanmar:

“Nearly 70 percent of Myanmar’s 47 million people live in rural areas. About one-third of these are landless agricultural laborers. Most of the others, fortunate enough to have some rights to the patch of ground they farm, control their fields only tenuously.

There are two main reasons for this. First, with increasing frequency, land is taken from farmers, often with little or no compensation. Large swathes of farmland have already been made available to foreign-based companies in a process that appears to be accelerating. … Second, Myanmar law requires farmers to grow what the government or the local military commander wants them to grow, and subjects farmers to production quotas. Policies like these also displace farmers and lead to food insecurity, as farm productivity suffers. This can push farmers into debt by forcing them to take out loans from money lenders or sell their land in an effort to meet an unrealistic planting directive.”

The authors add that despite the growing investment and economic opportunities in Myanmar, there’s a dire need for land rights reform:

“If farmers don’t have land tenure security or the right to choose what they plant, they won’t invest in their land to improve their harvests. If harvests don’t improve, food insecurity will endure, fueling the destabilizing cycle of poverty: hungry children work the fields alongside their parents to supplement family income.”

Clearly, protecting farmers is a crucial part of economic development. Just another pearl of wisdom from a Kravis Prize winner!

Land to the Tillers of Myanmar” [The New York Times, June 14, 2011]