Land plan will leave farmers 'in limbo'

Land plan will leave farmers 'in limbo'

New rural proletariat looms, say experts

The government's commodification of rural land will exacerbate the plight of farmers and create an "agricultural proletariat" in the name of development, a forum was warned on Saturday.

Attachak Satayanuruk, a Chiang Mai University history lecturer, expressed concern over government policies to transform rural land into private property for special economic zones. "The commodification of rural land will evict local farmers. I have information that in Chachoengsao, 90% of farmers who rent land are being evicted to make room for the Eastern Economic Corridor [EEC]. This will worsen land ownership inequality and enable large companies to dominate infrastructure development areas," he said. He was speaking at the second "Land Is Life" forum held at Thammasat University Tha Pra Chan campus, to mark the 45th anniversary of the Farmers Federation of Thailand (FFT).

Prof Attachak said landless farmers were at risk of becoming an "agricultural proletariat" at the hands of factory businesses. "For example, the number of sugar factories in the Northeast is rising from 10 to 30. After you [farmers] sell your land, you will end up working for them or finding jobs in Bangkok. The commodification of rural land will leave us with few choices. Don't think PM Prayut Chan-o-cha's government remains aloof from capitalists.

"The large-plantation economy will make landless farmers as miserable as those in Latin America and the Philippines by turning them into another kind of proletariat," he said. Prof Attachak also citicised the government's tourism and economy stimulus campaigns for benefiting capitalists rather than locals. "They have rolled out short-term measures while infrastructure development projects are still underway. However, these policies will culminate in locals being stripped of land on a charge of encroaching on natural areas," he said.

Sunee Chaiyarose, director of Gender Equality and Social Equity at Rangsit University and a former human rights commissioner, said the plight of farmers has not improved for decades. "First of all, land disputes with the government -- whether it be military or treasury officials -- still continue. Moreover, the government is going ahead with infrastructure development projects because it views itself as the policy owner. For instance, in the EEC they lease land to foreign investors for 99 years, but to locals for 3 years."

"They also allocate rural land to special projects, such as biomass power plants and underground mines, at the expense of farmers," she said. Likewise, activist Nitirat Sapsomboon attributed the land problem to several factors, including an impotent parliamentary and bureaucratic structure.

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