Critical thinking, Real solutions

Karenni activists protest in front of military command in Loikaw

Karenni activists protest in front of military command in Loikaw

The election of a new civilian government in Myanmar in 2015 raised hopes for democratization, greater economic and social justice, and an end to one of the longest running armed conflicts in the world. However, the transition to a long lasting peace buttressed by economic development and justice can only happen in the presence of a strong civil society. In Myanmar, TNI's work on agrarian justice, trade and investment, and humane drugs policy converge within a common vision of alternative development.

In 2017, TNI continued its work with communities who have been excluded from the conversation about the country’s future. Since the days of military rule, TNI has gained respect for supporting farmers, fishers, NGOs, and ethnic minorities in their endeavours for more participation in the political and economic trajectory of the country. TNI supports a strong role for local movements in Myanmar, and its support role has expanded as Myanmar began opening up politically and economically, with a team of six people now currently based in Yangon.

Among other activities, TNI supports the aspirations of local farmers and fishers for just policies on land and other natural resources. It opens up space for opium farmers to dialogue with the government about drug policies that work, and facilitates conversation on just, and conflict-sensitive investment. TNI also provides in-depth analyses of the conflict in the country.

Goals: strengthen civil society organizations, particularly those based in ethnic regions, in dealing with the  challenges brought about by the rapid opening-up of the country and the desire of its people for democracy and an inclusive and sustainable peace.


  • TNI supported ethnic-based civil society organisations (CSOs) in building their capacity to assert their rights to land and other natural resources.
  • TNI supported CSOs developing alternative, development-led drug policy options that are evidence based, prioritise health, and respect human rights.
  • TNI co-published a report on the potential negative effects of an investment protection agreement between the EU and Myanmar, which strengthened advocacy efforts against the treaty.
  • TNI supported ethnic based CSOs and Ethnic Armed Organizations to develop their inputs into the peace process.

Project in numbers

  • Eight TNI publications distributed in Myanmar
  • 16972 visits to TNI's web publications
  • 2492  participants in TNI co-organized workshops
  • Regular media coverage in Myanmar Times, TIME magazine, The Guardian, Reuters, BBC, Al Jazeera, The Irrawaddy, New York Times and others.

Supporting the right to land and other natural resources

TNI continued to provide support to civil society organizations (CSOs) and ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) in building their capacity to develop a pro-poor land policy and assert their rights to land and other natural resources. TNI worked to enhance their capacity to develop and articulate alternative policy options and to sharpen their inputs into the peace process. Key focal areas were the right to land for ethnic nationalities including for internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees, small scale fishers’ resource rights, and recognition and protection of customary tenure systems and shifting cultivation. In search of inclusive and long lasting solutions for peace, TNI always stresses the need to involve local CSOs and local communities in activities with EAOs and with government.

Promoting customary land rights

Among activities held throughout the year, highlights included a series of workshops in several regions of the country. For example, TNI co-organized several workshops attended by CSOs from different ethnic groups from northern, eastern and southern Shan State. They agreed to focus on advocating for the respect, recognition and protection of ethnic customary land rights.With support from TNI, these ethnic-based CSOs carried out pilot studies on customary land research and used the outcomes and experience to adapt and finalize the design of the research methodology.

Supporting the development of EAOs land policy

TNI is fully cognizant of the complicated and sensitive nature of the relationships among ethnic armed organizations and the central government in Myanmar. TNI believes that long-lasting peace and sustainable development are possible only with their meaningful participation, and that of broader civil society. Over the course of the year, TNI continued to provide support to various land policy conferences, committee meetings and associations. In cooperation with local partners, TNI facilitated the development of the land policy positions of various geographically diverse EAOs, and shared insights on international standards on land policy.

Participants at one conference told TNI that the event built stronger understanding, trust, and collaboration between different groups towards implementation of alternative land policy and good land governance. Several of the EAOs reached agreement on a process to seek common strategies and solutions to address land challenges in close cooperation with local organizations and to carry out consultations with local communities.

Workshops for CSOs on fisheries

Consequent to TNI’s work on land, a request came to look at fisheries as well, given that fishing is such an important source of livelihoods for communities in Mon State and Tanintharyi Region. TNI and partner Paung Ku, in cooperation with Dawei Development Association (DDA), and the Southern Youth and Gulf of Martaban Development Consortium (GMDC), hosted a workshop in Dawei with small scale fishers from these regions.

The workshop identified key issues facing the small-scale fishing communities, and discussed how the FAO Voluntary Guidelines on Small-Scale Fisheries could be used effectively as a tool to address these issues; and to start developing and advocating for policy proposals towards politicians and EAOs. The main findings pointed at entrenched gender roles in the fishing communities and differential impacts on men, women, boys and girls by development projects. Pressures on natural resources, including deep impacts on quality of life and livelihoods caused by lower fish stock and conflicts between small-scale fishers and large-scale fishers, and government policies around licensing and other regulations were also identified as issues that could be tackled using the SSF guidelines.

In preparation for the workshop, TNI published a report on the enclosure of oceans and aquatic resources in Myanmar. The Burmese version was co-published with Paung Ku, and 4,000 copies were distributed among the 120 participants and numerous fishing communities.

Sustainable and Conflict Sensitive Drugs Policies

Myanmar is a large scale producer and consumer of opium and heroin. National policies on drugs - targeting mainly drug users and opium farmers - have been the subject of critique due to their harshness. TNI continued to provide technical support to CSOs to develop alternative, development-led drug policy options that are evidence based, prioritize health, and respect human rights. Throughout the year, TNI sought to promote more sustainable drug policies in Myanmar, and organized other drug policy related events, which provided a platform for local organizations to conduct dialogues with government representatives.

TNI has also supported the efforts of CSOs and EAOs to contribute to the peace process. A focus was on ways to address the links between drugs and conflict.

Transnational connections among farmers growing crops declared illicit

TNI provided support for various activities of the Myanmar Opium Farmers Forum (MOFF). The MOFF annual meeting took place in Kengtung in May. Thirty-five representatives from small-scale opium farming communities in Kayah State, southern, eastern and northern Shan State and Kachin State attended the forum. The members updated each other on recent activities. A representative of Drug Policy Advocacy Group (DPAG) gave input on the national drug policy reform process, and  how the MOFF could contribute to this.

TNI invited a resource person from Colombia, who provided insights from the coca farmers’ movement in Latin America. He facilitated a session on how farmers in Colombia were involved in the peace process, and how the drug issue was included in the peace negotiations. The input from Colombia gave extra motivation to the participants to carry out more local activities and to mobilize and increase MOFF membership.

Drug Policy Advocacy Group (DPAG)

TNI is a founding and active member of the Drug Policy Advocacy Group (DPAG), a network of local and international NGOs promoting more sustainable drug policies in Myanmar. During 2017, TNI regularly attended DPAG meetings and played an active role in organizing a number of activities. TNI ensured the participation of local CSOs – especially those representing drug users, as well as communities from opium growing areas – in all DPAG activities.

TNI  helped organise, and provided input, at a drug policy seminar organized by DPAG for around 120 MPs and Central Committee members from the National League for Democracy (NLD), which took place in Yangon in June 2017. TNI also provided input in a two days drug policy training to Mon State politicians organized by DPAG for a MySoP (Myanmar School of Politics) workshop in October, in Mon State.

In September, DPAG released a joint statement on the amendment of the 1993 Narcotics Law, calling for an end to the incarceration of drug users and instead advocating that those who need it receive adequate treatment. The letter was signed by all DPAG members and several other local and international organizations.

Promoting just and conflict-sensitive Investment

In June, together with the Catholic social justice organizations network (CIDSE), TNI co-organized advocacy towards the European Parliament on the EU-Myanmar Investment Protection Agreement (IPA). Together with partners, TNI co-published a report, also in Burmese, on the myths and risks of an EU-Myanmar IPA, which strengthened advocacy efforts against the treaty. The briefing was distributed widely in the European Parliament, to the Myanmar investment commission and selected MPs in Myanmar.

Negotiations on the IPA have since stalled, and a planned European Parliament Mission to Myanmar was abandoned. Activities in Myanmar co-organized by TNI led to deepening of knowledge of the dangers of Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanisms by the members of several CSO networks in Myanmar. TNI contributed significantly to the increasingly assertive resistance by Myanmar civil society organizations against the EU-Myanmar Investment Treaty, including sustained engagement with parliamentarians and governmental officials both in the EU and Myanmar.

Key Publications


Tom Kramer
Project Coordinator, Myanmar

Pietje Vervest
Economic Justice Programme Coordinator

Jennifer Franco
Senior Research Associate

Martin Smith
Senior Research Associate, Myanmar

Ernestien Jensema
Drugs Programme Coordinator

Khu Khu Ju
Land Policy Advisor, Myanmar

Sai Lone
Drugs Policy Advisor, Myanmar

Renaud Cachia
Drugs Policy Advisor, Myanmar

Phwe Phyu
Project Assistant and logistical support, Myanmar

Hannah Twomey
Research Assistant

Shadan Mung San Zau
Translation and research, Myanmar


  • Land in Our Hands
  • Paung Ku
  • Drug Policy Advocacy Group
  • Myanmar Opium Farmers' Forum
  • National Drug Users' Network Myanmar
  • Karen Environmental and Social Action Network
  • Ethnic Community Development Forum
  • Myanmar Alliance for Transparency and Accountability
  • Metta Development Foundation
  • Joint Strategic Team
  • Farmers' and Labour Union
  • Mong Pan Youth Association
  • Pa-O Youth Organisation
  • Ta-ang Students' and Youth Union
  • The Border Consortium
  • Human Rights Foundation of Monland
  • Karenni Land Policy Committee
  • Lahu Development Network
  • Mon Land Policy Committee
  • Shan CSO Land Network
  • Southern Youth
  • Dawei Development Association
  • Myanmar Anti-Narcotics Association
  • Mae Fah Luang Foundation
  • Medicins du Monde
  • International Drug Policy Consortium
  • Land Core Group
  • Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)
  • Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)