Kayah State Socio-Economic Analysis - September 2013

Executive Summary

Situated in the hilly eastern part of Myanmar, Kayah State borders Thailand to the east, Shan State to the north, and Kayin State to the southwest. Kayah is a small but complex state, rich in natural resources, cultural heritage and natural beauty. But Kayah has also been in a state of conflict for more than 60 years, and over the years, the cost of the conflict has been extensive—impacting directly and indirectly, the lives and the livelihoods of most of the people in Kayah, and many thousands who have fled. Decades of conflict, broken ceasefires, and relocations have taken their toll on the people of Kayah, but at the time of writing this report in 2013, there was a sense that things are improving and that genuine change may be forthcoming.

During this period of transition and the shift towards greater openness, the European Union has provided the resources to conduct a socio-economic analysis of Kayah State. As the first multisectoral analysis in all seven townships of Kayah, the study provides readers with a snapshot of the current conditions in the state, and provides insight into the opportunities and challenges that may lie ahead. Conducting the study has also been a valuable learning process regarding how to bring key stakeholders together to help define information gaps and foster genuine engagement and consultation across different groups, including government, ceasefire groups, civil society, and international development partners. (See Section 1. Introduction)

This study was carried out in March-June 2013 by a consortium of international non-governmental organization (INGO) and non-governmental organization (NGO) partners—Mercy Corps, Association of Volunteers in International Service (AVSI), Action Contre la Faim-Action Against Hunger (ACF),
Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE), and Metta Development Foundation. The study is based on primary data collection (quantitative surveys, qualitative discussions, key informant interviews, field visits, and public consultations in Loikaw) as well as secondary data (other assessments, government data). However, secondary data are very limited in Kayah as government data are usually not shared, and assessments from other agencies have mostly focused on Loikaw,
Demoso and Hpruso.

The study gathered primary data at the village, township and state levels. Village-level data1 were collected in 111 villages in all seven townships and used both qualitative (in 53 villages) and quantitative tools (in all 111 villages). The study looked at a wide cross-section of sectors, including health, education, livelihoods, access to finance, WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene), infrastructure (electricity and roads), environment, and natural resources. All the villages in the townships of Bawlakhe, Mese and Shadaw were covered, and purposive sampling was used to represent a crosssection of villages across the remaining townships (in Loikaw, Demoso, Hpasaung, and Hpruso). At the township level, the research team visited local officials to collect as much vital data as possible about basic services.2 At the state level, the research team conducted more than 60 key informant interviews with a wide cross-section of stakeholders. This analysis has been welcomed by a wide range of stakeholders as it makes an important contribution towards improving the quality of information on Kayah.

Given the context of Kayah, the study indicates cautious optimism regarding the current ceasefire but acknowledges that there are still many steps to take before achieving a lasting peace. It also shows that the state and Union governments are enthusiastic about starting to invest in development, notably infrastructure, and that border trade with Thailand is a critical focus for the state’s economic development strategy. While Kayah is rich in natural resources—mostly timber, minerals and hydropower—the management of these resources has not been systematic or transparent. However, most people in the hilly terrain of Kayah are subsistence farmers who practice shifting agriculture, and the study shows that their day-to-day lives have not changed much from centuries past, and that their main challenges are accessing basic services and improving their livelihoods. (See Section 3.1.
Findings – Overarching Messages)

As indicated above, in an effort to reflect the range of issues facing communities in Kayah, the study looked at the following sectors: health, education, livelihoods, access to finance, WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene), infrastructure (electricity and roads), environment and natural resources, and land (see Section 3.2. Findings – Sectors).

  • When asked who in their community is the most vulnerable, respondents identified femaleheaded households, the elderly and disabled persons. There were also concerns about young peoples’ increasing drug use.

  • In general, the study shows that the majority of people in Kayah live with minimal support from the state and, as such, they have limited access to, and benefit from quality health and education services. In total, 85% of surveyed villages indicated challenges accessing health services, and 73% of surveyed villages indicated challenges in accessing schools. Although the state government is committed to improving services, it struggles to provide adequately qualified staff in remote communities.

  • In education, one of the most striking findings is that most people see little value in education, with 77% of surveyed villages citing ‘lack of interest’ as the main reason children do not attend school. This disinterest links to larger issues such as lack of quality education, lack of jobs that require education, and the need for children’s labour on household farms.

  • The study shows that most farmers continue to rely on traditional farming methods, and have limited access to, and interest in, new technologies and finance that could improve their yields.
    Only 25% of surveyed villages indicated borrowing to invest in agriculture, while 57% of villages borrow to buy food. In conflict-affected communities that have been relocated and generally constrained for decades, lack of innovation and aversion to taking risks is an understandable outcome and reflects farmers’ interest in prioritizing household food security.

  • The main sources of non-farm income are mining, logging and casual labor. Farming communities also rely on raising livestock and collecting forest products to supplement their incomes (evident in all townships), but with increased logging, remote communities are finding it harder to collect forest products.

  • Nearly every community mentioned the issue of deforestation, linked both to logging and to shifting cultivation. However, deforestation is an incredibly complex issue, involving the union government, the state government, ceasefire groups, local and national economic actors, and communities.

  • The study suggests that across the state, significant progress is being made in the provision of road and power infrastructure as a strategic investment to improve connectivity and support cross-border trade. However, for most people living in rural areas, these improvements have limited impact on daily life—with only 21% of surveyed villages indicating that there has been any improvement in access to electricity in the last two years, and only 43% having access (often very limited) to electricity. For many rural communities, there is interest in improving village-level electrification (often through off-grid approaches such as small-scale solar and hydropower) and upgrading secondary roads to improve local commerce and connectivity.

  • When asked about their understanding of land issues, most communities indicated continued reliance on traditional informal land management practices, and people had little understanding of the new land laws. A number of changes underway in Kayah will require formal and transparent land registration and titling. These include the return of refugees from Thailand and consequent competition for scarce land; changing agricultural practices from shifting to sedentary cultivation; and increasing demand for, and use of, credit in agriculture and thus the need for collateral such as a land title.