UMD 16: Rural to Urban Transition in a Former Periphery

State-led development, land use change and livelihood transformation in Kyaw, Gangaw Township, Myanmar

The Township of Gangaw in the northernmost periphery of Magway Region is administratively, politically and ethnically part of central Myanmar; yet, its upland-like agro-ecology sets it apart. In this mountainous and forested region, lowland paddy land is scarce and the ethnic Bamar population has traditionally relied on shifting cultivation, livestock and forest products for their livelihoods.

The military government initiated an accelerated program of infrastructure development to transform this previously peripheral area into a hub of connectivity for cross-border commerce with India, while also increasing state military presence, particularly in the border area with Chin State. The once remote rural landscape of villages, fields, and forests has rapidly transformed into a hub of trade and economic activity, attracting thousands of Bamar migrants to work on roads and railway construction, urban and industrial development, and timber and oil projects. 

This research examines land use change and rural livelihood dynamics brought by state-led development and transnational market integration since 1988. It employs an ethnographic approach to examine how farming households have responded to the squeeze on land and natural resources by diversifying their livelihoods in the face of new economic opportunities brought by development, demographic change and increased mobility. Focusing on Kyaw’s recent transition from village tract to urbanized town, the research highlights how the peri-urban frontier has emerged as a new context for examining transformations in the countryside. In Kyaw, livelihoods are diversifying as people increasingly turn to non-farm activities, young people’s aspirations are shifting towards non-agricultural pursuits, and households increasingly transcend “rural” and “urban” sectors and spaces. 

Publication Date: July 2020