Conservation of natural resources in Myanmar: lessons for REDD+ Interventions

Prashanti Sharma
Niroj Timalsina

Myanmar has high deforestation and forest degradation rates. A recent article in The Myanmar Times reads. “Myanmar’s forests are in trouble. Two recent reports reveal the rapid loss of tree cover over the past five years has been so severe Myanmar ranks among the worst for deforestation in the world”. It goes on to state that there has been an annual loss of almost 2% of its forest cover based on the level from 2010, which is equivalent to 8.5% over the past five years. The Global Forest Resource Assessment, released in September 2015 by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (UN-FAO), states that Myanmar ranks third in the world in terms of annual rate of deforestation, after Brazil and Indonesia. Despite these alarming rates of deforestation, there are also isolated cases of good practices of conservation in the country.

ICIMOD REDD+ team with community members and officials of the Forest Department, Shan State, Myanmar  
Photo: Sae Nyunt, Myanmar
Naung watershed, which conserves water for the forest dependent community of Vanmauk village

Vanmauk, a small village of 244 households located in Yatsauk Township of Shan State, Myanmar, provides a unique example of sustainable livelihood along with optimal resource utilization and conservation. Vanmauk is surrounded by a natural mixed deciduous forest which plays an important role in sustaining the village livelihood. The forest is within the Naung watershed, conserving and storing water for domestic purposes for the entire village. “We used to collect firewood from the forest two years ago but now restrict cutting trees here since the forest is our sole supplier of water,” said U Naing, a village representative. The forest is now under the protection of the forest department and the villagers engage in very little firewood collection from this area. Buddhism and traditional beliefs have been intriguing factors contributing to the conservation of forests and their resources in most of the villages in Myanmar.

A pond that supplies drinking water to Vanmauk village.
Photo: Prashanti Sharma/ ICIMOD

Traditional beliefs regarding the sacredness of the watershed in Vanmauk village have contributed to the conservation of the area for years. The watershed region has high diversity of plants, birds, and fish, protected from all human interference. “We do not fish from the water in this part of the forest due to traditional beliefs,” said a villager as the temple bells chimed nearby. The area around the sacred pond has trees with the highest height and DBH (Diameter at Breast Height) recorded during the survey. A 57.9 m high tree with a diameter of 250.5 cm and over 50 years old was measured in the area. High water table and species diversity have encouraged such forest growth in the region. The kind of conservation carried out by the local community in safeguarding this forest for its water resource is noteworthy. 

Way to the sacred monastery in Vanmauk.
Photo: Prashanti Sharma/ICIMOD

Like most other rural villages, Vanmauk is also largely dependent on wood as fuel supply for various domestic purposes, mostly cooking. Villagers gather firewood mainly from the trees they grow in their agricultural land and trees that stand outside the watershed region. Each household collects an average 2.1 tonnes of firewood per year and spends USD 12 on firewood, which is approximately 0.6% of their total annual household income. Given the fact that there is no electricity in Vanmauk, it is commendable that the villagers are making minimal use of firewood. The villagers use solar panels for carrying out their daily activities, which is another reason for their decreased dependency on firewood. Similarly, the major source of income for these villagers is agricultural production, and most of them cultivate corn as a major cash crop. They reported that they occasionally use corncobs as a substitute of fuelwood, which can be considered a good agricultural practice. Villagers in Vanmauk are aware of the value of their forest but do not have a management strategy to sustainably manage their forest resources. 

Fish preserved in a lake by the sacred area
Photo: Prashanti Sharma/ICIMOD

REDD+ Himalaya activities, over the years, have concentrated on participatory forest management. It is widely recognized that community involvement in REDD+ is a prerequisite for a successful REDD+ programme. The objectives of REDD+ and the objectives of the local communities for forest conservation have matched. Water resources from the forest have additional non-carbon benefits which are actually more important than the price of carbon. In the future, REDD+ programmes needs to take cognizance of such successful best practices and make them part of performance based payment so REDD+ is more effective over a larger landscape and that all forest areas are included.