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13 Oct 2017 | Voices from the field

Cross-Border Exchange: Community Forestry Management Systems in Nepal Inspire Community Leaders in Myanmar

Trishna Singh Bhandari & Su Mon San

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“I have been dreaming of implementing community forestry practices in forests around my village for a long time. I just never had enough information about how to do it before now,” says U Ba Htay, a community leader from Shar Byar Village in Shan State, Myanmar. “Lack of investment and information on how and from where to get seedlings and support have also been major problems,” he says.

Htay was part of a team of Myanmar delegates to visit scientifically and sustainably managed community forests in Nepal in July 2017. The visit had an impact on Htay, who is now trying to implement lessons learned from the experience in Nepal in his own village and its surrounding forests.

The visit was part of a cross-country exposure visit organized by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) for its regional reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries (REDD+) programme. Since Htay returned from Nepal, he and his fellow villagers have started putting up signboards promoting forest conservation in their village.

Htay also actively participates in and encourages fellow villagers to join ICIMOD REDD+ project activities. Representatives from ICIMOD headquarters in Kathmandu interacted with him and other villagers during their Myanmar visit in August 2017. The ICIMOD team visited REDD+ Himalaya Pilot Sites in Myanmar as a follow-up to the July 2017 visit of Myanmar delegates to Nepal.

The team conducted a forest governance study and inspected three REDD+ Himalaya pilot sites: Pwe Hla Community Forest, Nan Kone Community Forest, and Sha Byar Community Forest in Pindaya Township, Taung GYI District, Shan state. Officials from the Forest Research Institute (FRI), Myanmar accompanied the team on their visits.

Su Mon San, an official from the Forest Research Institute interviewing U Ba Htay
Photo: Trishna Singh Bhandari/ICIMOD

Htay was one of the villagers the team interacted with during their visit. He talked to them about how natural forest conservation alone cannot always be effective and how difficult it has been in the past to persuade and encourage villagers to participate in forest plantation activities because it can take several years before the benefits to be visible.

With support from ICIMOD’s REDD+ project, villagers in Shan State had the opportunity to receive capacity building trainings on nursery techniques, forest inventory, and bamboo handicrafts. This increased awareness and encouraged a change of perception about forest conservation among local villagers. Htay says, “Through the project activities, villagers have become aware of the value and benefits of forests. Forest plantations have been established under the leadership of village administrative committees and the participation of villagers.”

Forest officials from the Forest Research Institute with Htay in front of the village-owned nursery supported by the REDD+ Himalaya Project
Photo: Trishna Singh Bhandari/ICIMOD

Faith motivates Htay that he and his fellow villagers will be able to benefit from forest plantations in the coming years. He says, “In the next decade, the forest plantations will be able to provide benefits to the village. I have no doubt that these benefits will increase each successive year.” He expressed his interest in forest conservation and rehabilitation activities saying, “We noticed that the climate in Myanmar is significantly warmer and rain pours only over forested areas.”

An ICIMOD/GIZ board in front of a community school with the slogan “Let’s conserve natural forests to enrich biodiversity”
Photo: Trishna Singh Bhandari/ICIMOD

The visit to Nepal in July motivated Htay to put more effort into actively working on forest conservation and rehabilitation activities. He says, “After coming back from Nepal, I organized a meeting with all the villagers. I shared my experiences and told my fellow villagers that I feel embarrassed as we have nothing to compare to Nepal in terms of community forestry.” He said that he observed that every single piece of land is forested in Nepal. “Nepali communities value forests and use land wisely and usefully. Here, in our area, local villagers harvest forest without consideration. Although they want to get benefits from forest, nobody wants to replant, even if land resources are plentiful.” He talked about how the community is aware that climate change is a very serious issue and that it is an urgent need to conserve and rehabilitate forests. “After my visit, I realized that we need to conduct more awareness raising activities in coordination with the Forest Department.”

Plantation in the Sha Byar Community Forest – REDD+ Himalaya Pilot Site
Photo: Trishna Singh Bhandari/ICIMOD

Htay also said that it is important to encourage locals to participate in forest conservation activities. “I am motivated and inspired to dedicate myself to forest activities. I have made up my mind to implement forest conservation and rehabilitation activities by encouraging and organizing such programmes not only in my village but also other nearby villages.”

With such ambition and motivation, it is no wonder that Htay has also influenced fellow villagers. Shar Byar Village is now committed to the conversation of its surrounding forests.

The ICIMOD REDD+ team with representatives from the Forest Research Institute (Myanmar) and Community Forest User Groups from Nan Kone Community Forest
Photo: FRI, Myanmar

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