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Forest degradation with a concomitant loss of ecosystem services is a critical issue in Shan State, Myanmar, which is one of the pilot sites of the Resilient Mountain Solutions (RMS) Initiative led by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).
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Myanmar has developed Community Forestry Strategic Action Plan 2018–2030 to address forest degradation and improve the livelihoods of forest-dependent communities from a subsistence to commercial scale. According to the Myanmar Forest Department’s statistics, 218,530 ha of forest land in the country has been handed over to 3,965 community forestry user groups (CFUGs) comprising 106,074 households as of 2018.
Phyu Phyu, Range Officer in the Extension Division of the Myanmar Forest Department, clarified the rationale behind the Strategic Action Plan: “The government of Myanmar intends to hand over a million hectares of degraded forest land to communities for management and forestry-based enterprise development per the Strategic Plan.” This immense undertaking could benefit from learnings from Nepal, which has over four decades of experience in community forestry. As of 2018, an estimated 1.8 million ha of forest land is managed through 19,361 CFUGs across Nepal, including 1,072 women-run CFUGs.
To promote cross-learning on good practices and challenges associated with community forestry in Nepal, ICIMOD’s RMS team facilitated a four-day exposure tour in December 2018 for an 11-member delegation (six women and five men) from Myanmar representing the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment Conservation (MoNREC), Shan State Forest Department, Pa-O Self-Administered Zone, PARAMI Development Network, and Pa-O Women Union and Myanmar Institute for Integrated Development (MIID) in Kathmandu and Kavre districts.
Visit to Dabur Nepal’s facility in Banepa to learn about the cultivation of medicinal and aromatic plants (Photo: ICIMOD)
The delegation visited numerous sites to tap into Nepal’s rich experiences and knowledge in the community forestry sector:
Visit to the District Forest Office in Kavre to learn about the government support to CFUGs (Photo: ICIMOD)
On the last day, the delegation visited the ICIMOD Knowledge Park at Godavari to reflect on their learnings from the last couple of days as well as to identify priority action areas for strengthening community forestry in Myanmar, including making it more gender and socially inclusive.
The Myanmar delegation particularly commended the technical and institutional support provided by the Government of Nepal to CFUGs. The delegation highlighted the pro-poor and gender responsive approach to community forestry in Nepal and the local autonomy over products and benefits from community forests as major learnings from their visit.
A half-day knowledge sharing programme was organized at the ICIMOD headquarters in Kathmandu in December 2018 before the exposure tour. Welcoming the Myanmar delegation, Shekhar Ghimire, Director Administration and Finance at ICIMOD, provided a snapshot of how community forestry has evolved in Nepal and suggested drawing lessons not only from successes but also failures.
Nand Kishor Agrawal, Programme Coordinator – RMS, remarked, “The RMS Initiative in Myanmar seeks to enhance ‘government–community–civil society connect,’ focusing on upscaling community forestry and piloting resilient solution packages in selected sites in Shan State as well as on developing bamboo value chains to foster community forestry-based enterprises.” Sharing an example from India, he underscored the importance of gender-responsive community forestry for enhancing socio-ecological resilience.
Sanjeev Bhuchar, focal person at ICIMOD for RMS in Myanmar, put the cross-learning tour in context and shared thoughts on how forests, ecosystem services, gender, and people’s livelihoods are intertwined. Kai Windhorst, Chief Technical Advisor representing ICIMOD and GIZ, drew the attention of participants to forest-landscape interconnections: “It is important that foresters engage with agriculture and other experts because all landscape parts connect to form a system.”
Laxmi Dutt Bhatta, Senior Ecosystems Specialist – Ecosystem Services, ICIMOD, presented on the incentives for ecosystems services with a case from Nepal. Vishwas Chitale, Remote Sensing Analyst – Ecosystems Geospatial Solutions, ICIMOD, presented on the use of geospatial tools and methods for forest management.
Manohara Khadka, Senior Gender Expert at Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC) Nepal, and Suman Bisht, Senior Gender Specialist – Livelihoods, ICIMOD, presented on the multiple roles women play in community forestry, impacts of community forestry on women’s livelihoods, and existing challenges in ensuring gender equality and meaningful participation of women in community forestry in Nepal.
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