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South–south learning in participatory forest management

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Nepal’s experiences with community forestry could help Myanmar address deforestation and forest degradation

South–south learning in participatory forest management

Myanmar’s lush tropical forests and mangroves are rapidly disappearing. According to the 2015 Global Forest Resources Assessment, Myanmar annually lost around 2% of its forest cover (5,460 sq. km) between 2010 and 2015 – the world’s third highest deforestation rate. Excessive logging and expansion of commercial agricultural land are mostly responsible for this rapid deforestation, which heightens vulnerability to disasters, disrupts vital ecosystems, and leads to biodiversity loss. And worryingly, forest-dependent communities are hit hardest.

HKH countries, where indigenous groups depend on forests for their survival, identity, and prosperity, have turned to participatory forest management in the face of forest degradation and loss – and to great success. In particular, Nepal’s approach to community forestry could help Myanmar and other HKH countries shape their REDD+ path. ICIMOD has accordingly been facilitating knowledge exchange between communities and government officials from the two countries.

In July 2017, a delegation of community leaders and forestry officials from Myanmar were invited to Nepal for field-based interactions with community members and stakeholders on community forestry operations. The delegation visited Chitwan, Kapilvastu, and Rupandehi districts. ICIMOD piloted a results-based payments model of community forestry in Chitwan (among other districts) from 2009 until 2013. Kapilvastu and Rupandehi have had success in collaborative and scientific forest management.

Similarly, in December 2018, we facilitated an exposure tour to Kathmandu and Kavre districts, Nepal, for an 11-member Burmese delegation consisting of government, civil society, and community representatives to promote crosslearning on community forestry. This contributed to better government–community connect on community forestry issues in Shan State.

Encouragingly, Myanmar has been making progress with community forestry. The exposure visits have helped Myanmar adopt a community forest management modality (with benefit-sharing mechanisms among user groups) similar to that in Nepal. Two new community forests have been established in Shan State – Nan Kone (0.18 sq. km) and Sha Pyar (0.53 sq. km) – while community forestry in Pwe Hla (0.53 sq. km) was renewed. From 2014 to 2018, around 1,624 sq. km of community forests have been created.

However, there is still quite a way to go, as Myanmar’s Community Forestry Strategic Action Plan 2018–2030 intends to hand over 10,000 sq. km of degraded forest land to communities for management and forestry-based enterprise development. Continued cross-learning among HKH countries will be key for community forestry and its contributions to REDD+ in the region.

Recognizing the shared concerns for REDD+ in HKH countries, ICIMOD has been facilitating crosslearning opportunities on community forestry for community leaders and government officials from Myanmar through exposure visits to Nepal.

Nepal’s Forest Act of 1993 recognized the collective rights of communities to manage forests as a commons, setting the stage for community-led forest governance. Communities sustainably use forest resources and determine how income from forest-based enterprises is spent – for community development or environmental conservation. The devolution of forest rights are democratization of control over resources have also helped empower women and marginalized groups. Today, around 20,000 community forestry user groups oversee 30% of the country’s forested lands. These groups have been intrumental in rehabilitating Nepal’s denudated hill slopes to healthy forest ecosystems.

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