Reforming Myanmar’s forest governance from roots to branch
Illegal logging harms communities across Myanmar that are dependent on the forest for their livelihood. Tales of such harm are abundant and heartbreaking.
“The forest is the source that we rely on, for food, living, medicine, for travelling,” a community leader tells me in a group discussion. His community has been living for decades in the Bago Yoma Forest area, once the source of much of the fabulous teak Myanmar is famous for, but now so depleted that the government enacted a 10-year logging ban to preserve what is left. His community has been displaced by conflict multiple times over the years, eking out a living through traditional ‘shifting cultivation’ in what is officially a reserved area. Sitting around a table sipping tea, the group exchange their stories: A young Asho Chin woman from the west of Myanmar is active in a youth network, which tries to stop illegal logging in her area. She and her family have faced threats for the perceived interference with illegal logging. A man from Bago Yoma agrees that it is easy to get killed if you confront gangs of illegal loggers. A community leader from Shan state in the north of Myanmar, dressed in customary black cotton Pa-O loose trousers and jacket, reports problems with securing official land or forest community registration documents, while also being unable to fend off illegal logging by armed groups. They have travelled from different areas of Myanmar to participate in the group discussion which informs International Alert's new research report, 'Forest law enforcement governance and trade in Myanmar: A conflict-sensitivity analysis'. The Ministry of Natural Resources, Environment and Conservation has intensified efforts to confront illegal logging and the illegal timber trade. The amount of illegal timber confiscated by the government has increased exponentially: from K168.5 million worth of timber (equivalent to circa 122,400 USD) in 2013, to K9.6 billion (ca 6.98 million USD) seized between January to August 2017) alone. Yet the overall scale of illegal timber is suspected to be far higher. Myanmar is rich in natural resources, but its famous forest resources are dwindling rapidly. Since 1990, more than a quarter of Myanmar’s total forest cover has been lost, a rate that is estimated to be the third-highest deforestation rate globally. Yet forests are estimated to contribute to the livelihoods of roughly 80 percent of Myanmar’s population, especially those living in poor, marginalised, and conflict-affected areas. Most remaining natural forests in Myanmar are situated in the borderlands, particularly along those of Thailand and China. These areas have seen over sixty years of armed conflict between numerous armed groups and the state, partly motivated by political, economic, and social grievances relating to natural resource management.