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March 25, 2019

Creating community-owned plantations in Taninthayi Region, while conserving natural forests

Taninthayi Region has the diversity of environment. Photo: Min Thit
Taninthayi Region has the diversity of environment. Photo: Min Thit

By Min Thit

About two miles from the 60-mile village in Taninthayi Region are the wide plains located between the mountain ranges. The village lies near the Ye-Dawei road sixty miles from Dawei in Yebyu Township.
On the plains are nearly 800 acres of community-owned forests, a small number of huts and crop fields including rice, sesame, corn, watermelon and banana fields.
“Villagers collectively established community-owned forest plantations one year ago, and now the trees are thriving,” said U Lay Maung, a Mon ethnic and the administrator of the village.
In the past, local people had doubt about the community forest-CF. But thanks to the awareness campaign of the Forest Department, more people are growing trees, according to locals.
“There was mistrust. But trainings and all-inclusive discussions have erased the mistrust and later locals began to realize the benefits they can enjoy for their own labour. So they working with greater enthusiasm. But we haven’t reached the satisfactory level yet,” said U Lay Maung.
The 60-mile village has 84 households, 227 residents and an 800-acre forest plantation is under the care of 79 households. The village is in Yebyu Township, an agro-oriented area populated mostly by Mons.
Deputy Speaker of Thaninthayi Region Hluttaw U Kyi Soe said: “Ethnic people in the area live in the reserve forests. They are not acknowledged by the Forest Department. So we encourage them to set up legal CFs, apart from building production roads.”
Under the national forest master plan, local people will receive 25 per cent of their fuel from trees they grow in their yards, another 25 per cent from the CFs, and the remaining 48.8 per cent from natural forests. So, the plan will result in saving the natural forests. So, the plan will save the natural forests a lot.
A CF project was launched in 1995 for the locals to gain benefits without harming the natural environment through their participation in forest preservation. But it was not so successful because of the confines and the weakness of education campaigns. But thanks to an appropriate CF project adopted in 2016, public interest in forest plantations began to rise, according to Forest Department.
“CF will benefit the posterity. Today, we are enjoying the benefits of trees because of the efforts of our ancestors to conserve them,” said Naw Ar Phaw, a 69-year old Kayin elder woman who is a member of the CF in Yepon village, Yebyu Township.
Fifty percent of Myanmar was once covered with forests. The country extracted more forest resources during the past three decades for export and local consumption. Sadly, forest areas significantly dwindled because of legal and illegal logging coupled with firewood and charcoal production. The result of forest depletion is the increase in carbon dioxide in the air, followed by climate change that destroys the natural environment and triggers various kinds of natural disasters.
Those natural disasters have killed people as well as wildlife. So the government and the people became aware of the need to protect the ecosystem and forests.
“Forests can grow and flourish without human beings. They can regenerate. But human beings cannot survive without trees and ecosystem. So forest conservation means protecting the natural resources and human beings,” explained U Kyaw Zeya, director of Taninthayi Region Forest Department.
About 50 years ago, 80 percent of Taninthayi Region was covered by forests. But the 2015 figures indicated that forested land had reduced to 62 percent, according to Forest Deparment.
“Oil palm cultivation project is the main culprit that destroyed the forested areas of the region. With the aim of turning the region to an oil bowl, over 200,000 acres of forest inside and outside the reserve areas were permitted cut down to clear land for oil palm farms,” said U Kyaw Zeya.
Myanmar set up 233,077 areas of community forest plantations during the period between fiscal year 2016-2017 and 2017-2018.
At the 18th Energy Globe Award presentation ceremony held in Iran in January 2018, the CF of Yoesone village in Wundwin Township, Meiktila Township, won the Energy Globe National Award, according to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation.
UN-REDD Programme is providing financial aid to developing countries based on the volume of carbon dioxide emission they can cut. UN-REDD Programme in cooperation with Forest Department is implementing the REDD+ program covering the task of setting up CFs, extracting timber though less harmful means, and regenerating forests.
According to environmentalists, Myanmar must conserve forests and protect mangrove trees along the coastal areas to reduce carbon dioxide emission.
As for the countries with coastal areas, mangrove forests are the jewels the nature has presented. In fact, various species of trees grow in mangrove forests which serve as a home for fauna and the source of food for them.
A hectare of mangrove trees can absorb 17 metric tons of carbon per year. So they are much valuable for environmental conservation.
“Mangrove forests can absorb thrice the volume of carbon dioxide their terrestrial cousins can do. So mangrove forests are air cleaning factories of the Earth,” said U Kyaw Zeya.
According to FAO report, Myanmar has the seventh largest mangrove forest in the world. Mangrove forest conservation and plantation project will be launched along the coastal areas from 2019 tp 2023.
In Taninthayi Region, there are over 300,000 acres of community forest plantations and nearly 600,000 acres of mangrove forests. Measures are being taken to conserve and protect mangrove trees through community-owned plantations.
“The economy of Taninthayi Region depends on fisheries. About half the population of people living in coastal areas earns their living through fisheries. As the sustainability of aqua resources will ensure the survival of fishery industry, we need to conserve them as they provide food and shelter for many aqua creatures,” explained U Kyaw Zeya.
While watching crops grown in the community-owned forest, U Lay Maung, a Mon ethnic, said, “When I first arrived here 16 years ago, the area was lush with flora. Later, the area became void of trees due to forest fires and timber extraction. Then bamboo forests took over their place. But I believe that soon, the area will be lush with trees again.”
(Translated by TMT)

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