By Maw Si, Photo: Khant Maw Oo
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation strives for managing the natural resources including its forests and minerals as well as natural environment and ecosystems to the best of their capacities for the benefit of both current and future generations.
The interview with the Union Minister of MONREC U Ohn Win and other officials from the Ministry focuses the achievements and progress in third year of the incumbent administration.
Union Minister for MONREC U Ohn Win
Q: What are the direct and indirect ways the public enjoy benefits form the forests?
A: We recently passed two laws – Conservation of Biodiversity and Protected Areas Law on May 21st 2018 and the updated Forestry Law on September 20th 2018 — regarding protecting the forests and the biodiversity within it. In the 10 year project to restore Myanmar’s lush green forest, 30,892 acres of plantations were planted in the financial year 2018-2019. We also expanded the protected areas for environmental conservation. Currently, 5.83 percent of Myanmar’s land area is designated as a nature conservation area which totals up to 10 million acres. We are also decreasing our Annual Allowable Cut (AAC) gradually along with expanding our forest conservation efforts. The grass root forestry communities have started to form this year with membership upwards of 15,973 from 827 groups covering up to 90,000 acres.
The forestry is increasing its efforts on cracking down illegal logging. During the third year of the current administration, more than 44,830 tons of wood were seized along with 3,377 vehicles and equipment and 5,192 traffickers arrested. Last year, we were operating 12 elephant camps for tourism and have expanded to an additional 8.
Q: What about efforts to reform regarding environmental conservation?
A: We are trying to apply an intergraded approach for better environmental governance. The Union Government has approved programs on combating climate change, creating a healthier, cleaner environment with emphasis on conservation and biodiversity. The focus is to build a sustainable environment that can be enjoyed by the current and forthcoming generations by reducing carbon emissions and implementing “greener” laws and policies.
Q: Any changes for the mining sector?
A: A new mining law was passed with the Union’s approval on 13th February 2018 with another with revisions passed on 29th September 2018. We are now accepting application for new work permits stating July 2018. The regional and state governments are mandated to pay tax for the National Fund for small and medium scale projects.
In order to limit harm to the environment from mining activities, the ministry is working towards inspecting projects. Between Oct 2018 and March 2019, the ministry have inspected up to 354 concessions on their compliance to mine waste disposal, reforestation and other environmental laws.
The ministry is not only focus on minerals, but also sustainable environmental efforts taken in the pearl farming sector. The Myanmar Pearl Enterprise (MPE)’s pearl farm and international invested pearl farms have opened a total of 5 pearl farms in the Tanintharyi Region that are designated as tourism sites as local and foreign tourists can now start visiting pearl farms starting 1st October 2018. We’ve had about 82 foreign and 206 local visitors so far since the opening.
The ministry is also working towards providing new stable jobs and rehabilitation plans for the immigrant workers from Hpa Kant area. There have been 6 working groups formed by the Union government that help with Hpa kant’s development, environmental sustainability, vocational training and other rehabilitation efforts.
Q: Can you tell us a little about EITI?
A: We plan to publish the 4th EITI report on March 31, 2019. The Mining Cadaster committee has been formed to bring the country to international standards for the success of the mineral cadaster system.
Director General, Forestry Department Dr. Nyi Nyi Kyaw
Q: Can you talk to us about the national strategy on forest conservation?
A: The incumbent government’s national strategy revolves around combating forest degradation as part of the country’s efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change. There are 53 reserved forests and protected areas and forested land areas covering up till 1 million acres. Over 25.31% of the land areas of the country are covered by forests totaling of 42 million acres. The Forestry Department has 5.83% of Myanmar’s land areas as designated nature protected areas for conservation spanning over 9.7 million acres.
Q: What are some challenges of trying to expand forested areas and nature protected areas?
A: The biggest challenges have been squatters who want to get the Form 7 for farming. They simply do not think of the environment and are aiming to work for only their benefits so these kinds of problems are quite tricky to deal with for the Forestry Department.
Q: Can you tell us more about the percentage of forest area in Myanmar?
A: Forest area (% of land area) in Myanmar was covered at 42.92 % in 2015, according to the FAO calculation and we aim to increase the areas of forest coverage. In the 2018-2019 financial year, we extended 22,000 acres of land for plantations in which valuable varieties of trees such as teak, pyinkado (Xylia xylocarpa), pine, and paduak are planted. The department is trying to find the balance to sustain the industry while minimizing damage to the environment. We have sold seedlings and wood to state and regional governments in need for rehabilitation after natural disasters. Within the past three years, Kayin and Mon regional governments were allowed to buy up till 1,500 tons of logs and 1000 logs of teak.
The department has also sold to small and medium enterprises and communities on wood work several varieties of wood (not teak).
Q: What about the community forests? How are local people involved?
A: With the help of local organizations and the public, the current administration was able to set up 320,000 acres of community forests and 610,000 acres of forest area. Results are great and very encouraging.
Q: Are there any existing and/or planned laws or policies regarding biodiversity?
A: We have submitted suggestions to the Attorney General’s office regarding this. There are 5 year and 3 year projects that have been drawn. We have the Myanmar Elephant Conservation Action Plan (MECAP) for elephant conservation for the next 10 years. A remarkable achievement that deserves to be mentioned would be the first elephant museum in the. National History Museum in the Yangon Zoo opened on March 3rd. The museum will hopefully help the people of Myanmar to understand the importance of both wild and domesticated elephants in Myanmar’s economy, culture and tradition. Regarding research efforts, the Forestry Department have published up till 80 research papers with 25 international research journals throughout the 3rd year of the current administration.
Q: Any international cooperation efforts?
A: The department discovered 3 new species of ginger, 3 new species of orchid, 18 other plant species and 1 fish species. We are also researching on using pot tubes for cost efficient and effective farming developments. The research currently is entering its practical phase with the first seedlings to go in the ground this monsoon.
Q: How do you deal with illegal logging?
A: A lot of the busts can be credited to the cooperation between local residents and the authorities. We seized 128,000 tons of illegal logging with 20,000 arrested. The department is working with international organizations to implement a national mapping system project 2015-2023. FAO is also working with us so we can calculate CO2 percentage in the air accurately. The department is working with JICA on Managing Natural Resources currently being implemented in Inle Lake. The project is expected to last from June 2018- Dec 2022. A five-year project to replant mangrove forests is being undertaken State coastlines with the help of the Danish government. The project started in June 2018 and will end in 2023.
Director General, Environmental Conservation Department U Hla Maung Thein
Q: What are the main functions of the department?
A: The Environmental Conservation Department works together with different departments for environment conservation and efforts on responding to climate change on a national revel. There are currently 46 district sub-committees and 152 township level sub-committees under the central committee.
Q: Can you explain to us about the capacity building efforts and EIA inspections?
A: We are currently working with UNDP for our long-term capability building plan for our staff.
In the 2018-2019 financial year, we inspected 1251 projects to make sure they comply to our environmental laws and the international standards they claim to uphold. Our main focuses have been on the mining sector, oil and gas industry for their EIA compliance with the final draft on environmental guidelines for such businesses expected to be released soon. There are also inspections on wastewater management as well as air-quality management.
Q: What about cooperation with the international organizations?
A: The Green City Initiative is being implemented with US dollars 850,000 in funding from the Green Climate Fund and dollars 280,000 from others. There are also 3 projects regarding climate change with up till dollars12 million funding. The World Bank is also helping set up a central environmental protection training center with 300,000 dollars.
Director General, Mining Department U Khin Latt Gyi
Q: What are some changes in the Mining Department in the 3rd year of the current administration?
A: We had the new mining law passed 13 February 2018 with bi-law in which medium scale and large scale mining concessions given out by the Union Government and small scale mining concessions given out by the state and regional administrations. We halted grating licenses temporarily in 2018 but we have resumed review and are now accepting applications.
Q: What are some achievements during the past year?
A: There were a total of kyats 845,371 million earned from mineral production, kyats 40,426 million Kyats earned from the jade mining, kyats 9,107 million from other gems and kyats 132,606 million from pearl farming. From April 2018 to March 2019, a combined mineral, jade, gem and pearl production earned up till kyats 1,027,774 million.
Myanmar Gems Enterprise, Director General U Aung Nyunt Thein
Q: Can you tell us about the 2018 annual gem emporiums?
A: We had two gem emporiums: one in June, 2018 sold in Euros and one in November, 2018 sold in Myanmar Kyat. Gem traders sold Euro 333.28 million worth of jade and gems in June and up till kyats 42,635 million worth of jade and gems in November.
Q: What are some policies for the future of Myanmar’s gem industry?
A: We’ve had different aspects considered when writing the draft such as production, tax laws, valuation, the market, implications on human resources and workers and environmental impact. There were also online public consultancy that took place with related committee, government and international organizations to get as much feedback as possible.
Q: Can you tell us a little more about the Gems Law?
A: Myanmar’s Gemstone Law was passed recently and we are working towards drawing up the policies guided by the new law. Under the new law, there have been a total of 68 permits granted in the Katni Gems Area for artisan mining. Regarding granting permits in places like Mogok, Pa Kant and Mawlu Mawyan Gem Areas, we are trying to restrict the areas that artisan mining can take place by fencing and/or distinguishing the areas. Small scale and artisan miing are being supervised by Regional or State governments in consultation with the Union ministry.
Q: What about exploration?
A: The department participates in geological mapping using geophysics and geochemistry and other geological tools we can utilize. This includes working with labs here and abroad for assays.
U Khin Maung Win, Expert in Environmental Conservation
Q: Can you give us some comments on Myanmar’s progress on environmental conservation?
A: The trajectory of Myanmar is positive. Global warming is a challenge for the world, including Myanmar. Organizations in Myanmar need to cooperate locally and internationally to combat this using laws, policies, public organizations and businesses. People needs to be educated on the climate and managing the environment – it is a combined effort after all. The government knows more than the general public of the health hazards posed due to global warming. I believe the government need to encourage the public to be aware of the hazards they can and can’t see and work towards sustaining Earth for the future generations to enjoy. It is not the responsibility of the government alone -the whole country needs to contribute and work together to leave the Earth and its beauty we enjoyed.
Translated by Myat Thu