Promoting equitable land rights is a fundamental task of the environmental community. To ensure human rights are respected, we must work across all sectors -- economic, political, social and environmental -- writes Aung Kyaw Naing and David Ganz in honor of the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Talk of the Forest
“In the past it felt like the forest was so far away,” the Chairperson of Shwe Yoma Community Forest Enterprise in Gwa Township, Rakhine, Myanmar told a representative from The Center for People and Forests (RECOFTC). The Chairperson felt that too much effort was required for the community to enjoy and benefit from their forests. This changed in 2017 when 18 villages in the township received tenure to almost 5,000 ha of forests.
The importance of providing clear and strong legal rights to rural communities is based on the simple rationale that they know the forest best, depend on the forest the most, are the most effective forest managers and most importantly, have traditional rights to their forests. With clear and strong legal rights, including to benefit from the forests, these communities are able and encouraged to invest in their forest with life transforming impacts.
The Center, whose core funds come from Sida, was instrumental in providing such support through its partnership approach. By working with civil society organisations and local and national Forest Department staff, The Center and its partners were imperative to many rural people in the region, in this case the community in Gwa, acquiring land rights, a necessary first step if local communities are to benefit from their forests.
In Gwa township, the land rights have had tangible benefits for the community by allowing them to establish enterprises and process the rattan that is native to the forests of Gwa. “In the first year of establishing our enterprise, we signed an agreement with one company to sell them semi-processed rattan,” the Chairperson stated. The financial impact was astonishing. The semi-processed rattan provided an income of nearly 24 million kyat, or roughly 15,000USD, according to the Chairperson.
Of the 24 million kyat, 10 percent went directly to the development fund of three villages.
The work conducted in Gwa Township with Shwe Yoma Rattan Enterprise reinforces the necessary linkage between secure land rights, community forestry and sustainable livelihood development. Without rights, rural communities in Myanmar will struggle to escape from poverty.
“Now the forests are part of us again,” the Chairperson reiterated. “We have the laws to help us, the support, the skills and knowledge, as well as the products to sell.”
Since its establishment in 1987, The Center has sought to strengthen this connection and promote sustainable forest management in the Asia - Pacific region.