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Communities combat climate change and improve their lives through community forestry

Myanmar’s gains in community forestry through a Norway-funded project and many other initiatives are helping to mitigate climate change, reduce conflict and establish foundations for democracy.

For Myint Shwe and local communities in Rakhine State’s Gwa Township, securing tenure to the forests they depend on for survival was the foundation they needed to overcome poverty. 

In Rakhine State and other parts of Myanmar, rapid development, illegal logging and other encroachments were degrading and destroying forests and marginalizing poor people and ethnic groups that could not prove ownership. 

RECOFTC’s work in Myanmar helped change that. With funding from the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Yangon, the Scaling UP Community Forestry (SUComFOR) project from 2014 to 2018 provided more than 5,000 training sessions in Rakhine State and throughout Myanmar on securing land tenure, natural resource management, forest governance, gender equity, and social inclusion, and other topics for communities, government officials and civil society organizations.

During the four-year project, Myanmar transferred 19,000 hectares of forests to almost 100 villages across Myanmar. Members of more than 5,000 households received certificates of tenure. Eighteen of those villages were in Rakhine’s Gwa Township, where the government issued land certificates for almost 5,000 hectares of forest to communities in 2017. 

Protecting Myanmar's Inle Lake

RECOFTC's SUComFOR project has empowered local communities in the Inle Lake landscape to protect and manage the surrounding forests.

The certificates gave the communities legal and secure tenure rights. It was the foundation they needed to manage the forest and to establish sustainable enterprises to benefit from the forest’s resources. They began harvesting rattan, which grows naturally in the forests, to sell to companies making furniture. 

“In the past it felt like the forest was so far away,” says Myint Shwe, chair of the Shwe Yoma Rattan Enterprise. “Now the forests are part of us again. We have the laws to help us, the support, the skills and knowledge as well as the products to sell.”

In their first year of business, Shwe Yoma Rattan earned 24 million kyat, or US$15,000, in gross income selling semi-processed rattan to local companies.

Shwe Yoma
A member of the Shwe Yoma Community Forest Enterprise carries semi-processed rattan in Gwa Township, Rakhine State, Myanmar.

In addition to enhancing livelihoods, secure tenure helped to combat climate change by enabling the community management of forests and avoiding carbon emissions. This, in turn, helped Myanmar achieve its commitments to the Paris Agreement on climate change. 

The contribution to combating climate change was especially clear in the coastal communities of Long Kyo in Rakhine State that obtained secure tenure over threatened mangrove forests. This strengthened their ability to protect the mangroves, which store carbon, support rich biodiversity, and halt storm surges that are increasing in frequency and intensity due to climate change. 

Myanmar’s gains in community forestry through SUComFOR and many other initiatives are also helping to reduce conflict and to establish foundations for democracy.

“In Myanmar, community forestry builds a platform for the development of a democratic society,” says Maung Maung Than, director of RECOFTC Myanmar. “Through our capacity building efforts, forest stakeholders in Myanmar grew to understand the importance of good forest governance. In this way, democracy became more firmly rooted in the country.” 

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With RECOFTC’s support, a women’s community forest group in the village of Bishnupur, Nepal built flood barriers along a nearby river to fight the floods and protect their communities and landscapes.