The Forest Department is the main arm of the Government for forestry sector policy and programme implementation and is under the Ministry of Forestry which also controls the MTE and the Survey Department. The Forest Department has been re-structured lately with the addition of four new directorates namely, the Watershed Conservation and Management Directorate, the Extension Directorate, the Inspection Directorate and the Directorate of Training and Research Development. There is a proposal to upgrade the Watershed Conservation and Management Directorate, the Inspection Directorate and the Nature and Wildlife Conservation Directorate into separate departments.
Forestry research is an old activity in Myanmar and subsequently strengthened with the establishment of the Forest Research Institute (FRI) located in Yezin and under the administrative control of the Director General of Forests. While FRI has the Forest Department as its main client for forest research, it is an isolated institution in regard to other user agencies as a result of which lab-to-land transfer of research results remain constrained. Collaborative research to ensure the use of resources and research results, and coordination and cooperation between research institutions/universities and overseas research institutes are still being sought for.
The importance of forestry education and training is also being fully recognized by the Government. Degree in Forestry was conferred years ago in Yangon and presently the Institute of Forestry has been relocated at Yezin. The Institute is under the aegis of the Education Council. There is also a technician's training school at Pyin-Oo-Lwin. An in-service and public training centre supported by JICA has also been established at Hmawbi.
Since Myanmar had been a province of India under the British Rule, the 1894 Indian Forest policy had guided the forest management in Myanmar for many years. In the face of a dynamic population and a rapidly changing socio- economic and political environment there was a need for an explicit forest policy to address the change. It had also been recognized that the new policy interventions were needed for calibrating a fit between forest plans and programmes, the forest resource base and the people. The need for ensuring ecological balance, environmental stability and enhancing the contribution of the forestry sector towards socio-economic development of Myanmar in a sustainable manner was also eminent.
In view of the importance of the Myanmar forestry sector in enhancing national socio-economic development and ensuring ecological balance and environmental stability the Myanmar Forest Policy (1995) has been formulated in a holistic and balanced manner within the overall context of the environment and sustainable development taking full cognizance of the forestry principles adopted at UNCED. It formalized the commitment and intent of the Government to ensure sustainable development of forest resources while conserving wildlife, plants and ecosystems.
The policy has focused on the Protection of soils, water catchment, ecosystems, biodiversity, genetic resources, scenic reserves and national heritage sites, on the Sustainable forest management to ensure in perpetuity the level of benefits both tangible and intangible for the present and future generations, on providing the Basic Needs such as fuel, water, fodder, shelter, food and recreation, on the Efficiency in harnessing the full economic potential of the forest through increased productivity while controlling the socio- economically and environmentally unacceptable side effects, on the people's participation in forestry, wildlife and nature conservation activities and in establishing plantations and increasing non farm incomes by applying community and agroforestry systems, and on raising Awareness of the decision-maker and politicians in national socio-economic development, bio-diversity, soil and water conservation and environmental stability essential for sustained life on earth.
The forest policy aims at a balanced and complimentary land use, gazetting 30% of the total land area as reserved forest and 5% as protected areas systems, encouraging participatory forestry, making EIA of development projects obligatory, intensification of silviculture and management, promotion of non-wood forest products and private investment in wood-based industry, encouraging down stream wood processing and use of under-utilized species, phasing out gradually of round log export, and strengthening forestry research, training and institution in both quantitative and qualitative terms.
The Burma Forest Act 1902, with amendment made from time to time, had been in use up till the new forest legislation, Forest law 1992, was promulgated by the State Law and Order Restoration Council in November 1992. The new forest law, in line with the Myanmar Forest Policy, focuses on the balanced approach towards conservation and development issues implicit in the concept of sustainable forestry. It decentralizes the management and opens up opportunities for increased private sector involvement in timber trade. Highlighting environmental and biodiversity conservation, the law encourages community forestry and people's participation in forest management to meet the basic needs of the rural people, but prescribes severe punishments for forest offences. In addition, the MOF has promulgated the Forest Rules in 1995.
In conformity with the new Forest Policy and Legislation, and for the purposes of gaining environmental stability and addressing basic needs of local communities, active participation by the rural population is urgently needed to plant trees in barren lands and to reforest degraded areas. To achieve these goals "Community Forestry Instructions" are issued by the Forest Departments prior the formal enactment of the Community Forestry Rules.
The Community Forestry Instruction, 1995 is a comprehensive and liberal legal framework to promote community participation in forestry. It defines Community Forestry as the "afforestation of areas insufficient in fuelwood and other forest products for community use" and for the ''planting of trees and extraction and utilization of forest products to obtain food supplies, consumer products and income'' by local community participation. The features of the instructions are that existing reserved forest and government plantations can also be alienated as community forests; that procedures to apply for community forests are simple; that it is mandatory to prepare a management plan before handing over the forest to community; that certificates are issued by the Forest Department to the user's groups; that substantial inputs are provided by FD; that responsibilities and duties of user's groups are transparent; and that provision made for prohibitions, harvesting of forest products, pricing selling, taxation, and transportation are reasonable.
In order to promote and facilitate community participation in managing the forests, the Director-General of the FD had issued a significant statement of "Community Forestry Instructions" in late 1995, focusing on management of forests by rural communities through protection of natural vegetation, establishment of forest nurseries and forest plantations so as to enable them to fulfil their own basic needs for firewood, farm implements and small timbers. The Community Forestry Instruction clearly demonstrates the sharing of forest management responsibilities towards the rural communities through user groups' activities and efforts with in-kind and technical assistance from the FD. It also focuses on the flow of benefits to the communities, participating in forest management activities. The duration of lease of land for the establishment of Community Forest is set initially for 30 years and it is extendible depending on the performance and desire of the user's group.