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UN and government partners for the protection of Myanmar’s forests, critical for reducing climate change.

Field visit of the REDD+ team
01/04/2016

Myanmar had in 2010 the third-highest annual rate of forest reduction, according to the most recent Global Forest Resources Assessment. This report released by the Food and Agriculture reveals the rapid loss of forestry coverage over the past decades in Myanmar. Between 1990 and 2015, the country lost nearly 15 million hectares of forests and other wooded land and the rate of forest loss has been increasing over the same period. The total land area covered by forests and wooded land in Myanmar is still significant - about 43 and 22 percent, respectively - but time is running out as deforestation continues at a rapid pace.

 Myanmar government, and people living nearby forest have keen interest in protecting their forest resources. Forestry is a key economic sector, with nearly 70 percent of the population depending on forests for their livelihood and wood being the most common rural fuel source in Myanmar.

 Forests also have a major role in limiting climate change as they have the potential to absorb about one-tenth of global carbon emissions projected for the first half of this century. Continuing to lose such an important size of land every year — more than half a million hectares of forest coverage  each year since 2010 — would put the country in even more vulnerable condition to climate change and the extreme weather events that already caused a lot of damage to the country. Managing Myanmar’s forests sustainably would generate important economic gains as it increases forest benefits such as timber and food to meet present society’s needs at the same time as maintaining the forest ecosystems for the benefit of future generations.

 The Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry (MOECAF) has recognized the need for Sustainable Forestry Management for a long time and the 1995 Myanmar Forest Policy focused on six priorities in this regard, including: forest protection, sustainability, basic needs, efficiency, public participation and awareness.

 The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) has been providing various  technical support to Myanmar during the last 5 decades in an effort to help the Government and private sector to obtain knowledge on sustainable forestry management. Important progress has been made in the context of two projects, especially with regard to inventory and mapping.

 FAO’s activities addressing deforestation are partly implemented through the framework of the REDD + Programme. This global UN initiative aims to reduce greenhouse emissions by limiting deforestation and forest degradation in order to mitigate the impacts of climate change started in Myanmar in 2011. The Myanmar Team is organising High Level Meetings with ministers from key sectors to advocate for the need to reduce deforestation and climate change. REDD + is currently active in capacity building trainings on Sustainable Forestry Management. Foresters and technical forest officers have been trained in effective forestry management tools, including the Open Foris Collect Earth program, which utilises satellite imagery and can be a critical tool for land use and national forest inventory.

 A second project will significantly improve to the actual inventory and mapping systems. It started in January 2015 with the aim of strengthening national capacity to improve forest data collection and information management. For the moment, the work concentrates on the development of a new National Forestry Management System (NFMS) Action Plan. This system will be later implemented by the government as a key source of reporting data and will lead to complete national mapping of land use categories.

 However, strengthening the management capacity of MOECAF is not enough to limit deforestation. As Dr Thaung Naing Oo, Director for Forest Research Institute within MOECF, reminded other ministry representatives at the last high-level dialogue meeting on Climate Change led by REDD+ in November, “Deforestation and forest degradation are important contributors to climate change but it is the activities of other sectors like agriculture, mining, energy, including hydropower projects, that are driving deforestation and forest degradation. And so the forestry sector cannot deal with deforestation alone”. An inter-sectoral approach to address the issue of deforestation must now be at the centre of FAO and government work to guarantee the sustainability of Myanmar forests.

There is still much to do to protect our forests and to implement a fully effective sustainable management system but this common effort by the UN and the Myanmar government represents hope for the future of Myanmar’s forests, for those who directly rely on forestry activities and more broadly, the entire rural population who will benefit from mitigating the effects of climate change.