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31. Forestry for community development in Myanmar: research issues
Htun Paw Oo


Myanmar possesses an ecological spectrum ranging from the snow-capped mountains to tropical rain forest as well as costal and marine ecosystems. Such a wide variety of environmental conditions allows for the existence of diverse flora and fauna. Keeping in line with the forest principles of UNCED 1992, the Government of Myanmar has issued the new Myanmar Forestry Policy in 1995. The new National Forest Policy introduces, and focuses on the modern concept of biodiversity conservation and upgrades the people's participation in forestry. People's welfare and participation are emphasized in the legislation by allowing the village communities to establish the community plantations on public forestlands and even in the reserves. The Forest Department of Myanmar has also decentralized its management role to release socio-economic pressure and to reduce rural poverty. Rural development programmes have been launched across the country, especially in the environmentally critical areas such as the Ayeyardady Mangrove Delta, Southern Shan State, and the Dry Zone. Research in areas such as community forestry, agroforestry, non-timber forest product and small scale forest enterprises have been conducted as an integral part of rural development programme.


Myanmar, possesses a wide range of ecological spectra ranging from the snow-capped mountains to tropical rain forest as well as coastal and marine ecosystems. Such a wide variety environmental conditions allows for the existence of diverse flora and fauna. There are 285 families of flora comprising around 10 000 species of trees, shrubs, herbs, bamboo, climbers, etc. Likewise, the country also has diverse species of fauna containing over 1000 species of birds, more than 300 species of mammals, about 400 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 68 species of swallow-tailed butterflies.

In Myanmar, certain categories of land, whether public or private, are kept under permanent forest cover to secure their optimal contribution to national development. Myanmar has a forest area of 343 767 km2 (50.8 percent of the total area). At present, 20.66 percent of the total area has been identified as reserved forests and public protected forests. The land-use categories of Myanmar are as shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Forest cover in Myanmar


Area (km2)

% of total area

Closed forest

293 262


Degraded forest

50 968


Forest affected by shifting cultivation

154 389


Water bodies

13 327



164 624



676 577


Source: Forest resources of Myanmar (1991).

The distribution of the forests in the country is highly variable. The forest types of Myanmar are classified as shown in Table 2.

Table 2. Forest types in Myanmar

Types of Forests

Area (ha)

% of total area

Tidal, beach and dune, and swamp forests

1 376 900


Tropical evergreen forests

5 507 800


1. Tropical wet evergreen

2. Tropical semi-evergreen

Mixed deciduous forests

13 425 300


Dry forests

3 442 400


Deciduous dipterocarp (Indaing)

1 721 200


Hill and temperate evergreen forest

8 950 100


1. Hill evergreen

2. Dry hill forests

3. Alpine forests


34 423 700


Source: Forestry in Myanmar, Forest Department (1999).

The forests of Myanmar are of significant economic value. These forest resources are of vital importance since about 67 percent of total population who live in rural area depend extensively on forests for many products for posts, poles, fuelwood, fodder and food.


Myanmar Forest Research Institute (FRI) is located in Yezin, Pyinmana Township, and a number of other universities and research centers are also located in the vicinity. The main objective of the FRI is to provide technical information on all aspects of forestry and forest-based activities to increase the contributions of the forest and forest lands to the well-being of the nation.

Forestry research in Myanmar started in 1914 and a research division was formed in 1922 as a part of the Forest Department. In 1952 a Forest Research and Training Circle was set up, which is the forerunner to the present research institute. The Forest Research Institute was established in 1978 with the accomplishment of Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the Government of Myanmar. The project covered two four-year phases. Nowadays, FRI is the only institution responsible for forestry research.

The forestry research at the FRI has been conducted under the supervision of Forest Research Advisory Committee. There are 59 researchers in the eight sections (sub-divisions) under three divisions. Each division has its own structure and major research functions.

Forest Development Division

Wood Utilization Division

Administration and Finance Division

Research activities of the FRI

Research activities in the FRI have been mainly conducted by the Forest Development Division and the Wood Utilization Division. The FRI has prioritized the following research programmes, based primarily on the anticipated development in the forestry sector:

Research projects of the Forest Development Division

Forest Development Division takes responsibility for technological development in sustainable forest management including soil and water conservation, in-situ and ex-situ genetic conservation and forest protection. Of course, rehabilitation of degraded forests is also of crucial importance in sustainable forest management. Therefore, the following research projects are being implemented:

Research projects of the Wood Utilization Division

Wood Utilization Division mainly concentrates on investigation of physical and mechanical properties of Myanmar timber species and the utilization potential of these species. In addition, properties and sustainable utilization prospects of non-timber forest products (NTFPs), with special emphasis on bamboo, rattan and medicinal plants, are examined as priority to enhance household economy and national economy, as well as providing technical information.

At present, the FRI is conducting two bamboo projects in collaboration with International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) and International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI). These projects are targeted to promote the establishment of plantation, management and utilization potential of bamboo species through community participation and to conserve some important commercial bamboo species.

Administration and Finance Division

Under this Division, Research Planning, Administration and Extension Section is conducting community forestry and agroforestry research. Furthermore, rural development research such as an in-depth analysis of livelihood of the shifting cultivators and their farming system are being conducted. The dissemination of the research finding is the major tasks of the Extension Section.


Forest legislation

In Myanmar, forests have always been state owned ever since the country became an independent state in 1948. The new Forest Law of Myanmar was enacted in 1992, which replaced the old Forest Act of 1902. The new law introduces and focuses on the modern concept of biodiversity conservation and upgrades people's participation in the forestry sector. People's welfare and participation are emphasized in the legislation allowing the village communities to establish the community plantations on public forestlands and even in the reserves on usufruct basis. In addition to the forest legislation there is a separate legislation for wildlife protection. Certain sections of the Forest Act in conjunction with the Protection of Wildlife and Protected Areas Law and the Rules form a set of comprehensive legislation for the wildlife protection countrywide.

National Forest Policy

In 1995, new Myanmar Forest Policy has been adopted to replace the old policy, which was issued in 1894. The statements in the new forest policy are keeping in line with the forest principles adopted at UNCED 1992 and in compliance with the main stream of international forestry obligations. It has identified six imperatives that the government needs to accord the highest priority in order to achieve broader national goals and objectives:

To support the sustainable forest management, the Forest Department has issued the Community Forestry Instruction (CFI) in 1995. The CFI raises awareness and interest of people in the forestry sector and offers opportunities for active participation in tree planting on barren lands and degraded areas. It also provides legal support for developing the community forestry especially in the areas with severe forest degradation. Agroforestry practices are allowed in the context of community forestry to provide both short-term and long-term benefits for the local people.

Forest Management

In the forestry sector of Myanmar, two governmental institutions, namely the Forest Department and the Dry Zone Greening Department, have been undertaking the protection, conservation, and restoration of degraded forest and sustainable forest management of forest resources. Systematic forest management started in 1956 when Dr. Dietrich Brandis, a German forester, was appointed to take charge of the Bago Yoma teak forests.

Dr. Brandis started to formulate the working plans for management of teak forests of Bago Yoma. These management plans were written based on growing stock and growth rate obtained from valuation surveys. He also developed a silvicultural system that forms the basis for the present management system known as Myanmar Selection System (MSS).

All of the natural and planted forests are managed under working plans and are divided into two categories, permanent forest estate (PFE) and public forest. Under the PFE, reserved forest, protected public forest and protected area are included. On the basis of accessibility and also on the nature and form of the forest produce available, forests are organized into the following working circles (WC):

Sustainable Forest Management

Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) was initiated for sustainable development in forestry sector. Myanmar has been a member country of ITTO since 1993, so Myanmar abides by the decisions of ITTO Guidelines on matters related to sustainable forest management (SFM), and keeping in line with the ITTO Guidelines, a National Forest Policy was formulated incorporating all the important principles of ITTO regarding SFM. Myanmar has identified its own criteria and indicators for sustainable development of natural forests and also has established model forests in conformity with the criteria given by ITTO. Forest Plantations are being established to ensure sustainable supply of timber and to reduce pressure on natural forests. Moreover, Myanmar has already established a Protected Areas System (PAS) covering 4.7 percent of the total area of the country.

Rehabilitation of the central Dry Zone

In Myanmar, although 50.8 percent of the total area is covered by forests, the distribution pattern is uneven. Severe environmental degradation can be found in the Dry Zone of central Myanmar and it has an area of about 10 percent of the total area of country. Therefore, Myanmar has been recognized as a country affected by desertification and drought. The Ministry of Forestry has tried, over successive periods, national conservation approaches to prevent desertification and forest degradation. Moreover, in order to focus entirely and accelerate environmental restoration processes, the Dry Zone Greening Department (DZGD) was created in 1997, in addition to the Forest Department which was originally responsible for all forestry activities in the country. The major tasks of the DZGD have been set as follows:

To fulfil the demand of wood and other forest products for the rural community in the Dry Zone, 85 498 ha of plantations have already been established. In addition, about 0.37 million ha of degraded forests and about 1.31 million ha of forests affected by shifting cultivation have been identified for conservation by the year ending 2001 (DZGD 2002-2003 Working Plan).

Forestry for local community development

Myanmar's economy is largely dependent on agriculture and forestry. In addition, forest resources also play a significant role in rural livelihoods of a large number of people. Although wood and wood products have become important international commodities during the recent years, the importance of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) has not diminished for communities dependent on them. Nowadays, forest resources have been degraded as a result of population pressure, agricultural expansion, overexploitation, environmentally harmful mismanagement and socio-economic mix factors. The assessment of the change of forest conducted in 1990 revealed that the actual forest area had decreased at an annual rate of 220 000 ha or 0.64 percent of the actual forested area during a period of 14 years from 1975 to 1989.

Due to deforestation and soil degradation, the productivity of agricultural lands declined rapidly. Therefore, the development activities in the Ayeyarwady Mangrove Delta, Southern Shan States and the Dry Zone have been initiated as Human Development Initiative projects, funded by UNDP, in collaboration with a number of related departments including Forest Department. The specific objectives are:

These projects consist of three clusters:

These projects also share a common anti-poverty, people-centred and participatory orientation. The forestry sector activities are mainly concerned with restoration in the degraded dryzone ecosystems through reforestation and agroforestry. The activities aim to increase the availability of forest products, enhance short-term and long-term income opportunities and generate the natural resource capital necessary to ensure sustainable development.


Forest resources are increasingly being recognized as having a significant role for rural communities with a variety of products not only for subsistence but also for earning incomes. Although agriculture is the major income earning activity for the rural communities, rural households have to rely on forests in order to fulfil their social and economic needs by collecting seasonal and non-seasonal NTFPs. Thus, exploitation, storage, processing and marketing have been recognized as important means for enhancing rural employment and income generation.

However, because of overexploitation and lack of specific management strategies for NTFPs, the availability of these products are dwindling. This present situation calls for sustainability of income earning opportunities from the forest and forest-based enterprises. Keeping in line with international mainstream and National Forest Policy, the Forest Department of Myanmar has given much attention to poverty reduction by implementing participatory forest management. The Forest Department has also been trying to decentralize its management role to release these socio-economic problems of rural people and to reduce rural poverty along with environmental rehabilitation. Hence, rural development programme has been launched across the country especially in the environmentally critical areas such as the central Dry Zone, Southern Shan States and the Mangrove Delta. Most of these projects are being implemented in collaboration with UNDP, FAO and other international organizations. Meanwhile, research in areas such as community forestry, agroforestry, NTFPs and forest-based small-scale enterprises, have been conducted as an integral part of rural development programme.

Participatory forest management as a strategy for sustainable rural and forestry development has emerged, and it would have the mutual benefit for the Forest Department and the rural community. At present, 36 567 acres of community forests have been successfully established by the people's participation. Community forestry research projects are designated to address the interrelated problems of the environmental degradation and rural economy, promoting local communities as the agents and beneficiaries of the forest activities.

Research related to agroforestry practices have also been conducted within the context of Community Forestry Instruction. These agroforestry systems are strongly related to women's group activities. The research projects are targeted at small farmers and interested housewives for farmer-to-farmer extension and awareness raising of new agroforestry systems, making modifications to system design, monitoring tree planting activities.

Income generation from forest-based industry, bamboo and rattan reforestation, management techniques, efficient and sustainable utilization and extension research are being carried out in cooperation with ITTO and IPGRI. These research projects will improve the living standard of the rural poor as well as the area's devastated ecosystems and conservation of bamboo genetic resources.

In addition, research based on indigenous knowledge, utilization potential and market surveys of medicinal plants are also being widely explored to create income earning and employment opportunities for the rural communities. Collection, cultivation, and dissemination of medicinal plants related information, are also the major fields of study for rural development.


The forestry sector of Myanmar has been included as an integral part in the overall development of the nation. Population pressure, increasing rural poverty, and economically and forest resource degradation have been assessed and every endeavour is being made to solve these problems. The Ministry of Forestry has adopted appropriate policies, plans and strategies for the socio-economic benefit of the people. The challenge at present is not merely to find better ways and means for growing trees, conserving resources and harvesting them more efficiently, but also to harness our natural resources in a conservative and sustainable manner so as to provide increasing benefits for the people without causing adverse environmental and ecological impacts for the present and future generations. In such a situation, people-oriented forest activities like participatory resource management are needed. Rural development and poverty reduction can be achieved by shifting from a top-down approach to a bottom-up approach in forest management at the national and regional level. It is hoped that further cooperation and collaboration among the local institutions and relevant organizations abroad would contribute more towards further development of rural community and reduction of rural poverty.

[45] Forest Research Institute, Forest Department, Ministry of Forest, Myanmar; E-mail: [email protected]

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