Forests still cover 47 percent of Myanmar’s total land area and until recently complete government control of the economic returns from forestry (through the Myanmar Timber Enterprise) gave little space or incentive for local people to manage and sell forest products and services.
High rates of deforestation (0.9 percent a year between 2000 and 2010) contributed to a growing desire for reform.
The 1995 Community Forestry Instructions allow community forest users’ groups to identify a suitable area and apply to township forest officers for support with establishing a community forest. Once established, these come under the jurisdiction of district forest officers who oversee forest department activities in the 62 forest districts throughout Myanmar.
The revision of the 1992 forest law will hopefully soon open space for local community groups to sell forest and farm products commercially from these areas, creating a strong incentive for forest management and restoration.
New community forest users’ groups are emerging, though at a pace well below the target of 918,000 hectares by 2030 in the government’s Forest Master Plan. They are mobilizing throughout the country to sell timber, agroforestry crops, non-timber forest products (NTFPs, notably bamboo and rattan), environmental services (including ecotourism) and biomass energy.
In relation to biomass energy, the Forest Master Plan aims to supply 4.13 million cubic metres of wood fuel from community forests (25 percent of Myanmar’s total fuel wood requirement of 16.53 million cubic metres) by 2030.
Up until December, 739 forest users’ groups have been registered, covering 44,065 ha (or an average rate of 2,180 ha a year). Early evidence indicates that there are strong economic and environmental benefits associated with this approach, but to meet the government master plan the rate would need to increase to about 20,000 ha a year, a tenfold increase.
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