Myanmar is believed to be experiencing one of the highest rates of mangrove loss in the world. When a company bought land containing a mangrove forest in the country’s Tanintharyi region, with plans to convert it into prawn farms, the local community fought back.
The villagers had previously been unable to stop the purchase of an initial tranche of land, but when the company returned in an attempt to buy another 283 hectares of mangrove, locals were prepared; they had received a Securing Community Forest certificate, which served as a bulwark against further deforestation.
A local non-profit organization, Green Network Tanintharyi Region (GNTR) has so far helped 20 villages receive certification. This year, the group received a boost from the UN-REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) programme, which has allowed it to undertake coastal forest protection work.
After quitting his teaching job in 2012, he shifted his focus to mangrove conservation.
At first, Mr. Oo visited village after village on his own initiative, with no formal support from any established organization. Because he knew villagers from his time as a teacher, he subsisted on in-kind donations of food and fuel from local communities.
The 46-year-old worked tirelessly on his mangrove conservation project, despite a disability that makes walking painful.
Mr. Oo was galvanized to action a decade ago, when a large company sought to acquire 162ha of mangroves for conversion into prawn farms, potentially devastating the village where he served as a teacher.
He first went door-to-door, informing villagers of the likely harms that would come if they were to acquiesce.
“I knew the communities will not benefit anything from prawn farming. Communities were not aware of their rights and the legal framework through which they can get legal protection for their forest. So, the company eventually took the lands. Now, communities receive no benefit.”
But when the company returned to the village in 2016, seeking to expand by acquiring a further 283ha, Mr. Oo mobilized nearby communities and successfully thwarted the land grab.
“By that time, communities already trusted me. They learned their lesson and so listened to me. Now, with my support they already got the Community Forest certificate in 2017.”
The triple crisis of conflict, Covid-19 and climate change is pushing people in Myanmar below the poverty line. It is also shifting donor focus to immediate humanitarian assistance – disrupting climate resilience efforts.
Currently, most conservation organizations can no longer be operational. Those organizations who still are, work in a challenging environment.
Support for local civil society organizations and development of innovative approaches and tools that reduce risks of conflict and disasters while promoting development, conservation, and social cohesion is needed more than ever in the current political climate.
Luckily, in January 2022, U Myo Oo’s organization resumed its coastal forest protection work, in partnership with Myanmar Environmental Rehabilitation-conservation Network (MERN) under the UN-REDD Mangroves Technical Assistance programme.
Mr. Oo’s work will support five communities to build capacity and develop livelihoods in a way that is compatible with mangrove conservation.
In addition, UNDP’s initiative is also supporting 10 communities in Myeik and Dawei districts in the Tanintharyi region, and another 3 communities in Mawlamyaing district in Mon state, for a total of 13.
Under the UN-REDD Mangroves Technical Assistance, FAO Myanmar also supported 5 CF communities in the delta, covering 843 ha, benefiting 201 households.
Mangroves are among the most productive ecosystems in the world.
Their high rates of net primary productivity deliver significant ecosystem goods and benefits to society, including support to coastal fisheries, shoreline stabilization, timber and non-timber forest products, protection from coastal storms, storm surges and tsunami, and sequestration of carbon dioxide.
Myanmar is one of the most mangroves‐rich countries in the world.
With about 500,000 hectares of mangroves along its 2832km coastline at the edge of the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, Myanmar has the largest area of mangroves in Asia after Indonesia and Malaysia.
Because of its great latitudinal range and ecological diversity, Myanmar is also home to 34 of the world’s 75 ‘true’ mangrove species, a very high proportion and second only to Indonesia in Asia.
The capacity of mangroves to absorb huge amounts of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere makes them a critical resource for climate mitigation and REDD+ implementation in Myanmar.
However, mangrove forests in Myanmar are very fragmented and undergoing pressures both from anthropogenic and from natural disturbances, resulting in high rates of deforestation and forest degradation.
Although definite figures are not available, it is evident from the wide range of existing estimates that Myanmar is experiencing one of the world’s highest rates of mangrove loss.
Under the UN-REDD Mangroves TA programme, UNDP will expand its support to facilitate the establishment of 10 more CFEs, which will promote mangrove-friendly livelihoods that will ultimately lead to positive conservation outcomes.
Furthermore, UNDP will provide enterprise development support and operationalize CPA management plans through targeted interventions such as community patrolling.
The Government of Norway is providing funding to the UN-REDD Programme to address the integration of mangroves’ sustainable management, restoration, and conservation into REDD+ implementation in Myanmar.