22-year-old U Pay Ta Ru has become a voice for conserving forests. His village, perched high on the banks of the Chindwin River, is home to more than 200 ethnic Naga people.
Traditionally, his community is known to burn and clear forests for farming. After planting on the cleared land for a year, the community moves to a new location to start the process all over again in a practice known as shifting cultivation. But burning and clearing land in this way degrades the land. The soil, stripped off its vegetation and grass cover, is more vulnerable to erosion.
“In our culture, elders lead. When I first became part of [the conservation] project, they were suspicious and thought that the project would put a ban on shifting cultivation. Now, after I have shared my knowledge with them regarding of value standing forests, they are convinced and happy to support me and our youth group,” said U Pay Ta Ru, secretary of the Nar Tike Village youth group.
The group, made up of seven men and four women, is part of a network of 45 youth groups participating in a forest conservation programme. The Myanmar Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) Readiness Programme is being implemented by the UNDP in Khamti, Layshi and Lahe, three townships in the northwest of Myanmar.
An estimated 47 percent of Myanmar’s land mass is covered with forests. Ethnic communities live on approximately 0.19 percent of this area, home to close to 100,000 Naga people living mostly though subsistence farming and hunting.
“We selected five youth mobilisers from civil society organizations to work in each of the townships,” said Khin Hnin Myint, UNDP Project Manager. “We made sure that the selected youth mobilisers spoke the local languages and were known in their areas. They visited the villages with our implementing partners, explained the programme, and facilitated the formation of the youth groups. Some villages were quick to come on board, others were slower.”
“Last year, a CSO representative came from Khamti and explained…that it was important to conserve forests because standing forests not only protect animal and plant life, but can also get us an income from carbon trading. If forests are destroyed we need to replant trees. He encouraged youth in our village to form a group and actively start conserving the forest,” said U Pay Ta Ru.
In consultation with the village elders, the Nar Tike group developed a land use plan under which the 200 acres of land currently laying fallow or under shifting cultivation will gradually be turned into an established forest. The youth group plans to plant agar wood, teak and bitter bean next year, using seedlings from a nursery established through the programme.
The youth have also gained technical knowledge on a range of issues, including how to measure carbon stocks, establish community forests, and better prepare for carbon trading.
UNDP will support the establishment of community forests in three of the 45 participating villages. A community forest provides the benefits of the forest in a sustainable manner. Forest products, including wood, can be harvested provided that the trees are replanted in a systematic manner. The three forests are strategically located to serve the needs of the many surrounding villages.
Community forests are established through a nine step procedure, from setting up a management committee and identifying the community forest site to clarifying the land ownership and developing a 30-year management plan for the forest. Upon the Department of Forest’s issue of the Community Forest Certificate, the villagers can establish their community forest.
Villages can also participate in carbon trading through REDD+, a climate change mitigation solution that incentivizes developing countries to keep their forests standing. These developing countries would receive payments for results-based actions to reduce forest carbon emissions.
In addition to conserving forests, the programme has built the capacities of the men and women involved, and conducted trainings on gender to encourage greater women’s participation and representation in forest conservation. Monge Kho, 20, is one of the women in the Nar Tike village group.
“I am not used to being a part of a group like this, where men and women work together. I have learnt many things and personally I have built my confidence and gained public speaking skills,” she said.
The Nar Tike Village hopes to establish its community forest in 2016 as per the land use plan they developed.
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