By Wang Fengjuan
Having cleaned his workshop, U Kyaw Lwin, the owner of a wood-processing factory in Taung gyi, Myanmar, sends his workers home. Since October 2014, Myanmar has included rosewood in its list of rare species, banning unlicensed and illegal wood-processing factories. All licensed wood-processing factories, including U Kyaw Lwin’s, are now prohibited from rosewood logging and processing.
“Though we are reluctant to do so, we have closed the factory and plan to use it for other purposes,” U Kyaw Lwin said. “If the forests and plants face extinction, we will eventually destroy our own homes.”
Beginning in 1990, as the price of rosewood soared, numerous wood-processing factories of different sizes were set up in Myanmar’s villages, and large areas of rosewood were deforested at an alarming pace. Excessive logging has resulted in rapid decrease in Myanmar’s forest coverage, and has had a serious impact on its ecological environment.
For Myanmar, forestry has been a pillar industry. Myanmar is blessed with rich forest resources. However, the current resource situation is daunting.
During the Konbaung Dynasty (1752-1885), Myanmar was 70 percent covered by forest. By 1962, forest coverage had decreased to 57 percent. In 2005, that figure was 51 percent, and in 2010, it was 47 percent. Statistics from Myanmar’s Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry indicate that its forest coverage had decreased to 45 percent by 2015. Over the next five years, this figure is set to decrease by another 2 percent. The sharp decline of forest coverage is the result of illegal logging, which has caused a great deal of concern among Myanmar’s citizens.
At the World Forestry Congress in Durban, South Africa, in September 2015, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) issued the Global Forest Resources Assessment Report 20102015, ranking Myanmar third in the list of countries with greatest loss of forested area. Myanmar is one of the world’s most heavily forested countries by percentage of forested land, but according to the FAO report, Myanmar’s forest coverage has been decreasing by 540,000 hectares annually. A comparison of the 2015 data with that of 2010 shows a 2 percent decrease of Myanmar’s forest coverage, meaning a loss of 1.5 million acres of forest within five years.
In the last few dozen years, China has made an important contribution to the improvement of the ecological environment of the region and the world by promoting afforestation.
There has been serious ecological destruction in recent years, due in large part to a lack of afforestation after trees were cut down. On April 1, 2014, Myanmar banned the export of unprocessed logs. However, investigations show that its rate of forest coverage loss has only increased. Protecting forested areas is of utmost importance to Myanmar’s economic development, ecological environment and people’s livelihood. Dr. U Nyi Nyi Kyaw, director-general of the Forest Department of Myanmar’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation, said that Myanmar is mainly covered by coniferous forest and broad-leaved forest. Looking at the acreage of forest destruction over the past five years, it is clear that broadleaved forest has been more severely destroyed than coniferous forest.
China-Myanmar Project of Hope
“In the last few dozen years, China has made an important contribution to the improvement of the ecological environment of the region and the world by promoting afforestation,” said Chinese Ambassador to Myanmar Hong Liang at the launching ceremony of the China-Myanmar friendship forest project on Oct. 30, 2016. “China has accumulated rich experience and technology in this process, which we are ready to share with Myanmar. This will help Myanmar do well in related work.”
China and Myanmar are close neighbors who face many of the same ecological difficulties. The two countries are making joint efforts against the challenges of climate change, forging “a community of common ecology”.
The launching ceremony took place on the lawn outside the Natural History Museum of the Yangon Zoological Garden, and together with Ambassador Hong, Myanmar’s Minister of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation U Ohn Win planted a dozens of saplings as symbols of the friendship forest. The Chinese Embassy in Myanmar has invested 500 million kyat (US$390,000) in the initial phase of the project to plant 42,000 saplings covering an area of 120 acres, which marks the beginning of China’s assistance for Myanmar in ecological restoration. The friendship forest will be located in Naypyidaw, the capital of Myanmar. Chinese forestry experts will investigate the area and select the right trees to plant, and the project is expected to be completed in 2017. The Chinese embassy has also planned to set up a “China-Myanmar ecological foundation of friendship” for donations and support from social groups and Chinese enterprises in Myanmar. The foundation will support environmental protection efforts across Myanmar.
The Myanmar government imposed an all-out ban on teakwood logging last year and introduced a series of protective measures.
“I hope our efforts will accelerate Myanmar’s forest recovery, adding to the forest resources for the nation’s ecological security and sustainable development,” said Minister U Ohn Win. “With this Chinese embassy project, we have kicked off our afforestation program. We appreciate the support and assistance from China.”
At the ceremony, Ambassador Hong and Minister U Ohn Win joined other guests in planting 40 saplings of spiced olive. They watered the saplings and tied red ribbons around them, hoping for the success and prosperity of the friendship forest along with traditional “pauk phaw” (brotherly) friendship.
In addition to the friendship forest project, on Oct. 12, the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden of the Chinese Academy of Sciences cooperated with Myanmar’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation to officially launch the Southeast Asia Biodiversity Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS-SEABRI) at the Yezin Agricultural University (YAU) in Naypyidaw. The institute plans to strengthen training by recruiting young science and technology talents from Myanmar and other Southeast Asian countries, encouraging them to pursue master’s and doctoral degrees. The institute also intends to build itself into a science and education platform in
biodiversity research and conservation in Southeast Asia with international influence. It will also carry out long-term investigation of biological diversity in northern Myanmar and help Myanmar replace its deforested areas.
U Khin Maung Yee, the permanent secretary of Myanmar’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation, commented that with its rapid economic development, Myanmar’s natural environment is faced with severe challenges. The establishment of CAS-SEABRI injects new impetus into Myanmar’s biodiversity research. Myanmar will fully support and vigorously participate in the development of the institute, so that more science and technology talents will be trained for the nation’s scientific cause. Meanwhile, the institute is expected to help strengthen the application of China’s advanced science and technology in Myanmar.
Ambassador Hong said that such projects are very important for Myanmar’s green development, and that China is more than happy to share with Myanmar its afforestation experience. This will promote the development of Myanmar’s forestry industry, bringing tangible benefits to the country and its people.