On April 25, over 500 villagers attended the launch of community-led research report “Abundance of Pharlain Natural Resources and Communities” at Andin Monastery, in Andin Village, southern Ye Township, Mon State. The report launch was also attended by reputable monks; Dr. Aung Naing Oo, deputy speaker of Mon State Parliament, and Dr. Aung Tun Khaing and U Chit Tin, state Hluttaw representatives from National League for Democracy (NLD).
Pharlain is the name of a mountain located northwest of Ye Town. It also encapsulates villages in the vicinity. The report intends to show the beauty of Pharlain nature and people who deeply rely on healthy ecosystems for their subsistence livelihoods.
The research project was initiated by Andin Village to combat the proposal for a 1,280 megawatts coal-fired power plant project submitted by Toyo-Thai Company Limited (TTCL), a Thai construction and engineering company.
The launch began with respectable Sayadaw U Teza, a native of Pharlain’s Duya Village. He urged the communities to take responsibility in conserving their natural resources and livelihoods. He also added that authorities and experts are obliged to support local communities in protecting their environments and means of living.
The abbot from Sanint Janu Monastery emphasized the needs for communities and the Sangha and ministers to cooperate to prevent further environmental degradation especially along the rivers and mangrove forests.
“It has been observed that the water resource in this region is depleting. Massive falling of mangrove forests along the Sanint Krate River are caused by riverbank erosion. I would like to urge the natives, the Sangha and the ministers to help in the conservation of this region,” said the Sanint Janu abbot.
Act to Overcome the Unknown
Ashin Nanda, monk from Andin Village and head of the research team, told the background of the community-led research, also known as “Pharlain Study.”
“On August 1, 2014, Andin youth and I were invited to visit and observe the environment in Thailand. We found that there are research papers on the environment. Perennial and annual trees are photographed, recorded and handed over to future generations for environmental conservation. A few months after, on December 4, 2014, Andin youth participated in a workshop in Thailand organized by Human Rights Foundation of Monland (HURFOM) and Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance (TERRA),” said Ashin Nanda.
Nondal Ong, a young woman from Andin Village, was one of village youth to participate in the workshop. She described how the research topics were finalized.
“We drew maps of our villages and showed how we make a living. We then chose our community’s 3 major means of livelihood: growing betel nuts, planting rice, and fishery,” said Nondal Ong.
Ashin Nanda explained that Pharlain Study is the first ever community-led research project done by the community. There were doubts and lack of confidence in the beginning as local residents never had the experience in providing figures on their income and explaining their livelihoods in a research format before. The research team was concerned and unsure of how to get the information. But after explaining the process to the villagers, the research team reached mutual understanding and gained trust from the villagers. They proceeded to collect data and completed the first draft in 6 months. The full report was published within a year.
When asked about the most challenging part of the research, Ashin Nonda said finding the history of the 7 villages we chose to include in the research because we had to discuss several times with the abbot of each village and hold meetings with the villagers to affirm our findings.
Locals Do Not Stand Alone
Showing continuing solidarity, Dr. Aung Naing Oo, deputy speaker of Mon State parliament, congratulated the cooperation of all people who made the project successful. He highlighted the need to conduct such research project to be aware of the values of natural resources Mon State inherits and its importance at policy level.
“When a development project is proposed in our region, we need to know whether it is for the people or the interests of the project proponent. When competing with foreign investments, they need to know the values of the environment for the people. For the parliament, we need to have proper evidence like this research paper to assist in the decision-making process,” stated the deputy speaker.
U Chit Tin, Mon State Hluttaw representative from NLD, joined the meeting and insisted his alliance with the community against the proposed coal-fired power plant.
“The entry of Toyo-Thai into Myanmar does not augur well. The natives of the region need to conserve and protect their agriculture, natural resources and mangrove forests. Building a coal-fired power plant can be disastrous for both Andin and the whole Ye Township,” said U Chit Tin.
April 25, 2016 also marked a year after TTCL signed the memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the Ministry of Electric Power. Initially, the company planned to start construction since early 2016 but faced strong opposition. At the end of 2015, the Mon State deputy minister for Electric Power suspended the project and related surveys as long as the community’s disagreement prevails.