Efforts to establish community forests in Mon State’s Ye township are facing setbacks due to misunderstandings of land laws as well as a lack of interest among some locals, according to the township’s Department of Forestry.U Soe Win, the township forestry chief officer, said that local plans to set up the community forests inside the forest reserves and unclassified forest areas, which are under the government’s management, have been delayed. Permission from the respective local land-use committees has not been forthcoming, he said.
A lack of strong interest from local residents, who are focused on farming and use the forest for firewood and bamboo is also hindering efforts, U Soe Win added.
“[Community forests] can be established on the forest reserves, unclassified forest areas, land under the government management, and land heldby private and non-government organisations,” he said. “But we can only establish them [on government managed land] with permission from respective land-use committees. There have been delays because we couldn’t get the permission from respective township and district land-use committees, even though the local residents have expressed interest in establishing community forests,” he said.
According to the local Department of Forestry, Ye Chaung Forest Reserve covers 227,444 acres, while the Man Aung Forest Reserve covers an additional 16,542 acres. Community forests and mangrove forests have already been established on 430 acres in Man Aung Forest Reserve, as well as on 190.04 acres in the unclassified forest area in An Din Village and 173 acres on Sone Ma Island in Ah Baw Village.
According to Min Kyi Win, Mon State Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, community forests provide jobs while helping the government conserve forest areas. But he emphasized that the legal status of land holdings targeted for a community forest could ultimately determine whether it is permitted to go ahead.
“Whether [the community forest] is in a forest reserve, unclassified area, or vacant land, [local residents] can submit their application in line with the procedures. They can apply for land that is managed by the government, but they have to negotiate with the [land-use] department. The department’s procedures will determine whether it will grant permission,” he said.
According to the Department of Forestry, anyone wishing to set up a community forest can submit an application. The Department identified some of the benefits of a community forests to reduce poverty by creating jobs and sharing land resources. Mangrove forests in particular are crucial to maintaining biodiversity to as well as protecting coastal areas by mitigating the effects of natural disasters including flooding and storms.