Government of Norway funding conservation in Myanmar

Government of Norway funding conservation in Myanmar

23 July 2013

In January 2013, the Government of Norway's Directorate for Nature (now known as the Norwegian Environment Agency), began a long-term project to assist the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry (MOECAF) of the Union of Myanmar to conserve the biodiversity and wetlands in the country. The Norwegian Government also requested the Secretariat of the Ramsar Convention to provide administrative assistance to the project, and IUCN was sub-contracted to provide logistical coordination in Myanmar. Other partners include the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA) and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).

Staff of the Nature and Wildlife Conservation Division in discussion at Moeyungyi Ramsar Site (credit: Lew Young)

Activities began with a six-month pre-project during which, a series of workshops and field visits were organised in both Myanmar and Norway where four priority pilot sites were identified as well as long-term conservation goals and activities that would be carried out at each site. The sites identified were the Natma Taung National Park, Popa Mountain Park, Shwe Settaw Wildlife Sanctuary and the Moeyungyi Wetland Wildlife Sanctuary.

The Moeyungyi wetland is an artificial lake built in 1904 to provide water for irrigation to the surrounding rice fields. The site supports a rich wetland biodiversity, including wintering waterbirds and aquatic plants, and the fish are an important source of food and income for the local community. In 2004, the area was designated as a Ramsar Site and still, is the only Ramsar Site in Myanmar.

Facilities at the Ramsar Site (credit: Sandra Hails)

Over the years, the management of Moeyungyi has suffered from having insufficient staff and financial resources, as well as there being conflicts in the use of resources. For example, whilst the site is managed by the Nature and Wildlife Conservation Division (under MOECAF), the water body is managed by the Irrigation Department. Around December each year, the Irrigation Department will begin to release water from the lake for use by the surrounding farmers for irrigation. Whilst the slowly falling water levels from this time has little impact on the wintering waterbirds who will begin to migrate northwards in Spring, the larger problem is that the increasingly shallow water will attracts local people to enter the site illegally to practice electro-fishing. It has been reported that over the years, this practices has reduced fish stocks in the wetland and that some fish species has disappeared altogether. In addition, the newly exposed area of land also attracts other locals to encroach into the edge of the site to create temporary rice field.

One component of the Norwegian project therefore, will be to work with the different stakeholder groups to improve understanding about the benefits that the site provides for each group and to improve coordination in resource use so as to reduce conflicts. As part of this work, the project will work closely with the reserve staff to upgrade the small education centre at the entrance to the site and to develop a CEPA programme for the local schools, farmers, community leaders and relevant government departments. The project will also provide training to park staff on management techniques as well as provide basic equipment for management such as for patrols and general administration.

Meeting with local stakeholders (credit: Lew Young)

Presently, there is a private company who has signed a long-term lease with the Forest Department to operate tourist operations at the site. The company has built simple tourists facilities such as accommodation, a restaurant and boardwalks in the site, and are also operating boat tours into the wetland for visitors. This company will therefore be an important partner for the Norwegian project so as to maximize the long-term benefits that both groups can bring to the site.

The pre-project was completed at the end of June 2013 and preparations are now starting for the next, longer phase of the project which will last for some 5-years.

Harvesting the cut rice straw (credit: Sandra Hails)