Issue 4: Indigenous Rights, Shifting Cultivation, Protected Areas and REDD+: How They Intersect


Two recent publications[1], both relating to Tanintharyi Region have served to highlight several important, inter-connected issues relevant to REDD+ in Myanmar.  “Growing Up Together With the Forest: the unique relationship between the forest and indigenous Karen people of Kamoethway” is a report of research undertaken by the Tanintharyi River and Indigenous People Network (TRIPN).  “Our Forest, Our Life”, by Conservation Alliance of Tanintharyi (CAT), advocates for respect for the rights of indigenous peoples in the establishment of new protected areas in Tanintharyi.


Besides the issue of indigenous rights, the research paper also touches on the role of shifting cultivation and drivers of deforestation in the Kamoethway area of Dawei District, on the border of Thailand.  The predominant livelihood strategy of the inhabitants is based on shifting cultivation.  The report concludes that “the clearing of fallow land does represent a type of deforestation …”, but that it is part of a stable system.  However, Myanmar’s national definition of “forest” includes land that is temporarily unstocked, and thus stable areas of shifting cultivation do not constitute deforestation.


Ironically, the leading cause of forest degradation in the area is reported to be illegal logging, primarily resulting from displacement of such activities from Thailand after the creation of protected areas there.  The report recommends that “there should be formal time-bound processes and platforms for indigenous forest dependent communities to be able to participate in every step of the design and implementation of Forest Conservation and Management policies”, and that “Myanmar should establish a network of ‘Living Forest Museums’”, wherein indigenous populations can continue their traditional livelihood activities.


The CAT report notes that the designation of National Parks in Myanmar is generally associated with restrictions on the rights and activities of local communities, effectively cutting communities off from their lands, resources and livelihoods.   It also recommends that an “alternative approach” to conservation is required, including the recognition of “Indigenous Community Conserved Areas” (ICCA’s), essentially equivalent to TRIPN’s “Living Forest Museums”.


Of course, “conservation” is one of the “+” activities in REDD+.  Although it refers to conservation of forest carbon stocks, rather than biodiversity, a network of effective protected areas is an essential contribution to conserving carbon stocks.  The proposed “policies and measures” in the draft National REDD+ Strategy include recognition of alternative types of protected areas, and thus is consistent with the key recommendations of these two reports.


[1] “Growing Up Together With the Forest: the unique relationship between the forest and indigenous Karen people of Kamoethway” can be accessed at:; “Our Forest, Our Life” can be accessed at: