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Most of Myanmar’s remaining forests are in hilly and mountainous areas of the north, west, and southeast of the country. Communities living in these areas have practiced shifting cultivation for many generations as it is a land management system well adapted to the local edaphic and climatic conditions. Therefore, it is inevitable that any programme focused on conservation and sustainable management of forests is going to have to consider its relationship with shifting cultivation.
At a recent workshop organized by the UN-REDD Programme, both relating participants from government, NGO’s and CSO’s discussed the “policies and measures” (PAM’s) currently included in the draft National REDD+ Strategy dealing with shifting cultivation. It was emphasized form the outset that “traditional” or sustainable shifting cultivation, in which there is no expansion of the area under cultivation or reduction in fallow period is essentially carbon-neutral and therefore not a driver of deforestation or forest degradation. Only if the total area under cultivation increases, or fallow period is reduced does shifting cultivation cause a loss of total carbon and therefore become a driver of degradation. Therefore, REDD+ PAM’s need to consider how to support “traditional”/sustainable shifting cultivation and discourage an expansion of area or reduction of fallow period.
The participants concluded that security of land tenure is central to supporting sustainable shifting cultivation, and therefore the most significant proposed PAM is “implementation of Section VIII of the Land Use Policy”. Discussion on the other PAM’s identified some modifications, so that the PAM’s now are:
- Undertake high resolution mapping of shifting cultivation with an online database
- Enact regulations controlling access to and use of chainsaws
- Recognize Shifting Cultivation areas as a form of ICCA (Indigenous Communities Conservation Area), with community-based management plans incorporating a temporally stable area with tree cover (with conditionality)
- Promote alternative livelihoods to generate income
- Support improved income potential from traditional livelihoods
- Establish mechanisms to promote dialogue and reduce conflict (including a grievance recourse mechanism)
The importance of land tenure is related to the recent amendment of the VFV Law (Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Land Law), under which (Subsection b of section 30a) establishes that land under customary tenure arrangements is not VFV Land. Participants proposed that the REDD+ Myanmar programme should support a process to recalculate areas of VFV land once land under customary tenure is excluded. Another identified contribution is to pilot a new process to generate “genuine” ICCA’s, in other words locally conserved areas that meet internationally-agreed criteria, including that the local community has the power to make and implement decisions concerning the management of the area, and that the primary purpose of land management is not conservation. Sustainable shifting cultivation landscapes would meet these criteria.