Myanmar to promote agroforestry

 Dr. San Win of UOF and Dietrich Schmidt-Vogt of ICRAF meeting HE U Sai Aik Paung of the Forestry and Mining Ministry of the Shan State.

A new project promoting agroforestry as a sustainable alternative to shifting cultivation in the uplands of Myanmar has been received with enthusiasm. The project which will run until 2018, was officially launched by His Excellency (HE) U Win Tun, Minister of Environmental Conservation and Forestry. In his speech, HE U Win Tun thanked the World Agroforestry Centre’s East and Central Asia regional programme (ICRAF ECA) which leads the project.

Shifting cultivation is the practice of clearing forest for the cultivation of crops. After a cropping period that can be as short as one to two years, the land is fallowed for up to 10 years; allowing the forest to grow back. Shifting cultivation is increasingly rare due to the shrinking availability of land as well as government policies. Pressed to grow more food, villagers now usually clear forests permanently; often for monoculture plantations of sugarcane or rubber. This allows no natural regeneration and so depriving the landscape of a diversity of trees, which can harm livelihoods and ecosystems.

A promising and healthy alternative is the deliberate integration of trees that can positively interact with crops and livestock on and around farms.

The agroforestry project is sited in Shan and Chin states, both of which are amidst mountainous landscapes that are proned to degradation from deforestation.

“Agroforestry is the ideal solution for uplands,” explains Dr Dietrich Schmidt-Vogt, the ICRAF researcher leading the project. “Agroforestry can drastically reduce the need for expensive chemical fertiliser and noxious pesticides while boosting yields and diversifying income sources.”

The communities have provided sites to demonstrate the benefits of agroforestry. Researchers hope to incorporate trees, such as Himalayan Alder, to fertilize the soil, and to jointly search with villagers for alternative income sources. ICRAF has extensive expertise on non-timber forest products, such as mushrooms that can be gathered from fallow forest systems and so boosting villagers’ incomes. A feedback loop between scientists, the NGOs and farmers can help determine the correct species and practices for the local requirements.

HE U Win Tun has also made no secret of his enthusiasm for agroforestry, requesting additional agroforestry demonstration sites to be set up around Capital Nay Pyi Daw.

Dr Peter Mortimer, a soil scientist at ICRAF, is particularly excited about the support of the government.

“Having strong backing on all levels is so important for this type of project, and we have a feeling that Myanmar and its people will prove great partners and an example for similar projects elsewhere,” he says.

Partners on the project include Myanmar NGOs – the Ecosystem Conservation and Community Development Initiative (ECCDI) and the Ar Yone Oo Social Development Association.

“Their support proved invaluable in establishing the demonstration plots despite heavy monsoon floods,” says ICRAF’s Dr Dietrich Schmidt-Vogt.

The main partner, however, is the University of Forestry (UOF) at Yezin, with Dr San Win at the helm, who helped with the project proposal and ensuring the involvement of the Minister of Environmental Conservation and Forestry.

A donor consortium, the Livelihoods and Food Security Trust Fund (LIFT), provides funding for the activities. Contributors to LIFT include the government of Australia, Denmark, the European Union, France, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

While heavy flooding in the Chin state has complicated progress, trees are now ready to be planted and the first cropping cycle will start with the next wet season.

Dr Jianchu Xu, Regional Coordinator for ICRAF in East and Central Asia concluded that “A National Agroforestry Strategy and Action Plan is urgently needed for landscape restoration and livelihood development from mountains to coast in Myanmar.”

Source: EurekAlert (press release)