On October 2, 2020, India and Myanmar participated in the 19th round of Foreign Office Consultations. This took place virtually, and new means of cooperation were discovered with India being represented by Foreign Secretary, Harsh Vardhan Shringla and Myanmar being represented by Permanent Secretary, U Soe Han.
During the consultations, both sides reviewed the entire gamut of relations, including border cooperation and up-gradation of border infrastructure, the status of India’s ongoing development projects in Myanmar, trade and investment ties, power and energy cooperation, consular matters and cultural cooperation, including the ongoing restoration work on earthquake-damaged pagodas in Bagan. But most importantly, India stated its agreement to provide debt relief service to Myanmar under the G-20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative (“DSSI”), which shall assist Myanmar in its efforts to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. Under DSSI, the severe impact of COVID-19 pandemic is being managed with the encouragement of the WBG, IMF and consequently, G20 economies are allowing the world’s poorest countries to suspend repayment of official bilateral credit. In October itself, India handed over 3000 vials of Remdesivir to Myanmar to fight Covid-19. There is even an exchange of assurance regarding the joint development of the vaccine between the two States.
The COVID-19 Pandemic has shaken up the entire world, and in these troubling times, assistance from neighbouring nations is crucial. The developing nations will have to come together to support each other and ensure the safety of its citizens. Myanmar and India share a relation of tremendous support, and such exchange of assistance will strengthen the bilateral relations as well as provide the key to not be completely dependent on the western nations in times of crisis.
The Sittwe Port Project
Infrastructure is indeed very significant for every country, and apart from technical assistance, often financial assistance is needed to complete such projects due to the high amount of capital involved. Several infrastructure projects in Myanmar like the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project and the Trilateral Highway have attained assistance from India. A press release recently reported that India and Myanmar have also agreed to work towards the operationalization of the Sittwe port in the Rakhine state in the first quarter of 2021.
Sittwe port is part of the Kaladan multi-modal transit transport project, which is crucial to India’s plans for the landlocked northeastern states to access the Bay of Bengal through Mizoram and to provide alternative connectivity to Kolkata without having to use the circuitous Siliguri corridor. Once the port is operationalized through a private operator, Indian goods can be taken via the Aizawl-Zorinpui-Palletwa axis to Kaladan river, and then transferred to Sittwe port.
This move is beneficial not only for India and Myanmar but also for other southeastern nations. Such a project is beneficial for enhanced connectivity and economic participation amongst various nations in a convenient manner. Consequently, a Special Economic Zone near the Rakhine State would depict a long-standing economic relation between the two. The northeastern states of India will also receive a boost through this project. The easy access to the Bay of Bengal will open up new opportunities for trade and investment, especially for northeastern nations, which has the capacity to subsequently benefit the whole country. The trade between Myanmar and India is also bound to rise with this project. The Act East policy of India will receive a colossal incentive on completion of the project.
India’s proactive approach towards gaining a regional outreach and building ties with Myanmar
India shares borders with nine nations which include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The tensions and conflicts between Pakistan and India are indeed quite popular in the entire world. The deep cultural, as well as historical link between Pakistan and Afghanistan, is well known. Additionally, even when diplomatic ties between India and China are still “looking” strong, the pandemic has brought in new dimensions to the relations between the two. Therefore, amongst the nine neighbouring nations, only six nations remain with a potential of healthy and strong bilateral relations.
Myanmar, being one of these six, the “shared historical, ethnic, cultural and religious ties” between India and Myanmar, is significant in the development of foreign relations of India. Myanmar shares close borders with the Northeast Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland with a shared border of 1,643 kilometres and the land-locked nature of these states becomes a myth when we look at their connectivity through Myanmar to the Bay of Bengal.
Additionally, Myanmar is a key pillar of India’s Act East and Neighborhood First Policy. India’s ‘Act East’ policy is a diplomatic initiative to promote economic, strategic and cultural relations with the vast Asia-Pacific region at different levels. Certainly for India’s Act East Policy to be successful, the betterment of connectivity with Myanmar and Thailand is vital. Being the only country that sits at the intersection of India’s “Neighborhood First” policy and its “Act East” policy, Myanmar is an essential element in India’s practice of regional diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific and serves as a land bridge to connect South Asia and Southeast Asia.
Myanmar is also India’s closest defence partner in the region. Seeing that Myanmar is critical to its national security interests, India provides military training and conducts joint military exercises with the Myanmar Army like the India-Myanmar Bilateral Military Exercise (IMBAX-2017 and IMBEX 2018-19), by which India had trained the Myanmar Army to be able to participate in UN Peacekeeping Operations. Delhi has also agreed to train Myanmar army officers and allow them to study at military academies in India. Currently, with an energy portfolio of more than $ 1.2 billion, Myanmar is the largest destination for India’s investment in the oil and gas sector in Southeast Asia.
Therefore, in terms of the energy sector, defence sector, the Act East Policy and the development of the northeastern nations, the relations with Myanmar will turn out to be very important in the coming future. Being an important country amongst the Bay of Bengal countries, Myanmar plays a strategic role in the upliftment of the economy of India. Myanmar and India even share a 725-km maritime boundary in the Bay of Bengal.
Other agreements such as Project Agreement for the establishment of modern Integrated Check Post at Tamu, MoU for the construction of 50 basic schools and the Project Agreement for the upgrading of agricultural mechanization sub-station will also be signed shortly.The development in Rakhine State, the sharing of library material and other factors have a prime influence on the bilateral relations. The humanitarian assistance and the grants provided by India have always been a leading example for many other nations. In February 2020, the prime minister and President Myint later held talks at Hyderabad House and ten agreements were signed between the two countries, the focus being on development projects under India’s assistance, particularly in the conflict-torn Rakhine state.
The facts stated above reflect the complete dynamic approach adopted by India to establish strong strategic relations. It is undoubtedly true that both nations have the potential to flourish and can achieve significant heights if given the right incentive. With each other`s support, both the nations may even give a competitive edge to the neighbouring nations.
In fact, the proactive approach of India is indispensable in the prevailing circumstances so as to avoid the negative influence of China on Myanmar. Such influence could even conclude with Myanmar becoming a debt-driven nation in the clutches and control of China, completely. The balance of power in the Southeastern nations may even receive a drop once China acquires the control of Myanmar. This may cause a major security concern for India. But with a total bilateral trade of $2 billion, India’s economic engagement with Myanmar lags behind China, behoving Modi’s government to scale up India-Myanmar economic ties. Therefore, the proactive approach being initiated by India becomes a key factor to influence the regional relations.
If a reactive approach is adopted by India, it will be in a ditch with too many problems all occurring at once. The consequences will cost more if prevention is not done currently. It is a known fact that a spark neglected burns the house. Since India can predict the circumstances in the future as an outcome of these bilateral relations with reasonable certainty, a proactive approach becomes suitable. The benefits accruing to both the participants is desirable and may even achieve a higher standard, even if one of the participants plays a leading role.
The dominant powers in ties with Myanmar
There are several dominant powers that are building ties with Myanmar, namely India, China, USA, and other Western nations. Beijing is using COVID diplomacy to push its BRI initiative in neighbouring Myanmar via CMEC. China has also influenced economic development and political stability in Myanmar. In January 2020, “Paukphaw”, which literally means born together, implying not only a shared destiny but racial kinship, was reinforced through strong political and economic bonds between Myanmar and China. It was even reported recently, in September 2020, that China seeks to set up military logistic facilities in Myanmar. This is a measure to maintain military control in the region. The Auditor General of Myanmar also cautioned the government officials of Myanmar about the dependence on debt being given through Chinese loans. The “client state” formula or the “satellite state” formula of China has already affected Sri Lanka, and Myanmar must take into consideration the impact of the controlling influence of China, no matter how generous China behaves.
The influence of China on Myanmar dates back to decades of history. However, the rising influence on China on Myanmar was noticed by the US when Barack Obama came to power in 2009 and launched “Pivot to Asia” to emphasize that the US had strategic interests in Asia. Myanmar also launched political and economic reform in 2008 and adopted a “Look West” policy by re-establishing its linkages with the US. Even recently, in August 2020, US new Ambassadorial nominee to Myanmar Thomas Laszlo Vajda has emphasized that one of his goals as envoy would be “to advance US interests and values” in the Southeast Asian country and help defend the country against “malign influences” in a veiled reference to China. This shows how the US has also been observing Myanmar as a potential ally and wishes to enhance its position over Myanmar.
The dominance of Myanmar of neighbouring nations like China and India along with powerful western nations like the US has constantly been rising. In furtherance of promoting its domestic interests, Myanmar has accepted every proposal which may benefit the nation currently, keeping aside the intent behind these proposals.
Balance of Powers and Competing Interests for India
With Myanmar receiving aid and assistance from different time zones and diverse regions, a crucial question which arises is, how has Myanmar been balancing these powers? China and India not being in a “perfect” relation currently, Myanmar is technically attaining immense assistance from both these competing nations. Still, Myanmar has been effectively managing a diplomatic tie with both the nations. Similarly, Myanmar shows no stick-to-the-neighbour formula when dealing with the US. The balance of powers by Myanmar is commendable; however, very vulnerable as well. China and the US are at a constant pseudo-Cold War and with so many competing nations looking for Myanmar as a trophy prize, one day or another, Myanmar will have to choose. Although none of these nations would be quite happy with the second prize.
With so many competing interests, it may be probable that a country starts to wonder, is it even worth it? India, as a nation, has achieved remarkable heights recently and is still very encouraged to grow. There have been instances when Myanmar has shown a disinterest towards China. One can say that quick glances of the control of China keep occurring at Myanmar and at these junctures, Myanmar has broken several contracts and reacted boldly. By challenging China’s monopoly, the Myanmar government is opening strategic space to create further competition between India and the United States on the one hand and China on the other, affording the Myanmar government a more comfortable degree of leverage and autonomy in the international arena.
There is a high potential for India in Myanmar in various diverse sectors like agriculture, infrastructure and defence. With China trying to push Myanmar into a debt trap, it is the right time for India to stick with Myanmar when Myanmar realizes the intent behind practices of China.
One can foresee Myanmar`s bias towards India in the coming future. Myanmar has even decided to expedite India-backed infrastructure projects and widen security ties with India as it seeks to balance China’s expanding presence in the country in the backdrop of Beijing’s active cross-border support for rebel groups and push for early completion of BRI projects. By challenging the BRI project, Myanmar shows how India is a priority over China. The potential of India and Myanmar in exploring complementary linkages in pharmaceuticals, agriculture, information technology and telecommunication infrastructure, traditional and renewable energy, among others, can present a compelling case for commodity-linked, export-oriented investment.
Myanmar is a nation with latent qualities and abilities. Although several powers have been influencing the decisions of Myanmar, the actions of Myanmar must portray what is best for its domestic self. The interest of the nations itself must never be subsidized. India has a lot to gain from Myanmar and a lot to give to Myanmar as well. This give and take relationship has been the foundation of the bilateral ties between the two nations. However, the ties are in a vulnerable stage currently, but the proactive approach of India can mitigate all doubts and ensure that the struggle to support shall be worth the effort that India is putting in.
The ties will benefit the neighbouring nations with security and infrastructure and give the Southeastern Asian region a balance of resources as well as power. India is at a stage where it will regret if it backs out now and will have to take the risk of a proactive approach to assure support to Myanmar.
The 38th ASEAN Summit Meeting: Agenda and Outcomes
The 38th ASEAN summit meeting is held from October 26-28th and the list of areas to concentrate for the ASEAN would be far too many which includes focusing on the infrastructure projects, working on improved timelines for better implementation of the ASEAN Investment Area (intra ASEAN investment was $23 billion in 2021), emphasising on trade facilitation across ASEAN region, building better health facilities and pandemic infrastructure, and working on realisation of the three pillars of ASEAN communities. With the possibility of US President Joe Biden attending the ASEAN summit meeting through video conferencing shows the relevance of this ASEAN meeting. In fact, the major discussions and debate will be about the challenges that the region faces regarding the pandemic, health issues and fulfilling the objective of better pandemic management through effective health network, diagnostics, and therapeutics.
During the ASEAN foreign ministers meeting which was held in August 2021 the common motto was ‘we care, we prepare, we prosper’. During the meeting it was clearly earmarked that there is need for cohesive approach regarding ASEAN unity and centrality with a clear focus on saving people’s lives and protecting the ASEAN community by adhering to the common fundamentals of peace, prosperity, and progress. During the meeting the stress was regarding ASEAN Community Vision 2025 and peaceful resolution of maritime disputes under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The emphasis on protecting ASEAN identity, centrality and creating awareness among the people of the region was seen as a major precursor for building regional institutions and strengthen bonds between nations.
The member countries of ASEAN need to work on better managing the ASEAN Shield and working on unified response to disaster management through promotion of multilateral cooperation, respect in international law, striving to achieve peace, prosperity, and stability in the region. In fact, one of the areas which has gained much attention is regarding the 4th Industrial Revolution, developing better infrastructure for blue economy and promoting awareness among the department of foreign affairs in ASEAN countries.
During the last one year, it has been found that the organization needs to cooperate in promoting institutional mechanisms related to public health emergencies and collaborating in promotion of trade and addressing challenges to the return of pre Covid-19 levels economic growth. This summit meeting needs to address what exactly are the possibilities for utilising the ASEAN COVID fund, and undertaking regional research mechanisms to protect the children from the third wave of the pandemic.
ASEAN on its own can work on a regional COVAX initiative which can promote better coordination and cooperation among the medical community for better diagnostics and therapeutics. In fact, ASEAN is on the cusp of developing a better infrastructure which can promote research development, logistics chain for distribution of vaccines, and working as a organized unit for better bargaining of the bulk purchase of vaccines at the regional level. This regional approach will also help in the global initiative of COVAX which will address this region as a cohesive one unit. This will further help in better access to the international medicines and developing a regional response to the vaccine passport. The Southeast Asian countries need to undertake regional protocols for safe travellers and thereby promote intra-regional business and tourism. This can also be done through ASEAN travel corridor bubble and undertaking a region wide protocol for countering the spread of the pandemic through tourists and business travellers.
During the pandemic it has been acknowledged that while nations have been working hard to counter the side effects of the pandemic, but it needs a return to the sub regional initiatives in terms of economic recovery and sustainable development. The pandemic has also opened the avenues for promoting digital connectivity and creating mechanisms for sanitised logistics and cargo support. This will help in addressing sanitary and phytosanitary issues regarding trade within the region and even at transregional level.
In fact, one of the areas where the ASEAN needs to work very cohesively is to integrate the ASEAN region through port network, regional connectivity grids, energy, and electricity networks, and promoting better e-commerce avenues. The digitalization of the region will also help in gaining significant leverage regarding the Industrial Revolution 4.0 and getting the support from the dialogue partners on smart cities project across the region. In terms of research in science and technology, and the future role those new emerging technologies would be playing, the ASEAN must work on a blueprint regarding developing the region as the Research Centre for critical technologies. Given the fact that there are more than thirty critical technologies items the Southeast Asian countries can pick any three from the list to develop their niche areas and undertake concerted efforts to develop that sector in their respective countries. To create awareness and develop scientific acumen there is need for ‘talent to technocrat initiative’ which can groom the promising scholars in this field and developed the network of nodal institution across Southeast Asia.
While many issues which are non-traditional security threats such as terrorism, illicit drugs, human trafficking, cyber security have been addressed time and again in different ASEAN meetings, but it needs to be seen that how the COVID-19 pandemic has redefined the criteria for achieving sustainable countermeasures in this regard. The Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) in Southeast Asia needs better management and compliant mechanism. There is also requirement that the region-specific cyber defence network and creating centres of excellence in this field. The cue can be taken from the NATO cyber security networks and how a cohesive response mechanism can be created.
Maritime security and cooperation are the critical sectors which needs strong commitment from all the Southeast Asian nations. The UNSC sponsored special dialogue on maritime security outlines the need for addressing this from the point of view of climate change, illegal fishing, countering piracy, promotion of marine scientific research, safeguarding maritime trade and commerce. It should be acknowledged at the South China Sea is a major issue and the Southeast Asian countries should accept the deadline for the signing of the Code of Conduct (CoC) on South China Sea. Otherwise, it is expected that ASEAN centrality on resolving the South China Sea issues will be marred with internal frictions and tensions among the member countries. The dialogue partners already have outlined that there is need for consistent approach and engaging China in a compulsive manner so that certain protocols can be developed, and the status quo is maintained.
It is also important to note that the role which has been played by ASEAN Maritime Forum and the Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum is much below par and therefore these institutions need to revisit their mandate and objectives to be the harbinger of new ideas in this field. One of the areas which needs active involvement of the Southeast Asian countries is the climate change and the need to shift to clean and renewable energy sources. These issues have been addressed through ASEAN plan of action for energy cooperation but there is a need for more research in promoting energy security and safe transition to new kinds of energies.
The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which was signed in November 2020 needs to gain momentum, and given the fact there is tardy progress about domestic ratification procedures, it has been felt that a quick response mechanism on ratification should be initiated. Further, the Southeast Asian countries should also work on developing their own domestic capacities in manufacturing and services so that the rules of origin issue can be better addressed. The rules of origin issue were one of the issues on which India had strong reservations.
In terms of knowledge creation and education as well as human resource development this summit can achieve a lot. In the Manila summit held in 2017, it was highlighted that there is a need for employment generation and developing skills and capacities. It is opportune time after four years of the Manila summit to investigate what exactly has been achieved and whether there has been slow progress. The time has also come for reinforcing the role that the East Asia summit as the leaders forum can work on developing consensus on broad security strategic, economic, and political issues.
While ASEAN has clearly outlined its outlook on the Indo-Pacific, but it needs better structuring and identifying areas under which it can synergise its activities along with partners in the Indo Pacific. In terms of maritime cooperation, promoting connectivity and undertaking initiatives related to protection of marine life and developing protocols for sustainable harnessing of resources, there are immense possibilities.
About South China Sea dispute there is need for working fast on the single draft code of conduct negotiating text and addressing this on a priority. ASEAN countries themselves can outline their outlook about compliance as per the provisions of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and promote that the ASEAN nations would be willing to subscribe to the legal regulations enshrined under the UNCLOS 1982.
If one evaluates Hanoi declaration 2020 related to the ASEAN community, it clearly stated that there is need for reviews of the blueprints of the ASEAN Community, ASEAN connectivity and initiative for ASEAN integration. These three documents need further review during this summit, and it is believed that a holistic approach should be adopted so that instead of rhetoric there is more tangible outcomes on ground.
The recommendations for the ASEAN Summit are many. ASEAN should really acknowledge the need for concerted approach in the field of comprehensive regional cyber security strategy, developing national ASEAN community councils to create awareness and responsibilities, creating the digital support fund to provide access to millions in terms of governance and redressal of grievances, undertaking a time bound approach with regard to single draft on code of conduct in South China Sea, developing critical technologies hub which can be decentralised and the country should be assigned there are areas of expertise which it can develop in the next decade. ASEAN also needs to undertake futuristic vision by commissioning a governmental group of experts which can undertake feasibility studies to make this organization more buoyant and proactive. ASEAN can also develop architecture and logistics to harness the global initiative related to resilient supply chains and even participate in the Build Back a Better World(B3W) Initiative by G-7 countries.
Transforming Social Protection Delivery in the Philippines through PhilSys
Social protection helps the poor and vulnerable in a country, especially in times of crises and shocks that may threaten the well-being of families. When COVID-19 hit and quarantines began, the Philippines needed a massive expansion of social protection coverage to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic. Countries that already had good and inclusive digital infrastructure (including internet connectivity, digital identification, digital payments and integrated data ecosystems) were better equipped to quickly adapt their social protection programs to meet urgent needs. They also fared better in maintaining continuity of services when in-person interactions could be moved online.
For the Philippines, it presented a challenge, and strain was felt in the delivery of social assistance under the Bayanihan acts.
Fortunately, the country is moving to address digital infrastructure gaps, including through the development of the Philippine Identification System (PhilSys). PhilSys is one of the most complex – but also game-changing – projects undertaken in the country.
The Philippines is one of only 23 countries without a national ID system. As a result, Filipinos need to present multiple IDs (and often specific IDs that many do not have) when transacting, including with government, creating barriers to services for the most vulnerable among the population. Information across government databases is often inconsistent. These undermine the Philippines’ transition to a digital economy, society and government. The PhilSys will help address this by providing all Filipinos with a unique and verifiable digital ID (and not just a card), while also adopting innovative and practical data protection and privacy-by-design measures.
The new partnership agreement between the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) for DSWD’s adoption of the PhilSys is a milestone for the Philippines’ social protection and digital transformation journeys. DSWD will be the first agency to utilize the secure biometric and SMS-based identity authentication offered by the PhilSys to uniquely identify and verify its beneficiaries. Pilots with the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) and Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situations (AICS) program will begin within the next few months, before PhilSys is used by all DSWD programs.
Adopting PhilSys will enable DSWD to further accelerate its digital transformation. By automating verification and business processes for its programs and services, DSWD will be able to improve the impact while reducing the costs of social protection programs. PhilSys will assist with identifying and removing ghost, duplicate and deceased beneficiaries to address leakages, fraud and corruption, and thus boost transparency and public trust. The unified beneficiary database that DSWD is developing with the help of PhilSys will contain up-to-date and consistent beneficiary information across all programs.
The World Bank is supporting these DSWD initiatives through the Beneficiary FIRST (standing for Fast, Innovative and Responsive Service Transformation) social protection project.
Importantly, these changes will translate to benefits for Filipinos.
Those who interact with the DSWD will face less paperwork, queues, hassle, costs and time. With their PhilSys ID, they will also have better access to a bank or e-money account where they can potentially receive payments directly in the future, promoting financial inclusion. Indeed, more than 5 million low-income Filipinos have already opened bank accounts during PhilSys registration. And the resources that DSWD saves can be redirected to addressing the needs of beneficiaries who live in remote areas without easy access to internet and social protection programs.
Beyond the advantages for social protection, the digital transformation PhilSys will catalyze in the public and private sectors can be fundamental to the Philippines’ pivot to reviving the economy and getting poverty eradication back on track. Success in utilizing PhilSys for social protection will have a significant demonstration effect in accelerating digital transformation by other government agencies as well as the private sector.
But digital transformation is not easy. It is not about simply digitizing things. It is about re-imagining how things can be done for the better, with technology as an enabler. Digitizing bad systems or processes just leads to bad systems or processes digitalized. Digital transformation therefore depends on and can only be as fast as process re-engineering and institutional and bureaucratic changes to overcome inertia.
Digital transformation must also be inclusive to avoid exacerbating digital divides or creating new ones.
The effort will be worth it. And the World Bank is firmly committed to scale up our support to the Philippines’ digital transformation agenda. A digital Philippines will not only be more resilient to future shocks – whether they are natural disasters or pandemics – but also be poised to take advantage of the opportunities brought by COVID-19 (shift of activities online) and those that lie ahead in the post COVID-19 world.
first published in The Philippine Star, via World Bank
Bringing “the people” back in: Forest Resources Conservation with Dr. Apichart Pattaratuma
With a lifetime dedicated to forest conservation, Dr. Apichart Pattaratuma reflected back on his career and what forest management means to Thailand. In the year 1978, he received the prestigious United Nations and Ananda Mahidol Foundation Scholarship to attain higher education at the College of Forest Resources, University of Washington, Seattle, USA. After graduating in the year 1985, he returned to Thailand with a commitment to teach and research at the Department of Forest Management, Faculty of Forestry, Kasetsart University until his retirement with full professor position. The excerpts below encapsulated a conversation between Dr. Pattaratuma and Dr. Rattana Lao on forest conservation.
Beyond the classroom: An anthropological perspective
I dedicated my life to study the anthropological aspect of forest management to His Majesty King Bhumibol Aduyadej of Thailand. I studied cultural dimensions of forest management in many areas of Thailand. I began with Huay Hin Dam with Karen hill tribe (Pra-ka-ker -yor) Suphanburi Province. I tried to review the international literature on land use and combine it with in-depth interviews with the hill tribes to understand the cultural dimensions of their livelihoods. I observed how they built their houses and how their managed their forest. There are three characteristics of the Karen tribe. Firstly, they lived on small plots of lands and their houses are very small. Secondly, they conserve their forest land with water resources. Thirdly, they refrain from using pesticides. Culturally, there is a clear division of labor amongst men and women. While men will clear the lands, women will cultivate agricultural goods such as papaya, guava and banana. There is limited drugs use.
It’s liberating to do research beyond the classrooms. To observe real live, real changes. I learnt more than I set out to do and they are all interrelated to a bigger picture.
Intersectionality between culture, migration and forest management
Karen hill tribes migrate in a cluster. There are more than 3 families migrating together to the new fertile forest land. They will migrate together when land is exhausted. This is most evident in the borderland between Thailand and Myanmar. Back then they did not have official documentation but slowly they do. There has been an influx of hill tribes from Myanmar to Thailand due to political conflicts from Myanmar. From my observation, they are very conscious about forest conservation and resources management. They said: “no forest, no water”. They are compelled to protect the forest from pesticides in order to keep the water clean and their health well. They are very logical. Although they grow rice, it’s very subsistent and only for household consumption. They don’t grow rice for commercial purpose. This is the land use for Karen hill tribe.
I also studied in Kampeangpetch, Nan, Chiang Rai, Phrae and Lumphun. Each place is diverse and the situation is really different. Some local tribes are preserving of the forests, others are more detrimental. We need an in-depth study to understand the cultural dimension of land use for each tribe.
The heart of forest management
People. It’s the people. People must particulate in the forest management. Otherwise, it is very difficult. When we go into each location, we must approach people and bring them into the conversation. I have tried to do all my life. Civil servants must approach people, not other way around. People are looking up to our action. They look into our sincerity and commitment. If they see that we are committed to study about their livelihood, they will share the right information and they will help.
Indonesia is a good example of successful forest management. The state get people involved. In every kilometer, there are four actors involved in protecting the forest: soldiers, policemen, villager and forester. They help each other protecting the wildlife and forest resources.
Can legal change help the people?
Legal relaxation can help lessen the pressure between man and forest. Before the legal requirement was very strict. Any kind of forest intrusion would be caught including small hunters gatherers. I think that is too strict. That put people against the law. People should be able to go into the forest and pick up some mushroom and bamboo and some wild products to lessen their poverty and hunger.
As long as people are still hungry, it’s very hard to manage the forest. There must be a way to balance the two: people livelihood and forest management.
Much of the legal attention is paid to small farmers use of the forests. However, the real issue is big corporations invade the forest. This is very significant. Deforestation happens mostly from large scale corporation rather than small scale farmers. There are many loopholes in the system that lead to systemic corruption and mismanagement of land use. Many wealthy houses are built on large scale timber to exemplify wealth and status. It saddens me.
Would the next generation get to see large tree in the forest?
What can we do to protect the forest?
There are many organizations that responsible for the forest protection such as Royal Forest Department, Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation and Department of Marine and Coastal Resources. But the manpower are not sufficient to cover the large area of forest in Thailand. There are not enough permanent manpower to go on the ground and protect forest resources, while the intruders to National Parks are equipped with more advanced weaponry.
To protect the forest, the state must be committed and the people must participate in the process.
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