Political and economic transitions have had substantial impacts on forest conservation. Where transitions are underway or anticipated, historical precedent and methods for systematically assessing future trends should be used to anticipate likely threats to forest conservation and design appropriate and prescient policy measures to counteract them. Myanmar is transitioning from an authoritarian, centralized state with a highly regulated economy to a more decentralized and economically liberal democracy and is working to end a long-running civil war. With these transitions in mind, we used a horizon-scanning approach to assess the 40 emerging issues most affecting Myanmar’s forests, including internal conflict, land-tenure insecurity, large-scale agricultural development, demise of state timber enterprises, shortfalls in government revenue and capacity, and opening of new deforestation frontiers with new roads, mines, and hydroelectric dams. Averting these threats will require, for example, overhauling governance models, building capacity, improving infrastructure- and energy-project planning, and reforming land-tenure and environmental-protection laws. Although challenges to conservation in Myanmar are daunting, the political transition offers an opportunity for conservationists and researchers to help shape a future that enhances Myanmar’s social, economic, and environmental potential while learning and applying lessons from other countries. Our approach and results are relevant to other countries undergoing similar transitions.
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The Mekong Land Research Forum seeks to bring research and policy a bit closer together. It does this in part by making the research more accessible and in part by helping to distill the key messages and points of debate so that information overload does not overwhelm policy makers and other advocates for progressive policy reform.