Burma: Rainforests Facing a New Challenge
Logging is back in Kachin State under a new mask. Logging no longer will be the illegal business in one of the world's biggest green regions that houses most of the teaks left on earth. Logging this time has returned into the region with bigger ambition and the safer shield under the title of agro-forestry development projects.
For decades, deforestation in Kachin State was traditionally carried out by agricultural farming industry of the local people and Asia's one of the longest civil wars in the nation. High speed massive illegal logging was introduced to the region only by logging companies from neighbouring Yunnan Province only after China's economy started roaring in 1990s. And it remarkably escalated in 1998 when China banned logging in its nation after facing serious floods in their home land. Forests in northern Burma were dwindling quickly in early 2000 and Kachin State became a hottest target for all the international watchdogs. But, finally, loggers have found a new and safest way to continue their business with a higher speed.
Everything started in 2006 when the government began promoting a nation wide bio fuel campaign to grow a castor oil across the nation as a state crop. Although state sponsored project of growing castor oil plants only kept the people busy in other areas, but in Kachin State, it killed the forests that once survived from the hands of the loggers in early 2000. Companies cleaned the forests to grow the castor oil in a massive scale. As a result, logs and other forest products, as usual, were brought and sold to the Chinese logging companies.
Companies got enlightenment, copying the model of castor oil projects, to expand the logging business in the region on a massive scale. They said castor oil should not only be the state crop, there are several other important crops that the state should focus on in a large scale in the region. And the companies said they will dutifully serve those noble endeavours to develop the region.
Under the forest regulations issued in May, 2008, companies who want to run an agro-forestry project can rent the forest areas from the Ministry of Forests with a 30-year deed.
Companies borrowed the loans from the banks in Yunnan Province. Banks and logging people in Yunnan were enthusiastic to help their neighbouring friends' decision to develop the massive farming industries.
More tractors, dozers of cars and other machineries were ambitiously brought to the region. The roads between Kachin State and Yunnan were reconstructed again. Roads became even much better than the Yangon-Mandalay highway.
A Kachin local remarked, "the better road we have the more trees we lose".
And finally companies take their share dividing the forest areas in Kachin state. There are four major crops that the companies are growing in Northern Burma such as sugar cane, rubber, tapioca and castor oil. Each company takes an average of 200,000 acres of forest land in the region.
Needless to say, they all cut the trees, again, to clean the forests before they started growing the state crops. But this time the scale is larger and lethal to the trees left in the region. A forest official said that the major reason of deforestation in northern Myanmar is expanding the agricultural projects. He concluded that the best way to maintain the forests is to conserve the present forests rather than reforestation. Because to see the success of reforestation in the future is not so certain, he continued.
How good are the reforestation projects in Kachin State?
There are some reforestation projects in the region where forestry officials are trying to grow teak and other trees to re-green the land. But unfortunately the scale and the timing is no match to counter the loggers' projects.
Forests in northern Myanmar were registered by the British government as the Permanent Forests Estates (PFE) for the first time since 1895. But after independence, the first time the Burmese government registered one forest as PFE was only in 2005.
The speed of logging is far beyond the speed of reforestation.
Trucks loaded with Burmese logs are still passing the border to China.
Trees are dwindling in the region.
And the impact on environment has been escalated.
This is a call not only to the people in Burma but to everyone in Asia.