Community Management of Natural Resources in Myanmar (Burma) and Bangladesh


Over the past two decades, Asia has witnessed a steady stream of promising new community-based approaches to solving problems of environmental governance. These innovations not only provide novel ways to address specific problems but also contribute to broader and more generic strategies for meeting community demands for greater participation in the management of forests and other natural resources.

While much of the reorientation of resource management in Asia is being guided from above, there is also growing momentum on the ground, with communities networking, federating, and mobilizing politically around shared concerns regarding forest and watershed management, livelihood needs, and cultural preservation. These communities are supported by a rapidly expanding body of social organizations. Non-government organizations (NGOs) involved in promoting democracy and rural development are increasingly engaged in community-based forest-management projects, and they are gaining expertise in this area.

Community-based management of forests and other natural resources has also become a popular topic of research and extension among academic institutions, and international organizations are starting to monitor the extent of transition to community forest management. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has begun to integrate this type of information into global forest statistics. The non-profit organization Forest Trends has reported that at least 22 percent of all forestland in developing countries is owned or accessed by communities.

The East-West Center conducted a collaborative research and training project in community management of natural resources in Burma (Myanmar) and Bangladesh. The two-year project in Burma was designed to build capacity for community-based resource management, enhance resource rights, and strengthen civil society in Kachin State. Specific goals were to build the capacity of local communities to manage their own natural resources and to help individuals and communities acquire legal recognition of their agricultural and forest lands. By building the capacity of communities to manage their resources and claim their land rights, and by strengthening civil society through a mobilized network of social actors, this project was designed to enhance democracy and human rights in Kachin State and more broadly throughout Burma.

The project in Burma was conducted in collaboration with Win Myo Thu of EcoDev and David Allan of Spectrum. These are two small NGOs based in Yangon.

The East-West Center's project in Bangladesh focused on protected wetlands and forests. The primary objectives were twofold: first, to provide support for coordinating and conducting training, applied research, and dissemination of information related to community-based management of protected areas in Bangladesh; and second, to publish papers prepared by project participants and to present project results and facilitate discussions in regional and national policy fora focusing on the co-management of protected areas. The project primarily looked at social and economic issues relating to community management.

Project workshops sought to:

  • Increase the professional capacity of forestry officers, social scientists, and forest-management practitioners enrolled in Ph.D. and Master's degree programs in Bangladeshi universities to conduct research in community-based resource management through broadening their knowledge of the paradigm of community-based management, its strengths, it weaknesses, and the roles of government
  • Document, analyze, and disseminate lessons learned from these innovative projects
  • Promote sharing of experiences with others from the region

The project in Bangladesh was conducted in collaboration with the Integrated Protected Area Project (IPAC Bangladesh).

Related publications

Fox, Jefferson, M.G. Mustafa, Shimona A. Quazi, Wendy B. Miles, Eric J. Cunningham, and Maria Chassels, eds. (2011). Rural livelihoods and protected landscapes: Co-management in the wetlands and forests of Bangladesh. Dhaka: East-West Center and Integrated Protected Area Co-Management in Bangladesh Program, Bangladesh Forest Department, 204 pp.

Mukul, Sharif Ahmed, Mohammed Belal Uddin, A.Z.M. Manzoor Rashid, and Jefferson Fox (2010). Integrating livelihoods and conservation in protected areas: Understanding the role and stakeholder views on prospects for non-timber forest products, a Bangladesh case study. International Journal of Sustainable Development and World Ecology. 17(2): 180-88.

Fox, Jefferson, Bryan R. Bushley, Wendy B. Miles, and Shimona A. Quazi, eds. (2009). Connecting communities and conservation: Collaborative management of protected areas in Bangladesh. Dhaka: East-West Center and Nishorgo Program, Bangladesh Forest Department, 282 pp.

Fox, Jefferson, Bryan R. Bushley, Sugato Dutt, and Shimona A. Quazi, eds. (2007). Making conservation work: Linking rural livelihoods and protected area management in Bangladesh. Dhaka: East-West Center and Nishorgo Program of Bangladesh Forest Department, 176 pp.