Log Export Ban Goes into Effect in Myanmar: Too Early to Determine Impact



Posted on 10 June 2014
Logging in Myanmar.
Elephants are still frequently used in timber harvesting in Myanmar.
© WWF-MyanmarEnlarge
On April 1 a new law went into effect in Myanmar banning the export of raw logs from the country with the goal of stemming deforestation and ensuring that Myanmar gets the full value of its timber by processing it domestically. Myanmar Conservation Programme Manager Michelle Owen and Greater Mekong Regional Forest Coordinator Matthew Markopoulos discuss the background and impact of the ban.

It remains to be seen if the log export ban will help preserve Myanmar’s forests. The effect of the ban needs to be demonstrated over time, but it is a good sign of a commitment to control the legal export of timber from Myanmar. However, for the ban to be effective, it must be complimented with support for domestic processing to make up for any potential inefficiencies created by lower domestic prices when the export ban goes into effect. Experience from applying bans in other countries indicates Myanmar should: a) control any expansion in domestic processing capacity and raw material demand; and b) ensure adequate investment in modern, efficient processing technologies.

In terms of illegal logging, it’s a sign - a recognition - of the need to seriously address this issue head-on. But given the high volume of illegal logging and exports in Myanmar, it will take a long time before we see how effective the ban will be. There will be major challenges, but it’s a law, so there’s a basis to challenge and a method to achieve accountability. It’s crucial that this ban is strictly enforced, with complete transparency.

The previous quota system didn’t result in the country receiving full value of the timber being exported and there was major over-harvesting. With the move to a GDP economy designed to gain access to EU and US markets, the government will have a much stronger say in how it governs log exports.

Deforestation in Myanmar historically has been concentrated in the heavily populated central dry zone, mainly in Ayeyarwady, Mandalay and Sagaing Divisions. The highest deforestation rates have been recorded in the mangrove forests of the Ayeyarwady Delta, where fuelwood extraction (for the Yangon metropolitan area) and agricultural expansion have been identified as the main drivers of forest loss.

Generally speaking, the principal driver of forest loss in Myanmar is large-scale conversion for agriculture or aquaculture. The forests that are converted often have been degraded by fuelwood collection or logging. Other drivers of forest loss include shifting cultivation, conversion to commercial rubber or oil palm plantations, and mining. Oil palm is reportedly driving rapid deforestation in lowland forests in Tanintharyi Division.

It is too early to tell whether rates of deforestation have increased since the country’s opening in 2012. However, increasing exposure to global commodity markets, coupled with rapid foreign direct investment inflows and a weak governance environment, can lead to direct deforestation for large-scale commodity cropping; and indirect deforestation due to clearance for new land by displaced farmers. Similar patterns of forest loss have been observed in other countries in the region.

Over the past few years, the government has been reducing the annual logging quotas for teak and other hardwood timber species in an attempt to control over-harvesting. The harvest plan for the 2014–15 fiscal year has recently been announced and shows a 60% reduction for teak and 50% for other hardwoods, compared to 2012-2013. Actual export shipments, however, are well above these figures. -- over 400,000 cubic metres of teak was shipped in 2013–14, so the effectiveness of reducing quotas, as with the introduction of the ban, requires transparency, accountability and monitoring.

WWF stresses that the log export ban must form part of an integrated strategy to address forest conservation and development. Trade measures alone will not lead to sustainable forest management and forest-based industrial development. Equal attention must be given to legal and governance reform, institutional capacity building, management standards and systems, tenure and property rights, coordination of land-use planning and policy.
Logging in Myanmar.
Elephants are still frequently used in timber harvesting in Myanmar.
© WWF-Myanmar Enlarge
Logging in Myanmar.
Harvested logs are loaded onto a truck for transport in Myanmar.
© WWF-Myanmar Enlarge

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