Land-Cover Change Science Research Highlights
Deforestation in the Ayeyarwady Delta and the conservation implications of an internationally-engaged Myanmar
Myanmar is a country of huge biodiversity importance that is undergoing major political change, bringing with it new international engagement. This includes access to international markets, which will likely spur investment in export-oriented agriculture, leading to increased pressures on already threatened ecosystems. This scenario is illustrated in the Ayeyarwady Delta, the country’s agricultural heartland sustaining high deforestation rates. Using the Delta as a model system, we use an integrated approach to inquire about whether and how imminent agricultural reforms associated with an internationally-engaged Myanmar could introduce new actors and incentives to invest in agricultural expansion that could affect deforestation rates. We use a novel remote sensing analysis to quantify deforestation rates for the Delta from 1978 to 2011, develop business-as-usual deforestation scenarios, and contextualize those results with an analysis of contemporary policy changes within Myanmar that are expected to alter the principal drivers of land-cover change. We show that mangrove systems of Myanmar are under greater threat than previously recognized, and that agriculture has been the principle driver of deforestation on the Delta. The centrality of agriculture to the Myanmar economy indicates that emerging policies are likely to tip the scales towards agricultural expansion, agro-industrial investment and potentially greater rates of deforestation due to the introduction of well-funded investors, insufficient land tenure agreements, and low governance effectiveness. The broad national challenge is to initiate environmental governance reforms (including safeguards) in the face of significant pressures for land grabbing and opportunistic resource extraction.
Webb, EL, NRA Jachowski*, DA Friess, J Phelps, Maung Maung Than, AD Ziegler. 2014. Deforestation in the Ayeyarwady Delta and the conservation implications of an
internationally-engaged Myanmar. Global Environmental Change 24: 321-333.
Webb, EL, J Phelps, DA Friess, M Rao, AD Ziegler. 2012. Environment friendly reform in Myanmar.
Science 336: 295.
Contemporary changes in open water surface area
of Lake Inle, Myanmar
From 1935 to 2000, the net open water area of Inle Lake in Central Shan State, Myanmar decreased from 69.10 to 46.69 km2, a loss of 32.4% during this 65-year period. Local beliefs are that losses in lake area have been even greater within the last 100–200 years. Various activities, including timber removal, shifting agriculture in the uplands by various ethnic groups, and unsustainable cultivation practices on the low- and mid-level hillslopes around the lake, have been blamed for both historical and ongoing sedimentation. We take issue with attributing loss of lake area to these activities, and propose instead that ongoing ‘‘in-lake’’ and ‘‘near-lake’’ agricultural practices are the main sources of contemporary sediment and loss of open water area. About 93% (i.e., 20.84 km2) of the recent loss in open water area of the lake is due to the development of floating garden agriculture, largely along the west side of the lake. Direct environmental impacts associated with this practice and with other agriculture activities within the wetlands and margins of the lake include sedimentation, eutrophication, and pollution. Whilst the sustainability of hillslope agriculture and past forestry practices can indeed be questioned, a more urgent need is to address these ‘‘in-lake’’ and ‘‘near-lake’’ practices.
Sidle, RC, AD Ziegler, JB Vogler. 2007. Contemporary changes in surface area of Inle Lake, Myanmar. Sustainability Science DOI 10.1007/s11625-006-0020-7