The complexity around resource use rights: A moderated role-play on co-management of Natma Taung National Park, Myanmar


Ministry of Environment: “The community will not be allowed to cultivate on this land as they no legal rights to the land and their agricultural activities are also treacherous to the protection of the national park area. This is…”
Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development: “The local people have inherited the land over years now and have survived basically on agricultural sustenance without….”
Ministry of Environment: “Moderator! Moderator! Do your job and control the Ministry of Agriculture. We are the group allowed to talk at this moment, and we are not done with what we have to say….”
Moderator: “Please! Please! Please, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development can you allow them to finish their statement. You will have the time to put up your sentiments as well. Thank you for understanding…”

Are you experiencing the intense atmosphere already? Yes, this is what always happens when stakeholders of different interest sit at the table to find a consensus.
The conflicting interests around land use have always made land management decisions and actions very difficult. Land and the natural resources associated with it is a fundamental necessity of every human society. However, there are contradicting views of whether land should be preserved for other purposes aside from direct human usage. Some believe the national economic benefits from the land should always take precedence while others believe the inhabitants of the land should always have their rights of usage and access respected. Adding up to this controversy are the group that fights for natural land conservation. This group seeks to remove humans from lands with high fauna and flora diversity especially when they perceive natural conditions on such land area is threatened through bad humankind stewardship from the local indigenes. Can this even be an option in this increasingly populated world with this limited land resource? Well, this leads to the question of which of these interest is best and should be adopted. Already getting confused about which interest to go for? Yes, this question has never been easy to answer!

As professionals with day-to-day experience of conflict around land as a limited resource and it’s usage, the Environmental Management Class (EM 42) of 19 participants led by Dr Eckhard Auch and Mr Pyi Soe Aung engaged in a moderated role play on the 9th day of April 2019. The moderated role play was based on the co-management of the Natma Taung National Park in the southern Chun state of Myanmar with a land area of 72,300 ha. The National Park is seen to be vulnerable to land use conflicts by persistent indigenes encroachment for shifting cultivation, settlement, illegal logging and other unsustainable practices such as hunting and the extraction of other non-timber forest products. The indigenous community degrading this national park quality is seen to have limited livelihood options hence high forest dependency. On the part of park administration, there are insufficient staff, budget and low capacity building which inhibits good management of the national park. The moderated role play was set to bring this complex environmental reality to the classroom and has demonstrated how a tailor-made solution can be achieved by objective negotiations and discussions involving all key stakeholders.

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At this point, we, the stakeholders could only think of our firm positions on our various roles and were not ready to compromise. As stakeholders of conflicting interest around the table, we had the task to find a consensus on the best management strategies that encapsulates both the conservation of the national park and development for the local indigenes as a possible solution to reduce the people-park conflicts. Among the different stakeholders were the Ministry of Environment, local communities, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Regional Government, a private company for tourism, wildlife conservation NGOs and civil society organisations for human rights. Are you trying to guess each stakeholder’s stance? Yes, your guess is right! The positions on the matter varied between the strong views from conservation of parklands (hence vacate the indigenes) and the use of parklands for local development. In addition, there are stakeholders with dual interests. Can you already feel the negotiating intensity from stakeholders with such opposing views around one table trying to find a compromise on a subject?

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After a long day of many arguments and counterarguments and bargaining positions around the table, a good lunch and few coffee breaks (a critical period for stakeholders to win over other stakeholders), the representatives came to a compromise on the subject matter. What solution, do you think, is possible? The Ministry of Environment proposed the following compromise to the other stakeholders:
The proposed solution was for local communities to stay in a clearly delineated land area in the National Park, undertake eco-farming practices and acquire additional governmental support for infrastructural development. This proposed solution seeks for sustainability by providing capacity building training to establish alternative sources of livelihood aside agriculture.
Stakeholders realised that this could only be achieved through co-management of the National Park land area. This, I believe, brought to light that each stakeholder matters. Irrespective of how small they may seem, their little concerns should always be included as we could only get to an agreed solution when views from small organisations like conservation NGOs, civil society organisations, among others, were duly appreciated. Also, even in this roleplay, the development of co-management strategies of a resource could have continued over a long period without the intervention of an unbiased moderator. The moderator paid critical attention to the very specific opinions of every stakeholder and carefully managed the negotiations with strategic planning so that success could be achieved on amicable grounds.

The moderated role play on co-management on the Natma Taung National Park, in general, was very educative as it allowed us to present thoughtful ideas that captured both the government and local peoples as well as all other stakeholders’ needs. This informed us pretty well that in complex situations like land management, it is essential to include the societal (indigenous) and scientific knowledge to reach an agreement for co-management that creates a win for.

I cannot stop writing without showing gratitude to Dr Eckhard Auch, and Mr Pyi Soe Aung for giving us this insightful experience on complex environmental issues and my colleagues from CIPSEM EM-42 for the good roles played in making this experience worth the while. To the CIPSEM team, I say thank you for including such a course on moderated role plays.

Text by Daniel Gyamfi Opoku, participant of EM42 from Ghana

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