During her fieldwork for the EarthRights School Burma, 2011 graduate Aye Thidar travelled back to her home of Ramree Island, Arakan State to conduct a needs assessment on the impacts of deforestation on local communities. She discovered that local villagers face significant problems because of disappearing forests. Lots of things lead to deforestation: lack of electricity in the region, logging, rubber plantations and mono-cropping by large companies and government authorities that destroy native forests, as well as extensive use of firewood by local people to produce alcohol to support their families.
Households nonetheless rely heavily on firewood as an essential fuel for cooking and heating. Wood scarcity means more time and money is invested in obtaining firewood and can also endanger women and children who have to travel further afield to isolated spots to gather wood for the family.
Aye used the results of her needs assessment to develop a project proposal which successfully obtained a grant under the 2011 EarthRights Alumni Small Grants program. The project was run in March and April 2012 with 24 participants from villages in the affected area, including farmers, casual laborers, teachers and alcohol producers. Trainees studied environmental issues for their communities, an understanding of the drivers of deforestation and the rights of local peoples. They got actively involved by brainstorming the benefits and drawbacks of economic activities in the region, such as rubber plantations and mono-cropping, alongside their economic and environmental impacts.
In Aye’s project, environmental awareness was coupled with training in the use of household energy saving techniques so that available resources can be conserved and used more sustainably. Villagers learned how to make and use energy efficient stoves which allow them to use less wood for household tasks (recording up to 25% reduction in use of firewood). The trainees obtained the skills and techniques needed for the use of the stoves, which they will trial in their communities, monitoring their success in reducing the use of firewood and sharing the results and skills with fellow community members.
Aye expects the project to result in better protection of the forests people rely on to meet many of their needs, such as housing, traditional medicine as well as household fuel, together with a greater understanding among community members of the environmental, social and economic issues that affect and constrain their choices.