31.10.2016 - UNESCO Office in Jakarta

Inlay Lake Biosphere Reserve, Myanmar: a model for sustainable development in ASEAN

The 5th ASEAN Heritage Parks Conference (AHP5) was held on 24-27 October 2016 in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar. The conference, organised by the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity (ACB) and hosted by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation (MONREC) in Myanmar, included a 2-day field trip to Inlay Lake Biosphere Reserve and ASEAN Heritage Park. The visit was guided by Mr Win Naing Thaw, MONREC Myanmar.

Inlay Lake is the second largest freshwater lake of Myanmar, situated in Southern Shan State in the Northeastern side of the country. It was included in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR) in June 2015 at the 27th Session of the International Coordinating Council of the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB-ICC). Inlay Lake became therefore the first ever Biosphere Reserve (BR) in Myanmar. Before, Inlay Lake had been nominated as Wildlife Sanctuary by the Government of Myanmar in 1985 and ASEAN Heritage Park by ASEAN in 2003.

UNESCO, as a key partner of the ACB and within the ASEAN UNESCO Framework Agreement for Cooperation, was invited to participate in the AHP5 and join the field trip to Inlay Lake together with AHP Committee members, ASEAN Working Group on Nature Conservation and Biodiversity (AWGNCB) members, AHP managers and other relevant partners of the ASEAN Heritage Parks Programme.

The visit started with a technical session chaired by Mr Thaw, where Mr Sein Tun, Park Warden from the Nature and Wildlife Conservation Division, Forest Department (MONREC), gave a presentation about the status of the park and current ongoing activities. He explained the nomination process of the Inlay Lake as the first BR in Myanmar within the “Inle Lake Conservation and Rehabilitation Project” (2012-2016) implemented by MONREC, UNDP and UNESCO and funded by the Government of Norway and highlighted the benefits and opportunities that being part of the WNBR entail. Mr Tun also mentioned the issues threatening the site, initiatives undertaken, and challenges remaining.

Then the participants took a boat ride inside the Lake to experience the scenic beauty of the site surrounded by mountains and interact with the exceptional culture of the local communities living in and around the Biosphere Reserve. All along the way, fishermen could be seen on their boats rowing in their unique traditional way: while standing on one leg at the rear end of their boat, they curl their other leg around a long oar to propel the boat with their leg, leg-rowing. The first stop was in a water bird breeding station, where the Asian Hornbill and the Small Cormoran could be watched.

After birdwatching, the group went to visit the famous floating gardens where the local communities grow fruits and vegetables. The lake provides livelihood for the more than 170,000 people inhabiting the lake and its surroundings, who practice fishing and varied agriculture. The local community of Innthars are very active farmers on the shores of the lake and surrounding hills or mountains and they are particularly skilled in hydroponic agriculture, locally called “Yechan”. However, the increasing use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers which pollute the lake water has become a challenge in terms of water quality. MONREC is currently undertaking a campaign to raise awareness and promote the use of natural products and less polluting alternatives.

Some of the alternative livelihoods being supported are ecotourism and handicrafts. The group went to visit a floating community and learnt how youth are engaged in hand making silver jewellery which they sell to the tourists, as well as traditional clothes and textiles from the Shan State ethnic. It was a good opportunity to interact with the local people and support their activities by buying locally made products.

Again on the boat, participants could appreciate the ancient pagodas, temples, shrines and other religious sites along the edge of the lake which are visited every year by domestic pilgrims and Buddhist believers. A traditional Inlay lunch based on vegetables and fish from the lake was served in a local restaurant.

The last activity included a short trekking to the top of a hill, part of a Community Forest managed by the local villagers. Deforestation, both caused by climate change and overharvesting is one of the threats faced in the water catchment area in Inlay. Participants had the opportunity to discuss with the chairman of the community group which in 10 years has reforested the area from bare hills to a forest of autochthonous tree species, and see the success of the initiative in situ. The manager of a local NGO closely working with the community in forest conservation and ecotourism activities also shared his experiences with the group and facilitated the informal discussions.

UNESCO congratulated both representatives, as well as MONREC, for the significant achievement of becoming part of the WNBR and their current successful efforts towards sustainable management, conservation and development of their BRs. They expressed their gratitude to UNESCO and the MAB Progamme for the recognition, as well as their interest in receiving further technical advice and guidance for effectively promoting BR principles in the Inlay Lake.

BRs promote solutions reconciling the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use, towards sustainable development at the regional scale. While BRs are nominated by national governments and remain under the sovereign jurisdiction of the states where they are located, their global status is internationally recognized. BRs are models for sustainable development, to test and apply interdisciplinary approaches to understanding and managing changes in social and ecological systems, and their interaction, including green economy promotion and the conservation of biodiversity. 

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