Community co-management can help protect wetlands biodiversity in the Chindwin River Basin

wetlands-chindwin-river-basin Wetland ecosystem near Hman Pin Village in the Upper Chindwin Basin. Photo: Hein Htet Soe / SEI Asia

Source: Stockholm Environment Institute - For International Biodiversity Day 2022, SEI Asia researchers reflect on the challenges in conserving biodiversity in the wetlands of Myanmar's Chindwin River Basin.

Myanmar's Upper Chindwin Basin has some of the Indo-Burma region's most critical biodiversity habitats, providing habitats to many species of flora and fauna classified as critically endangered and endangered species.

However, a range of threats including commercial mining and logging and the high demand for land leading to clearance of wetlands is leading to loss of wetland habitats.

More than 80% of the households in the Chindwin Basin depend on the basin's natural resources for their livelihoods which places extra pressure on wetland ecosystems. Fishing in particular is a key source of income particularly during the rainy season.

Fishing, a major livelihood activity in Upper Chindwin Basin. Photo: Hein Htet Soe / SEI Asia.

Rich biodiversity in the Chindwin wetlands 

The Upper Chindwin Basin (or Hkamti region) is endowed with natural, permanent as well as seasonal wetlands that range in size from a few to several hundred acres.

These wetlands are spawning and breeding grounds for migratory fish species and provide abode to numerous migratory birds which include the white-winged duck (Cairina scutulata), pot-billed pelican (Pelecanus philippensis), River Lapwing (Vanellus duvaucelii), woolly-necked stork (Ciconia episcopus) as species of high conservation significance. Two threatened species of turtle (Amyda cartilaginea and Nilssonia Formosa) also inhabit the wetlands in the Upper Chindwin. 

A pair of Ruddy Shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea), a migratory bird nesting in the Makan Naung wetland of Upper Chindwin Basin. Photo: Hein Htet Soe / SEI Asia.

Local communities depend on the wetlands to harvest fuelwood, medicinal plants, rattan and bamboo. Wetlands were also previously used for local transportation, but this is no longer possible due to the water level fluctuations in the Chindwin River with some parts of the river drying out during the summer season. 

Managing wetlands in the Chindwin Basin 

From research conducted by SEI with partners in Myanmar, the key reasons for the degradation of the wetland habitats are poor governance and management strategies including lack of wetland conservation plans, gaps in knowledge of the various wetlands ecosystems, insufficient funding, and a lack of technical expertise of both state and non-state actors.

Moreover, despite the local communities' dependence on the natural resources and their extensive knowledge of the wetland ecosystems, state planning rarely involves the local communities in wetland management. Many conservation and biodiversity action plans often fail due to neglecting the livelihood needs and the knowledge of local communities. 

Protecting biodiversity in the Chindwin wetlands

From our research, we found that the conservation of biodiversity in the Chindwin Basin wetlands need to include the generation of sustainable livelihood options, integrate local knowledge, and promote community management of the wetlands.

At least three recommendations can help towards the long-term conservation of the Chindwin wetlands.

  1. Action planning at community level – Because the communities have expressed a keen interest in managing resources locally, engaging them in the development of biodiversity action plans will ensure that natural resource management actions in the Chindwin Basin are owned locally, implemented, and sustained over a period of time.
  2. Building capacity within the local community – A capacity-building program in the local language with the help of subject matter experts will fill knowledge gaps in natural resource management, particularly wetlands management, rice and fish farming, livestock rearing, and sustainable agriculture.
  3. Identifying and operationalizing alternate livelihood options – Identification of alternate livelihood options can provide better sustenance by gauging the interest of local communities. This can also help improve the standard of living and provide additional livelihood support for the people living in the basin.
Focus group discussions with local communities in the Hkamti region on wetlands conservation. Photo: Hein Htet Soe / SEI Asia.

SEI Asia's Darwin Initiative is using community-based integrated catchment management to conserve wetlands and biodiversity in the Chindwin River Basin. In December 2021, SEI Asia and The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust collaborated to conduct an online rapid village assessment (RVA) training and completed a baseline assessment in 10 selected wetlands of the Upper Chindwin Basin with support from Myanmar Environment Institute and Naga Social Network Organization. The primary goals of the baseline assessment were to characterize the wetlands ecosystems and determine local people's reliance on wetlands for ecosystem services and livelihoods.

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