Documentation:Open Case Studies/FRST522/Illegal logging in Myanmar

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Illegal logging in Myanmar


Please review the video. This video provides readers with a general picture of rampant logging issues in Myanmar.



Myanmar (Burma), officially named Republic of the Union of Myanmar, is located in the Southeast Asian region. The total area of Myanmar is 678,500 square kilometres (262,000 sq mi). Consisting of 14 States, most of the country is in Tropical area, including the Tropic of Cancer and the Equator. Myanmar is surrounded by the following neighboring countries: Thailand, Laos, China, Bangladesh and India.[2] 48% of Myanmar's land is forest covered areas. Within the 48% of forest land, 72% of the area is Permanent Forest Estate, and the rest 28% is Multiple - use Forest. With a large amount of export of forest products including log, lumber, veneer, plywood to different countries around the world, Myanmar is suffering significant forest loss over more then 20 years. [3]

The destinations of Myanmar's forest product exports are, but not limited to: India, China, Thailand. The EU used to be one of the main destinations, but the official forest product export value and volume from Myanmar to EU is decreasing due to a series of initiatives carried out by the European Union. [4] Teak and rosewood are two of the representative tree types that are logged and exported illegally. [5]

Myanmar's forest lands are principally owned by the state, while communities and private forestry enterprises hold certain rights on forest land. To commercially extract logs, legal permits were required. However, Myanmar Timber Enterprise (MTE), an institution under the Myanmar Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry (MOECAF) [6], is granted all the official extraction. [3] This state - owned company is responsible for harvesting logs, manufacturing lumber, and marketing timber products. [6]

Figure. 1 Map of Myanmar

Framing the Problem

Framing the Problem: Forestry Perspective

According to FLEGT (Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade), the term 'illegal logging' refers to 'the harvesting, processing, transporting, buying or selling of timber in contravention of national and international laws'. [7]

In general, due to weak governance, shortage of management resources, insufficient regulation enforcement, and corruption, illegal logging issue is significant in Myanmar. During the past 20 years, the annual deforestation rate of Myanmar was approximately 1%. [3] The paragraphs below will provide more detailed information to walk the readers through the Myanmar illegal logging problem.

To start, the timber in Myanmar mainly come from 5 different sources:

1. State - managed Forests (extraction conducted by MTE)

2. Natural Forests (Logging Concession)

3. Natural Forests (Land Conversion)

4. Tree Plantations

5. Community Forests[4]

Among the five, the largest source for high-value non-teak timber is Natural Forests (Land Conversion). State-managed Forests is the main source for teak. However, the government is not transparent in publishing different data coming from each source, so it is not likely to rank the importance of these timber sources. [4]

Table 1 briefly introduces these 5 timber sources from different perspectives.

Table. 1 Comparison of 5 Timber Sources in Myanmar


                                                                                   Table 1. Comparison of 5 Timber Sources in Myanmar

Second, The participants of Myanmar timber trade can be classified into the 5 categories below:

1.Myanmar Timber Merchants Association (MTMA): a group of private business who are supported by the state government. This group can get timber from MTE, and export timber to foreign buyers legally on behalf of government. [4]

2. Large domestic conglomerates: Large Myanmar companies backed by Myanmar military officials. They get their timber from Natural Forest (Logging Concession and Land Conversion). They have multiple ways to get the MTE stamps, and export timber both legally and illegally (If the timber is harvested close to national boarder). [4]

3. Global timber traders buying from Yangon: Traders around the world who will bid to get MTE stamped timber. They buy principally legal timber. [4]

4. Cross-border timber traders: Including the traders from both importing and exporting countries: small or medium ethnic companies or individuals from Myanmar, and local traders from the boarder importing countries like China. They target timber in post-war ethnic dispute areas. These woods do not have MTE stamps, and are sold illegally.[4]

5. Domestic timber traders based in Yangon: Medium - sized local companies who do not have rights to get timber directly from logging concession or land conversion processes. They have to purchase MTE stamped wood from the large conglomerates or MTMA with a high price, and sell the wood to domestic market. [4]

Third, corruption, and insufficiency of transparency of the state government enables the illegal logging in Myanmar. According to the research of Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), from 2000 to 2014, the actual volume that Myanmar exported was 2.2-3.5 times more than the government's official reported data. The volume of the difference is 8-16 million cubic metre. [8] When local people are caught when transporting illegal timber, they will pay 'Tea Money' to the police to be let go. Government officials from Myanmar’s Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry (MOECAF) take bribes as well, according to a local resident who is in the illegal logging business. [9]

To sum up, insufficient regulation, as well as difficulties in implementation of regulations and policies (either domestic or international ones), are making the illegal logging in Myanmar a hard-to-solve problem. The majority of the land rights are in the major grasp of groups who control financial resources and power (e.g. the state government and the domestic conglomerates). Meanwhile, local individuals or groups who lack competencies and resources needs to find ways to survive, so they tend to find ways to get around the regulations. Corruption occurring in different aspects of the management chain becomes an 'aid' when people are conducting illegal logging activities.

Framing the Problem: Layering Perspective

Above are the basic problem framing of illegal logging in Myanmar from forestry perspective. In this section, readers can add their opinion from other perspectives. The following questions can be used as a guide:

1. Is there special technical expertise (e.g. Computer programming skills, Statistic expertise) required to better frame the problem?

2. What will professionals in Finance, Political and Social areas frame the problem of illegal logging in Myanmar?

3. If Myanmar government needs consultation to regulate the timber market, what types of advice would they want to get?

Historical Context

Domestically, Burmese depend heavily on timber and wood products. The furniture as well as other living necessities, are all from the forest. [9]For thousands of years, swiddening is Burmese's method to perform agricultural activities. However, there is no proof that this method led to severe deforestation. [10] The deforestation started from 19th century, when British colonists increased the demand for Burmese timber. After World War II ended, after 1948, ethnic controversy made it hard for the government to manage the forest since they lacked control of the forest areas. however, after the General Ne Win’s military regime came into power in 1962 and control the State Timber Board, the timber amount dramatically increased. The teak export increased 38% from 1952 to 1980. The forest cover saw a decrease of approximately 24% during these period. [10] In 1989, a deal was signed by the Myanmar government, allowing 42 Thai companies to log timber on Thai-Burmese board. This aggravated the deforestation problem. [10] In 1992, Myanmar State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) started to raise awareness on forest and environment protection and conservation. The Thai logging deals were stopped in 1993. [10] Also, the Forest Law in 1992, and the Forest Policy brought Community Forestry Instruction (CFI) onto the table, providing a source of support to community forestry in Myanmar by legally backing rural communities to co-manage forests with the state forest department. [4] Unfortunately, the CFI was not implemented very successfully. The 1995 CFI still banned people in communities to harvest the timber in community for commercial uses. [4] These days, scientific forestry methods are still overseen in Myanmar. [11] Although new law was put into practice, deforestation and illegal logging is still a serious problem in Myanmar. [10]


Implications: Environmental

According to United Nation Food and Agriculture Organisation (UNFAO)'s assessment, Myanmar lost 15 million hectares of wood covered land, with an annual forest loss of 546,000 hectares between 2010 to 2015.[9] In Mandalay region, the forest cover ratio dropped from 52% to 20% from 1988 till now. Thanks the deforestation partially caused by deforestation, Myanmar was ranked by United Nation as the most natural - disaster - threatened country Asian Pacific. These natural disaster includes landslides, floods, etc. [9] Illegal logging activities surely does harm to the ecological environment. [12] Because of the large scale of illegal logging of rosewood, rosewood species in Myanmar could go extinct, as reported by the Environmental Investigation agency (EIA). [13] The endangered Myanmar snub nosed monkey, as well as the red panda, Blyth's Tragopan pheasant and the Takin (a type of antelope), lost their habitats due to forest loss. Also, they are suffering a continuous declining population [12].

Implications: Social and Cultural

Myanmar is a country where local people depend heavily on wood and wood products. For example, firewood compose of 70% of local people's household fuel[14]; Almost all the furniture of Myanmar is made of wood, including bamboo. If forests are ruined, local communities who do not have control of the major forest rights will be put in an extremely vulnerable position. According to Myanmar's vice president, the depletion of forests will intensify poverty of people who live in forest regions. [15] In May, 2016, a one-year logging ban was put into practice by Myanmar government, making the MTE timber inventory the only Legal timber sources. Due to the insufficient capacity of the Myanmar forestry department, the ban was not completely enforced. The timber source was still in the control of MTE, military ethnic groups (conglomerates), and illegal loggers. [14] Worst still, people who are suffering the deforestation caused by illegal logging may be 'forced' to continue encourage illegal logging activities. For example, since the absolute majority of wood are controlled by government (MTE) and large conglomerates, the price of their timber are set higher than local people's acceptable amount, especially during the logging ban effective periods. Thus people who do business in Myanmar's furniture industry chose to buy illegal wood, since the price is way cheaper. [9]

Implications: Economical

Due to the decreasing amount of available fiber supply, the price of official timber has seen a rise. [9] The increase of timber price makes the official legal timber less affordable, thus increase the competitiveness of illegal timber. If logs are harvested illegally, there are potentials that these logs can get away with tax and royalty payments, which increase the income loss of the Myanmar government. [3] The insufficiency of transparency also provides hubs for illegal logging information. From 2000 to 2013, the unrecorded, unofficial timber export value was $5.7 billion, which is more than 2 times of the official data. [8]

Implications: Political

The Myanmar government faces pressure from different stakeholders. The rebel ethnic groups, who are located at the boarder of Myanmar, are constantly benefiting from the outcome of illegal logging. The income, as well as the royalty savings from illegal logging activities are adding more forces to their military armies, and posing more threats to Myanmar Government. [13] Also, Myanmar government is being cautious when dealing with international issues related to illegal logging. For example, foreign illegal loggers caught in Myanmar who received life sentence were required by the their home countries to be delivered back. Myanmar government has to consider these requirements in order to maintain international relationship. [13]

Implications: Layering Perspective

Above are the implication of illegal logging in Myanmar provided by a forestry student. Readers can provide implications from other perspective in this section. Example of questions to consider include:

1. Is there any implications that should receive politicians, or economists' special attention? 2. What are the special technical expertise to better spot the implication of illegal logging in Myanmar?

Initiatives to Combat Illegal Logging

Efforts within Myanmar, as well as initiatives from countries around the world are all striving to mitigating the extent of Myanmar's illegal logging activities, as well as the impacts alongside. Domestically, in April, 2014, Burmese government banned the export of all raw logs. [9] In April 2016, in an aim to decrease the annual forest loss, a one year nationwide logging ban was put into practice where the only legal source of log is the stockpiled wood controlled ty MTE. [9] To raise domestic people's awareness about the importance of Myanmar's forest and sustainability development, Myanmar government ministers formed a 21-member environmental Conservation Committee to arrange related activities in a top-down manner. [15] Internationally, Myanmar is preparing to join the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) in order to comply with Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT)'s plan. MTE made a commitment to become transparent. [16] China, as one of Myanmar's largest timber importer, partnered with Myanmar and launched the Chinese-Myanmar Friendship Forest project. This project will help Myanmar to rebuild the lost forest, and replant over 120 acres of trees. This is just a part of the Myanmar Reforestation Program. This program, which China also participates in, is having a duration from 2017 to 2026[17]. Also, the importers, or potential importers of Myanmar's illegal logs have put a series of regulations to restrain illegal timber sources. Start from the United States' Lacey act amendment in 2008, EU's EU Timber Agreement was passed in 2010, followed by Australian Illegal Logging Prohibition Act (ILPA) in 2012. [18]The contents of these regulations can be concluded as follows:

  • Illegal timber is banned on the market
  • Timber importers needs to provide information on where does the timber come from, and whether the timber source is illegal
  • Assess if the material come from illegal sources, and the accompanying risk
  • Alleviate the risk [18]

These regulations press Myanmar to regulate the timber market, and increase the management transparency.


illegal logging is a wicked problem. To mitigate the issue, efforts from multiple stakeholders are required. Below is a list of recommended measures. Readers are more than welcome to make supplements.

  1. Government of Myanmar:
  • Strictly implement the rules of annual allowable cut;
  • Ensure credible stakeholders with different backgrounds are involved in the forest management process;
  • Increase data transparency, publish the legal terms of different types of logging ban, as well as relative forestry data;
  • For companies, organizations or individuals who are involved in Illegal logging activities, Myanmar government should do investigation into them and execute punishments when needed. Favoritism should be avoided.
  • Officially put forward request to all trade partners to comply with the logging ban, and enforce with legal measures. These main trade partners should receive special attention: China, India, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand;
  1. Government of several main timber importing countries, like India, Thailand and China:
  • prohibit imports of illegal timber from Myanmar
  • Comply with Myanmar's logging ban and timber export ban
  • Strengthen the supervision on illegal logging trading activities around the areas close to Myanmar boarders
  1. EU and Timber Regulation Competent Authorities from other countries
  • Make sure the European Union timber importers can provide legal evidence that the timber they import is legally harvested, transported, and traded.
  • For Companies, organizations and individuals who do not comply with European Union Timber Regulations, EU should put punishment on them according to legal procedures.
  • Provide financial, legal, and political assistance to help Myanmar to reform its forestry sector, and timber regulating resources.



  1. Rampant Logging Denudes Myanmar's Forests. (2014). Myanmar, from
  2. Wikipedia. (2017). Myanmar. Retrieved 17 October 2017, from ,
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 NEPCon. (2015). Forestry Risk Profile - Myanmar (pp. 1-2). NEPCon. Retrieved from ,
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 Woods, K. (2013). Timber Trade Flows and Actors in Myanmar: The Political Economy of Myanmar’s Timber Trade (p. 10). Forest Trends. Retrieved from ,
  5. EIA. (2014). Myanmar's Rosewood Crisis: Why key species and forests must be protected through CITES (p. 2). ENVIRONMENTAL INVESTIGATION AGENCY (EIA). Retrieved from,
  6. 6.0 6.1 Myanma Timber Enterprise. (2017). About MTE. Retrieved 18 October 2017, from,
  7. FLEGT. (2017). What is illegal logging? | EU FLEGT Facility. EUFLEGT Facility. Retrieved 18 October 2017, from
  8. 8.0 8.1 EIA. (2014). Data Corruption: Exposing the true scale of logging in Myanmar (p. 2). Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). Retrieved from"
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 9.7 Doyle, D. (2016). Myanmar’s logging ban feeds shadow economy of illegal trade. Mongabay Environmental News. Retrieved 19 October 2017, from
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 Wikipedia. (2017). Deforestation in Myanmar. Wikipedia. Retrieved 19 October 2017, from
  11. European Forest Institute (EFI). (2011). Baseline Study 4, Myanmar: Overview of Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (p. 7). EU FLEGT Facility. Retrieved from
  12. 12.0 12.1 Ye Aung Thu. (2014). Extinction stalks Myanmar's forests. Retrieved 23 October 2017, from
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Tiezzi, S. (2015). Illegal Logging Throws a Wrench Into China-Myanmar Relations. The Diplomat. Retrieved 23 October 2017, from
  14. 14.0 14.1 Walker, B. (2017). A journalist's murder provides a window into the destruction of Myanmar's forests. Retrieved 23 October 2017, from
  15. 15.0 15.1 NAN TIN HTWE. (2011). Vice president highlights link between deforestation, poverty. The Myanmar Times. Retrieved 19 October 2017, from
  16. Su Phyo Win. (2017). Myanmar timber industry faces challenges in the voluntary partnership agreement process in forest governance. Illegal Logging Portal. Retrieved 19 October 2017, from
  17. MYINT KAY THI. (2016). China-funded reforestation effort slated for Magwe. The Myanmar Times. Retrieved 19 October 2017, from
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 Forest Trends. (2013). Tackling Timber Regulations A Guide for Myanmar (p. 1). Forest Trends. Retrieved from

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