Untangling the proximate causes and underlying drivers of deforestation and forest degradation in Myanmar

TitleUntangling the proximate causes and underlying drivers of deforestation and forest degradation in Myanmar
Annotated RecordAnnotated
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsLim CLing, Prescott GW, De Alban JDon T, Ziegler AD, Webb EL
Secondary TitleConservation Biology
Key themesAgriculturalModernization, Environment, FDI, Policy-law

Political transitions often trigger substantial environmental changes. In particular, deforestation can result from the complex interplay among the components of a system—actors, institutions, and existing policies—adapting to new opportunities. A dynamic conceptual map of system components is particularly useful for systems in which multiple actors, each with different worldviews and motivations, may be simultaneously trying to alter different facets of the system, unaware of the impacts on other components. In Myanmar, a global biodiversity hotspot with the largest forest area in mainland Southeast Asia, ongoing political and economic reforms are likely to change the dynamics of deforestation drivers. A fundamental conceptual map of these dynamics is therefore a prerequisite for interventions to reduce deforestation. We used a system‐dynamics approach and causal‐network analysis to determine the proximate causes and underlying drivers of forest loss and degradation in Myanmar from 1995 to 2016 and to articulate the linkages among them. Proximate causes included infrastructure development, timber extraction, and agricultural expansion. These were stimulated primarily by formal agricultural, logging, mining, and hydropower concessions and economic investment and social issues relating to civil war and land tenure. Reform of land laws, the link between natural resource extraction and civil war, and the allocation of agricultural concessions will influence the extent of future forest loss and degradation in Myanmar. The causal‐network analysis identified priority areas for policy interventions, for example, creating a public registry of land‐concession holders to deter corruption in concession allocation. We recommend application of this analytical approach to other countries, particularly those undergoing political transition, to inform policy interventions to reduce forest loss and degradation.


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Document Type

Journal Article


Overall relevance: 

In an attempt to eliminate deforestation and forest degradation across Myanmar and seek possible solutions, this paper develops a visual representation of the drivers of forest loss and degradation and their interrelationships in Myanmar. The researchers established a baseline to consider how forest conversion and degradation may be affected by the ongoing political transition. The ongoing and underlying factors are discussed covering new forest policies as the Myanmar Government continues its governance transition. Through multiple case studies, the drivers and causes of forest loss and degradation are identified including government initiatives in driving up the economic activity in commercial agriculture and logging.

Key Themes: 
  • Land and the environment: pollution, deforestation, climate change, conservation zoning - Agricultural expansion, wood extraction infrastructure development, hydroelectric dams and mining projects are key drivers for either deforestation and forest degradation, impacting negatively on land and environment in Myanmar.
  • Land policy and land law - In the early twentieth century, French Indochina (present-day Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia) introduced large rubber estates in Cochinchina (now southern Vietnam) and central Cambodia. The French also considered developing plantations in southern Laos and northeastern Cambodia, but ultimately decided not to due to the region's remoteness. In southern Laos, coffee plantations were the first to be developed with French support.
  • FDI and land access: economic land concessions, contract farming, short term and long term renting - The application processes for permits or documents, in which bribes were reported to be unavoidable, left no space for equitable land distribution.
Research basis: 

A systems-thinking approach and literature review (i.e., critical and retrospective) was applied to situate forest loss and degradation in Myanmar within a dynamic, complex system with nonlinear and history-dependent characteristics. A causal-network analysis was developed to conceptualize and articulate the relationships among proximate and underlying drivers of forest loss and degradation in Myanmar in the 20 years prior to the transition to a democratically elected government. (Provided by Htay Aung Pyae)