Karenni isBurma’s smallest state, yet it is extremely ethnically diverse. The protracted conflict in the country has lead to the displacement of tens of thousands of Karenni people from a population of only 250,000 people. Most of the displacement has been a result of the military government’s “Four-Cuts Policy”, which is an attempt to cripple the ethnic resistance armies by displacing villages, for it is from these villages that the ethnic armies collect information, recruits, supplies and can access markets. Approximately 20,000 people who have been displaced in Karenni have ended up at the Ban Mai Nai Soi Karenni refugee camp #1.
In 1995, Karenni youths from the refugee camps in Mae Hong Son had the opportunity to attend environmental training conducted by Steve Thompson from the Environment Desk of Images Asia. OnOctober 14, 1996, the Environment Desk of Images Asia and the Karenni youths from that training cooperated to found Karenni Evergreen.KEGis currently the only Karenni organization focusing on environmental issues.
KEG’s vision is a Karenni state which is forever green through the cooperation of every citizen of the state, whose voice will protect the natural heritage, the traditional knowledge and practices, as well as the biodiversity of the state.
The objectives of KEG are:
- To promote & protect community forests
- To make sure that natural resources are used sustainably
- To increase awareness on environmental issues
- To research, network, and advocate for environmental issues
- To protect natural and cultural heritage
Out of our objectives KEG has created four project areas. Those project areas are community forest management and promotion, hydroelectric dam research, medicinal plants research and environmental awareness and education.
Our field staff (made up of Karenni people from the Ban Mai Nai Soi refugee camp) has been working in Karenni villages for 15 years. In that time members of theKEGstaff have developed trusting, and co-operative working relationships and ties with people in the villages they have worked in.
One of KEG’s most prominent projects has been the community forest management project. In conjunction with community members themselves we have facilitated the creation of forest management bodies in small Karenni villages that are eventually run solely by the communities themselves. We help draft legislation for the management bodies, provide education, and support in getting the management teams on their feet. In many cases we also carry out reforestation activities.
In order to generate a livelihood for themselves many Karenni people are forced to cut trees, and exploit other natural resources to sell. Many communities also burn the forest surrounding their village in the dry season to make hunting easier, and so they can collect mushrooms that grow in the fertile ash. These practices are environmentally unsustainable, but as we have learned from experience, it is not enough for community forest management bodies to simply tell people they cannot do these things. We must provide an environmentally sustainable income generation alternative, which is why all ofKEG’s reforestation activities use species of trees that bear fruit that people can sell in the market. In this way we can provide positive incentives against forest burning and deforestation. The forests become too valuable to burn or not to sustain. Our reforestation activities have a dual social benefit; forests return and we provide an opportunity for income generation. Our community forest management projects apply to our environmental awareness and education project area as well as our community forest management and promotion project area, because all reforestation projects are coupled with environmental awareness trainings in the villages they take place in.
Under the environmental awareness and education project area, we also have a current project that offers education to residents of the Ban Mai Nai Soi Refugee Camp. This project includes environmental education given in households, as well as more intensive classes given to groups of high school and middle school students. We will also distribute KEG publications, and use environmentally themed art competitions and exhibitions to promote awareness. We will do a bamboo waste bin weaving activity, as well as a reforestation activity.
In the past, KEG has traveled intoKarenniStateto conduct extensive research on the effects of the Lawpita, Weigyi and Mobye dams. The findings gathered by our field staff have been published in the Htee Khay Journal, Te Ree Daw newsletter, Thailand Burma Boarder Consortium and Karenni Development and Research Group reports and publications.
Other Activities Include:
– Educating Karenni people inside Karenni about forest conservation and community forest management.
– Advocating against logging and dam construction by the Burmese military regime and foreign companies in order to expose their destructive practices
– Promoting organic farming and sustainable agriculture through training
– Educating and raising awareness in the Karenni Refugee camp about the problems of deforestation in the surrounding national park
– Documenting and conducting research about practices that are both environmentally and socially destructive
Our projects empower the Karenni people, so that they have the tools to protect their environment, and they increase the Karenni people’s ability to subsist in a changing environment. It is also important toKEGto emphasize the role of women in the protection of the environment in all of our projects.
KEG is a local, grass roots organization located just outside of the Ban Mai Nai Soi Refugee Camp. The organization is staffed almost completely by Karenni people from the refugee camp. We operate through our field staff that must travel through Karenni State by foot.