Written by WLE Greater Mekong’s Network Coordinator, Stewart Motta
I had the pleasure of attending a very exciting inception workshop for “MK29 Working together for a better Kachin landscape – A landscape approach to the upper Ayeyarwady river basin: Building inclusive governance processes to address resource conflicts” in Myitkyina, Kachin over the last week of March.
The MK29 team is a very unique group of professionals made up of wildlife conservationists, social scientists, foresters, biologists, and community organizers. This diverse group draws its strength from the team’s strong local partnerships and the trust that they have built in the region over the course of many years. This unique team makes up one of the only consortia that is currently conducting research in the upper Ayeyarwady Basin.
Long before departing to Myitkyina, the MK29 team emphasized that they are a ‘process oriented’ project. Therefore, they wanted to approach the project design with a level of flexibility and humility that is especially important in an environment like Kachin.
The inception workshop was a week long series of multistakeholder dialogues and was hosted by the Nyein (Shalom) Foundation, which helped to facilitate consultations between the MK29 team and local actors.
We bounced along to villages where the Nyein (Shalom) Foundation has longstanding relationships with villagers, and held meetings with civil society organizations, and local government groups. We listened to stories of how communities were dealing with land tenure rights, encroaching banana plantations, water toxicity, and invasive snail species. Civil society organizations made clear that the project design must include how the research was to be used in Kachin and how follow-up to the research would be conducted. Local government officials met the team in the top floor of a catholic church and discussed large-scale concessions and the political landscape in the area.
In a region where conflict and natural resource development go hand in hand, everyone we talked to expressed an interest for a better understanding of the relationship between natural resource development and Kachin livelihoods.
In the evenings, we would sit on the banks of the Ayeryarwady and recap the day’s proceedings over Kachin cuisine. It felt poetic to deliberate over healthy landscapes as the murmurs of the very river in discussion served as an audible anchor for the team’s thoughts and ambitions.