Right Livelihood Conference 2014

Panel discussion

The Right Livelihood Conference on 20 MArch 2014 concluded the first part of the capacity building program conducted by Heinrich Boell Stiftung (hbs) Southeast Asia in cooperation with the local NGO EcoDev/ALARM in order to form a Myanmar trainer pool on Participatory and Indigenous Natural Resource Management (PINRM). The aim of the conference was to present the results of the training program and to promote the importance of participatory approaches and the value of Indigenous Knowledge for local development.

The conference was organized and facilitated by the members of the PINRM trainer pool themselves who keenly took up the opportunity to present their work and experiences to civil society, politicians and the media. In addition the conference introduced the concept of “Right Livelihood” as a broader concept beyond the mainstream development discourse and provided a forum for discussion on how to achieve the future wellbeing for Myanmar and its people.

In his opening remarks Mr. Win Myo Thu (Executive Director of EcoDev/ALARM) presented an overview of the environmental situation in Myanmar during the time of transition to democracy and the role of civil society to influence policies. He emphasized that in this critical moment the capacity of the civil society to intervene in decision making and to promote the voices of farmers is crucial, and that is where the PINRM capacity building program contributes to environmental and social justice.

Mr. Manfred Hornung (Director of hbs Southeast Asia), in his opening remarks, referred to the long term contributions of hbs to capacity building and political dialogue in Myanmar and expressed his wish to continue the dialogue and partnerships with civil society organizations for the future democratization of Myanmar.

Presentation of the capacity building program on Participatory and Indigenous Natural Resource Management (PINRM) 2012-2014

Mr. Rainer Einzenberger (Myanmar Program Coordinator of hbs) who had coached the first phase of the PINRM Program since 2012 gave an overview of the content, objectives and results of the training program. He referred to the specific skills learned during each of the training workshops in 2013, now resulting in a capable trainer pool for Participatory Action Research, local natural resource management and Indigenous Knowledge. He also presented the two Burmese language manuals produced as part of the program to support future trainings: (1) VIPP: Visualisation in Participatory Programmes - How to Facilitate and Visualise Participatory Group Processes; (2) Manual on Participatory Action Research (PAR) which also includes case studies from Myanmar collected during the training program (Both manuals are available for download from boell-southeastasia.org.)

Dr. Maruja Salas (PINRM trainer) explained the underlying principles of the methodologies and skills learned during the one year program, by referring to an emancipatory pedagogy towards power reversals: 

  • learning from experience in the fields,
  • embracing Indigenous Knowledge and cultures and
  • visualizing ideas.

Dr. Salas explained that during the training the participants went through a process of personal growth to be able to understand and analyze the local situation in an equal dialogue with the local people. There has been a reversal by enhancing the capacity of the trainer pool to organise and hold training courses for their peers in their institutions and support local communities to design and implement their action envisioning their future wellbeing.

Through visualized posters the members of the trainer pool presented seven main issues they identified during their field applications in the communities across the country amongst others. (1) the impact of bad governance on the people and environment; (2) the continuous process of deforestation and the increase of rubber and teak plantations replacing natural forests; (3) the impact of chemical production and industrial food on the healthy food culture in Myanmar; (4) the agro‐industrial technologies applying uncontrolled amounts of pesticides and the introduction of hybrid seeds and Genetically Modified Organisms in the absence of strong policies to protect the health of farmers and consumers and the lack of Civil Society Organizations to monitor agricultural production and the food markets; (5) the impact of Climate Change on local rural communities and the environment in the different ecological zones; (6) the diversity of factors which have led to land grabbing by agencies and enterprises deteriorating the livelihoods and rights of local communities;  (7) the loss of cultural identity due to migration of young people to find jobs in neighboring countries, leaving elderly people and children back in the rural villages, producing a missing generation to keep traditions and believes alive.

The trainer teams elaborated their commitment about necessary actions to protect the rights of the local communities to access their land, to keep their healthy crops and products, to maintain their food culture and to maintain their local cultures.


Right Livelihood and the Future Wellbeing of Myanmar people

Right Livelihood Award Laureate Ajarn Sulak Sivaraksa from Thailand presented his views on the future of Siam (as he calls his home country) and the need to follow the principles of Right Livelihood linked to the Buddhist principles of a good life. For future wellbeing he emphasized following policies: strengthen education, promote equality, invest in agriculture and provide economic policies which enhance social security. Corruption watch is essential to change the development model according to Ajarn Sulak.

Right Livelihood Award Laureate Anwar Fazal from Malaysia who unfortunately could not attend the conference himself due to unexpected events, sent his ideas about the Panchasila (the 5 principles) for Right Livelihood Action. According to Mr. Fazal “Fortunately, there is a world-wide and a magnificent proliferation of citizen’s movements that are seeking the common good, making a difference, making waves and making miracles. These movements are increasingly motivated by and driven by a common fire around a five point agenda”:

  1. Social justice
  2. Ecological sustainability
  3. Economic productivity
  4. Popular participation
  5. Cultural vibrancy

Dr. Timmi Tillmann (PINRM Trainer) visualised a summary of the elements of Right Livelihood to get to a flourishing future beyond sustainability criteria referring to the Right Livelihood Movements in South America.

The half-day conference was concluded with a panel discussion of leading environmentalists in Myanmar, moderated by Ms. Nwet Kay Khine. The discussants, Ms. Devi Thant Cin, Ms. Laphai Seng Raw, Mr. Maung Hla Thaung, Mr. Sai Sam Kham and Mr. Win Myo Thu, were invited to express their ideas regarding their Right Livelihood concepts with regards to Myanmar. The first question addressed the elaboration of an existing concept in Myanmar society that has the power to move citizens towards Right Livelihood. The panelists elaborated extensively about the existing respect to rural people and nature, ethnic diversity and the spiritual strength of women as well as Indigenous Knowledge and practices and the empathy with ethical values that in spite of modernization trends are still widespread in Myanmar society. A second question focused on favorable conditions for the transformation for Myanmar. The panelists stressed the need for an authentic change towards democracy, and an economy based on organic agriculture, local seeds and crops. A peace building process with the inclusion of ethnic people was also mentioned together with an effort of decentralization and a greater sense of ownership about citizen’s rights. A shift in policy is necessary: more focus on human values. A final question requested the panelist to summarize their thoughts in one wish they want to pass down to their next generations.

The conference was successful in terms of opening up the debate on how to achieve the future wellbeing for Myanmar beyond the mainstream development discourse. It shifted the focus back to the rural communities and explored ways and approaches to ensure genuine participation at the grass roots level and how to recover local Indigenous Knowledge.

Following the Right Livelihood Conference an evaluation workshop of the first phase of the PINRM program was conducted. On this occasion the trainer pool decided to continue the PINRM training program on their own with the support of EcoDev/ALARM, Metta Foundation and Heinrich Boell Stiftung Southeast Asia. They plan to organise and hold a second training program on PINRM for civil society organizations in 2014 who will support local communities to design and implement their action envisioning their future wellbeing.

Article by Timmi Tillmann and Rainer Einzenberger