FROM FARMER TO FOREST MANAGER | WWF

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Cardamom seeds grow best at a 50-degree angle. The slope isn’t much of a problem for Saw Demo, but it’s the rainy season and WWF staff aren’t quite as nimble on the slippery terrain.


Saw Demo (which literally translates as Mr Democracy) is head of the Kyeik Pi Lan Village in the Banchuang region of Myanmar. He wears a warm grin and a Manchester United t-shirt.

Today, Saw’s out with the group of people who form the village’s new Community Forestry Committee. They’re en route to plant a batch of cardamom seedlings. Where once the men wielded snares and crossbows for hunting, the small lush trees balanced atop their shoulders symbolise a positive new path for both the village and its homeland. The tone of the day is light and humorous, mostly at the expense of the visiting WWF team.

Where once the men wielded snares and crossbows for hunting, the small lush trees balanced atop their shoulders symbolise a positive new path for both the village and its homeland. The tone of the day is light and humorous, mostly at the expense of the visiting WWF team.

As we patrol the perimeter of the land newly designated for agroforestry, Saw and the gang move with such ease – feet rooted, fingers trailing across the thick trunks of century-old teak trees. It’s a poignant reminder of the age-old dependence rural communities like this have had on the ancient forest. For years, nature has provided them with food, shelter and a means of income. But in recent decades, the consequences of over-exploitation have hit close to home, urging locals into a new way of thinking.


Saw and the gang move with such ease – feet rooted, fingers trailing across the thick trunks of century-old teak trees.

“Worrying about losing their forests and wildlife, the villagers around this area became interested in conserving their forests. They requested support from WWF and we are collaborating to establish community forests and wildlife sanctuaries,” says Saw Wah Htue, WWF Awareness Assistant.
© Chit Ko WWF-Myanmar
Saw Wah Htue, WWF-Myanmar Awareness Assistant

This community forestry project has been in action since 2016, and the committee has been occupied trimming, fireproofing, and planting their way to a sustainable future.

The fruits of their labour will be more predictable yields and the promise of an income generated by the export of products like these cardamom seeds to neighbouring countries. We have set up links with a host of traders so the committee can travel into town at harvesting time to negotiate prices – with the bargaining power firmly in their hands.

© Chit Ko WWF-Myanmar
The cardamom will be sold for profit alongside other agroforestry products like this elephant foot yam

Where once the rich biodiversity of the forest surrounding the village was disappearing at an alarming rate, now lies the hope for a symbiosis where agroforestry promises prosperity, while allowing nature to regenerate and thrive.

© Chit Ko WWF-Myanmar
Saw's village is in the Dawna Tenasserim, Southeast Asia's last great wilderness. The landscape faces threats from agriculture, mining and infrastructure development.

Kyeik Pi Lan have set the precedent with their enthusiasm and dedication to this project. They are playing their part in the global goal of restoring and protecting our planet’s forests, but this is just the first to be set up in the Banchuang area. We are eager to enable more projects like this – to guide and build capacity where we can, but most importantly to put the future of the landscape back into the hands of the people who depend upon its survival.


“Our aim is to manage the forest for the benefit of future generations. This forest means everything to us.. It is our livelihood."

© Chit Ko WWF-Myanmar
Maintaining the community forest is humid, hot work, and everyone has a role to play.