Myanmar Placeholder

Demarcation, mapping and registration of kaw (customary lands), community forests, wildlife sanctuaries, protected areas

About the Implementing organization

Name: Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN)

Country: Myanmar

Year of establishment: 2001

Type of organization: Community-based association or organization / Legally recognized non-profit status / Indigenous group or organization / Ethnic minority group or association


Central to the Salween Peace Park’s functioning as an indigenous Karen-governed and managed reserve is the clear delineation of land uses. Due to lack of resources and remote terrain, no formal effort has ever been made to map or register land rights of communities within much of Karen territory. For several years, KESAN has been working with Karen government officials and communities to identify, map, and register boundaries of villages, kaw lands (a form of customary collective tenure in Karen communities), and individual household lands. KESAN also supports the establishment, mapping, and registration of community forests and wildlife sanctuaries within the Park area. In 4 years, KESAN has supported demarcation of 110 km2 of community forest, 540 km2 of the wildlife sanctuary, 180 km2 of reserve forest, and 1,060 km2 of the customary land area within the Park area.

The demarcation process begins with a community consultation to discuss how demarcation can strengthen land tenure. The next step is the participatory mapping of boundaries, agricultural land, village areas, and other land-use zones. After boundaries have been agreed with neighbours, a community collectively maps watershed protection sites, forest conservation areas, important livelihood sites, and spiritual sites, according to their traditional land management. Community mapping efforts foster collective responsibility for land management and make lands less vulnerable to claims by powerful elites or corporate interests.

Nature Element

Forests / Mountains / Wetlands / Rivers / Wildlife

Type of Action

Protection / Sustainable use / Access and benefit sharing / Awareness and education / Advocacy for land & water rights

Sustainable Development Element

Jobs and livelihoods / Food security / Water security / Disaster risk reduction / Peace and security

Related Sustainable Development Goal(s)


Environmental Impacts

Community land demarcation and land use mapping support environmental management by communities within the Park area. Karen traditional natural resource governance has been undermined by decades of war, leaving many communities uncertain of current management practices. Participatory mapping and planning bring communities together to formally agree how to use and protect their lands and ecosystem services. Several expansive areas within the Park have already been designated as wildlife sanctuaries, with clear regulations based on community-led biodiversity conservation efforts. Karen taboos ban hunting of keystone species like hornbills and tigers and establishment of wildlife sanctuaries is helping to revitalise these practices. By mapping existing land uses and strengthening community tenure, KESAN’s demarcation efforts defend against attempts to acquire land or extract natural resources (such as logging and mining) without appropriate community consultation and approvals.

Sustainable Development Impacts

Secure land tenure and access rights are fundamental to protecting Karen communities’ livelihoods in the Park, which are largely dependent on agricultural land, biodiverse forests for food and herbal medicine, and uncontaminated water resources. KESAN has supported community efforts to protect watershed forests to prevent erosion and support healthy fish populations. Clear boundaries of agricultural land allow communities to better manage fallow periods, which improves the food security of villagers with less access to lowland fields. Community forests improve communities’ capacities to manage their forest resources. Participatory land use planning includes risk planning for floods and landslides. Agreement and demarcation of clear boundaries are also helping to resolve local land disputes. The Park initiative is also fostering peace by providing a way forward out of the civil conflict that respects communities’ rights to land, clean environment, and self-determination.


KESAN has trained ground teams consisting of 3-4 individuals who carry out consultations and demarcation at the village level. In just 4 years, with the assistance of community members and the Kawthoolei Agriculture Department and Kawthoolei Forestry Department, they have been able to demarcate over 100 km2 of village land and register 8,596 household land titles in the Salween Peace Park area. Despite the rugged terrain in the Peace Park, especially during the rainy season, the ground teams carried out mapping activities at relatively low cost. Similar teams experienced in facilitation and GIS mapping could be trained by other CSOs/NGOs in Burma/Myanmar to work in other parts of the country to support marginalised communities to demarcate their customary and community lands. As more and more investment flows into the country, it is imperative that communities’ land tenure and rights are secure, which is often strengthened by having documentation of their boundaries and land use.


Community mapping of boundaries and land use zones is a tool used throughout the world, and KESAN’s process can be readily replicated in different contexts. Replicating this model of community consultation and mapping can be easily facilitated through funding of equipment such as GPS devices and mapping software, as well as training individuals to use that equipment. Original members of demarcation teams could pass on their skills through workshops for representatives from other parts of the country, who in turn can gain the experience necessary to act as trainers. Successful replication needs a team that works closely with communities, earning their trust. The registration of demarcated areas requires a supportive legal framework, such as that developed by the Karen government, which can be used as an example for similar efforts in other contexts. KESAN is already sharing the demarcation process and registration process with other ethnic organisations in Burma/Myanmar.

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