On Wednesday, December 11th 2019, Pyi Soe Aung successfully defended his doctoral thesis titled “Social-Ecological Coevolution and its Implications for Protected Area Management: Case Study in Natma Taung National Park, Myanmar”. Pyi Soe has performed an outstanding defense and overall research work!
Pyi Soe’s doctoral thesis has been supervised by Prof. Pretzsch (Chair of Tropical Forestry, TU Dresden), Prof. von Oheimb (Professorship Biodiversity and Nature Conservation, TU Dresden), and Prof. Røskaft (Department of Biology, Norwegian University of Science and Technology). As an alumnus and DAAD scholarship holder in the MSc program in Tropical Forestry and Management (2010-2012), Pyi Soe returned to Germany in 2015 to pursue his doctoral degree under the DAAD Scholarship. His doctoral research is a follow-up research from his master’s thesis, the result of which has been published in the journal Forests, Trees and Livelihoods.
The doctoral defense was attended by 25 participants, including some of our master’s students and colleagues within the Department of Forest Sciences. Prof. Weber (Chair of Forest Policy and Forest Resources Economics) was the chairman of the defense, and our fellow doctoral candidate, Tran Van Hiep, did the protocol. The lecture hall of the defense was in fact the lecture hall where he had his first course in the master program.
Prof. Pretzsch, as his primary supervisor, commented that the research was “done in the right time”, referring to the last doctoral defense of Dr. Francis Moyo about community-based conservation in Burunge Wildlife Management Area in Tanzania. Pyi Soe’s research contributed to the prevailing knowledge gap in co-management and its dynamics in time of a growing scarcity of resources and land worldwide. All supervisors also commented that the thesis meets a high scientific standard, and is a significant contribution, especially to his home country.
In his doctoral thesis, Pyi Soe employed action research approaches, such as participatory mapping, household survey, focus group discussions, key informant interviews and participatory scenario planning workshop. He tackled three main topics: land tenure, local livelihood system, and traditional ecological knowledge, in an attempt to diagnose the social-ecological aspects of Natma Taung National Park. The findings from these three main topics served as the basis of discussion during the participatory scenario planning workshop, which has been covered previously in our blog.
In a case study approach, Pyi Soe compared three cases: villages inside, at the border, and outside the national park. One of the main questions during the ensuing discussion session was why the three above-mentioned topics were chosen, and if Pyi Soe would change if he had to replicate the research. In a composed manner, he has anticipated this question and turned to the annex slides. Pyi Soe explained that he would not change, but rather add, namely aspects concerning new technology. For instance, mobile phone ownership is getting more common and already slowly changing the social dynamics into a more market-oriented society.
In this regard, Prof. von Oheimb also raised a question about to what extent global changes can influence the co-management option. Pyi Soe answered that there are two phenomena which can be influential: the human right movement in the conservation agenda and current local livelihood dynamics. Equally, he recommended five main interventions, such as to formalize customary tenure institutions and to integrate local knowledge into park management.
After the defense, we celebrated Pyi Soe’s success with a tradition in our institute: “curiosum” and the coronation of the legendary hat. In the curiosum, we presented some pictures showing his journey throughout his doctoral study and he had to explain what happened in the pictures as if he was talking to his little daughter. As we know that Pyi Soe is a big fan of beer, we made him play beer tasting challenge with Prof. Pretzsch. After that, Prof. Pretzsch lit the candle on the legendary hat and crowned it to Pyi Soe. We ended the pleasant evening with some pizza and more beer.
Having been colleagues with Pyi Soe for the last two years, I personally have learned a lot from Pyi Soe, be it during casual conversations or our group’s monthly Ph.D. meeting. We have witnessed his ups and downs; yet his message to us fellow doctoral students in his famous last words is “don’t give up”. On behalf of the team, it has been an honor to share the journey with Pyi Soe, and we wish all the best for his future endeavor at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation, Myanmar.
By Kendisha S. Hintz