Thailand: Thai Experts Push for Forest and Land Tenure Policy Reforms

Attendees at RECOFTC’s first Policy Dialogue on Forest and Land Tenure Review and Reform agreed on the urgent need for policy reforms to ensure fair and sustainable management of shared natural resources.

Photos and story by Estelle Srivijittakar

Agencies and organizations present social, environmental and economic implications related to current policies

Agencies and organizations present social, environmental and economic implications related to current policies

Thailand is facing pressing challenges related to natural resources and climate change, and balancing national and local benefits of conservation activities along with coordination of local and government efforts are major priorities. These issues, discussed in last year’s National Seminar, were echoed in RECOFTC’s first Policy Dialogue on Forest and Land Tenure Review and Reform held in Bangkok from 20 – 22 March, 2012, which brought together representatives from government agencies, civil society, academia, and forest communities. Coinciding with World Forest Day and RECOFTC’s 25th Anniversary, the platform was an opportunity for a group of specialists in natural resource management and human rights to gather with community forestry networks in a ‘think tank,’ deliberating on cutting-edge issues, projects, and ideas for improved natural resource policies.

On the first day, 30 leading NGO figures gathered to share experiences and best practices with other leaders in their field. The representatives presented on current government policies in land, water, forests, biodiversity, agriculture, mining, and fishing and their social, economic, and environmental implications in Thailand. They sought to identify overlapping interests, issues, and incentives for reform in each issue area and determine shared goals in advocating for appropriate policy changes. By the early afternoon, participants had agreed that fair and sustainable management of shared natural resources was at the heart of needed reforms.

More specifically, they highlighted the need for local self-management, clearer agreements between government and communities, policies that support existing cultural and ecological traditions, a system for community property, and more checks and balances to ensure fair benefits.

Attendees from the NGO session carried over their topics and discussion into the second day of dialogues, where they were joined by community forest networks and policy makers. On the policy side, the Royal Forest Department, Department of National Parks – Wildlife and Plants, Land Reform Office, and the Office of Natural Resource and Environmental Planning were in attendance to help establish a strategic plan. The discussion included five guest speakers from civil society, academia, and community forestry networks, who provided inspiring examples of fair and sustainable management of shared natural resources in Thailand.

Of interest were regulations within active communities; traditions and rituals that enhance the management of resources; community funds for natural resource management; the development of institutions and organizations that support these practices; and most importantly, how proactive community work has matured into prosperity for both environment and community.

Finally, the third day focused on the role community forestry networks can play in reforming national forest and land tenure policies. Representatives from the nine networks reached a recurrent consensus: The strength of the local-level network is instrumental in providing a model of sustainable natural resource management for the nation. Prepared for the hard work, these local leaders firmly believe that achieving local change is crucial in building the nation’s confidence and capacity in sharing natural resources.

Members of the Eastern Community Forest Network discuss which previous regional and local activities to share with other networks

Members of the Eastern Five Provinces Community Forest Network discuss which previous regional and local activities to share with other networks

To trigger change at the local level, leaders will need to assess the capacity building needs of their communities. The networks discussed various initiatives, including participatory research on mangrove restoration and on climate change adaptation, as well as youth camps, as potential activities and shared lessons learned. Based on these discussions, participants created a concrete road map for activities in the coming year both at the community and network level.  The dialogue ended with an agreement among the networks to address ‘core strategic development’ for each community in a follow-up dialogue.

While this first set of dialogues did not foster a conclusive solution for policy reform, it did provoke emotional and intellectual dialogue essential for building alliance and solutions.  This platform provided the building blocks for envisioning a future, crafting a plan to get there, and carrying it out.  These leaders – local, regional, and national – noted that a goal like propelling forest and land policies forward will take years to develop and advocate, and are ready to put in that hard work.

Click here for a list of participating NGOs, academia, policy makers, and community forestry networks


Thailand: Flood schemes ignoring vital local expertise

March 22, 2012

While everyone seems to agree with government plans to dredge rivers and canals as well as the need to obtain massive water retention areas to prevent a new round of mega flooding, Panya Tokthong is one person who is not convinced.

"When you don't understand how local ecology works and you don't listen to the locals who do, the results can be disastrous," he warns.

"Local ecology will not only be destroyed. Often, the locals will also end up fighting one another."

Mr Panya is speaking from his own community's painful experience.

His Praeg Nam Daeng community in the coastal province of Samut Songkhram has a complex web of waterways that flow into the Gulf of Thailand. The interactions between sea ebbs and river flow created a balanced ecological system that yielded plenty of food from the sea, rice fields and fruit orchards for generations.

Such bounty was destroyed when the Royal Irrigation Department built a network of water gates in Praeg Nam Daeng two decades ago. With the brackish buffer zone gone, rice farmers and fishermen who depended on different water systems were pitted against one another.

It took years for Mr Panya and a group of community leaders to convince irrigation authorities to finally change the designs of the water gates to accommodate the natural ebbs and flows. Now the old ecological system is slowly returning. Villagers are also starting talking again.

Ban Klang villagers in Pattani's Panare district in the deep South also suffered a dredging disaster first-hand.

Parts of their locality used to be under seawater. During some dredging, saline soil was dug and piled up on the banks of a canal. It became acidic and turned the rice fields into a barren wasteland as far as the eye could see.

"The dredging of canals can devastate local ecology if it's done poorly," says veteran environmental activist Harnnarong Yaowalers.

Aggressive dredging also destroys the hard and compact soil that prevents water from seeping through. If so, the waterways will soon run dry.

The dug-up muddy soil from dredging must also be placed elsewhere, not piled up on the banks. If so, the elevated terrain will affect local topography and ecology and the damage can be permanent, he warns.

Like Mr Panya, Mr Harnnarong is critical of the government's river and canal dredging schemes.

The government has allocated 10 billion baht to dredge waterways and reservoirs big and small as well as to build dykes and water gates to control flood flow. The plans, however, have been formulated with a single brushstroke on the map with no input from locals who know their areas best.

"Villagers do not know if their areas will be affected, how, when, or how much they will be compensated. How can they protect themselves? They are in the dark. And many are getting angry."

Rice farmer Samruay Decha, 57, is one of them.

Her rice fields are adjacent to the Bueng Raman reservoir in Phitsanulok's Bang Rakam district. The dredgers, she said, have not only put dug-up dirt on her rice fields, the authorities also told her to stop farming because the area has been earmarked for water retention.

She is now teaming up with her rice-farming neighbours to petition the Administrative Court.

The top-down flood prevention schemes are also creating widespread local conflicts. In Ayutthaya, rice farmers and factory workers clash on giant dykes which will drown paddy fields. In Nakhon Pathom, fruit growers are angry with the government because of the pro-industry flood prevention plans.

"It's now clear to them that the government is withholding information so that Bangkok and the industrial zones can be protected at their expense.

"This is injustice. But our village has a lesson to share," says Mr Panya. "We must know our own local topography and ecology. We must work together as one to resist top-down plans. If we stay silent, our environment, communities, and livelihoods will be destroyed."

Source: Bangkok Post

Thailand: Govt. to spend B3bn on forest restoration

28 Feb. 2012


 The government has put forest rehabilitation and preservation on the national agenda by allocating 3 billion baht to regenerate 7 million rai of land over the next five years.

The decision was made in a meeting of top officials from all ministries concerned chaired by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra yesterday at the Forest Department.

The move follows His Majesty the King's advice given to members of the Strategic Formulation Committee for Reconstruction and Future Development (SCRF) and the Strategic Formulation Committee for Water Resource Management during an audience at Siriraj hospital on Friday last week.

The King expressed his concern about deforestation and blamed it for contributing to the seriousness of last year's flooding. He blamed greedy civil servants for allowing illegal logging to persist and urged the government to take punitive actions to stem deforestation.

The Department of National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation will spend more than 2 billion baht to reforest 4 million rai of land and the Royal Forest Department will be responsible for spending 1 billion baht to reforest more than 3 million rai.

"We never seriously put forest rehabilitation on the national agenda before," said Damrong Pidech, director-general of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation.

Suwit Rattanamanee, chief of the Royal Forest Department, said its 1 billion baht budget would cover forest ecology system recovery, 11,000 man-made water retention areas and 19,000 dykes, along with forest preservation and protection training programmes.

Ms Yingluck also ordered Natural Resources and Environment Minister Preecha Rengsomboonsuk to look into increasing punishments for forest encroachment.

Meanwhile, SCRF chairman Veerbongsa Ramangura yesterday aired a proposal to create a corporation combining the government, private sector, local communities and local administrations to deal with forest rehabilitation and preservation efforts.

In principle, each party would contribute 25% of funding. However, the Royal Initiative Discovery Foundation could be asked for financial support if local communities lacked money.

The project would be implemented over 12 years in four phases.

Arkhom Termpittayapaisith, secretary-general to the National Economic and Social Development Board, said there was a proposal to use an arm of the Mae Fa Luang Foundation as a holding company with local affiliations.

The development of the Huai Klai reservoir in Udon Thai, a Royal Initiative Discovery Foundation project, would be used as a model for development in other areas.

Source: Bangkok Post



Thailand: As the Thai government plans reforestation, local voices must be heard

 By Lena Buell, RECOFTC Assistant Communications Officer

In late February, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra announced the government would invest 3 billion baht in reforestation and preservation activities around the country, following an audience with His Royal Highness the King of Thailand in which His Majesty urged the government to focus on reforestation initiatives.

Political attention on Thailand’s forests has intensified due to concerns that loss of forest cover in rain catchment areas may have exacerbated the flooding last fall. As the Thai countryside was quite literally inundated by the worst floods in recent memory, many asked what could have been done to prevent the massive losses in property, jobs, and human life. Restoring Thailand’s forests – 20% of which have been lost in the past fifty years – may be one answer.

However, planting new forests may not be the panacea the government is hoping for. Concerns abound over the potential for mismanagement on the part of government officials, with many worried over the possibility of conflict should local communities not agree with government reforestation plans.

Luckily, forestry officials are keeping these considerations in mind during the planning process. Bangkok Post reports that officials recognize the need for “a drastic change in their approach … as many previous efforts failed because of corruption and lack of local input.” The Royal Forest Department has pledged to learn from past mistakes and incorporate the needs and expertise of local, forest-dependent communities in the reforestation process. RECOFTC’s former Executive Director, Dr. Somsak Sukwong, emphasized the need to resolve land conflicts if such reforestation initiatives are to succeed.

Dr. Somsak also noted that restoring forests alone will not avoid future catastrophes, explaining that forests can absorb some rainwater and contribute to a more balanced water cycle, but extreme weather events can overwhelm the capacity of forests to prevent run-off.

One area in which reforestation initiatives can have disproportionate impact during natural disasters is near the coast. In Trat Province, on the border with Cambodia, local communities are planting and preserving mangrove forests to improve their ability to weather tropical storms. Massive mangrove root systems help mitigate the impact of extreme weather events like hurricanes and tsunamis: according to the 2007 FAO report The role of coastal forests in the mitigation of tsunami impacts, “mangroves can absorb 70-90% of the energy of a normal wave.” Here, too, local involvement has been key to success – the community of Pred Nai is leading a project to restore 5,000 hectares of mangrove forest, and six new community-based learning centers have been founded to help local leaders train one another to manage their resources more effectively.

The Thai government’s ambitious reforestation initiative is exciting and commendable. But involving local people and ensuring their rights are respected will be integral to the success of any forest-based project. To ensure its 3 billion baht investment is used wisely, the government should take into careful consideration the local people who will both have an impact on and be impacted by this initiative.


Thailand: UNDP beefs up capacity to respond to severe flooding

14 October 2011


In Thailand, severe flooding has killed more than 280 people and affected more than 2 million others – including this man in Bangkok – since 25 July this year. (Photo: Shermaine Ho/IRIN)

Bangkok – The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has expressed deep concern and offered support to the Government of Thailand as the country battles severe flooding that has killed more than 280 people and affected more than two million others since July this year.

More than 80 percent of the country’s 76 provinces have been affected by the floods. In excess of 900 industrial plants and farmland areas have suffered damage and millions of heads of livestock have been affected.  

Nearly 30 provinces have been declared disaster areas and 12 are on high alert for threats of heavy rain and river overflow.

The UN has been in regular contact with  authorities including the Thailand Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation, and has been monitoring the flood situation and its humanitarian and development impacts.

According to the country’s irrigation authorities, 11 out of the 26 major dams in Thailand currently hold more water than their official capacity, while others are between 82 and 99 percent full, and need to release excess water, forcing more evacuations in downstream areas.

UNDP is increasing its own capacity to support the Thai people at this time, setting aside both financial and technical emergency resources, and will continue to work with the Government to support Thailand’s longer-term recovery and rehabilitation.

The 21st century has been marked by an escalating impact of disasters from natural hazards and a huge loss of life and destruction of livelihoods and communities. In 2010, nearly 400,000 people were killed by disasters worldwide and more than 200 million were affected. Economic damage was estimated at US$110 billion.

“Vulnerability to disasters is growing faster than resilience,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday in his message to mark the International Day for Disaster Reduction.  “Disaster risk reduction should be an everyday concern for everybody. Let us all invest today for a safer tomorrow.”

Source: UNDP

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