The Royal Forest Department
The RFD was established in 1896 modelled on colonial (especially Indian)
forestry services, in order to establish central government control over
the Northern teak forests. Until 1989, its main function was to supervise
logging operations rented out to private companies in the concession system.
The 1989 logging ban stopped this strategy based on converging interests
with the logging industry, with firms affected by the ban sueing the RFD.
From then on, the RFD focused heavily on reforestation programmes and the
expansion of protected areas, entering into closer collaboration with the
Pulp and Paper industry and international institutions. This has led to
a substantial increase both in number of staff and in overall budget. However,
traumatized by the logging ban and Khor Jor Kor, and wracked by constant
corruption scandals, the leadership of the RFD is unable to develop a coherent
forest policy for Thailand.
The Logging Industry
Originally dominated by foreign (mainly British) capital, the logging
industry expanded in the 50s and 60s under Thai auspicies, as good connections
to politicians, military and RFD officials became crucial for obtaining
legal and illegal concessions. The 2 million m³ yearly timber production
in the 80s was halted dramatically by the logging ban, throwing many firms
into bancrupcy and financial losses. Other companies moved their operations
to neighbouring countries such as Burma and Cambodia.
The Pulp and Paper Industry
Most firms in this industry are subsidiaries of large Thai (and foreign)
conglomerates (such as CP). The industry expanded during the 80s, as the
industrialisation boom led to sharp increases in demand. Production of
pulp grew from 40 000 tons in 1977 to 150 000 in 1989, reaching 500 000
tons in 1996. However, plans for large scale eucalyptus plantations were
thwarted in the 1980s by protests of famers, and again by the collapse
of the Khor Jor Kor programme. Plans to invest in new pulp producing plants
have been stalled.
The military's involvement in forest politics, originates in its counter-insurgency
operations against the Communist Party of Thailand in the 70s and early
80s. In close co-operation with the RFD, the military established „Forest
Villages", developed infrastructure, and supervised logging concessions
in communist dominated forest areas. After the military threat was over,
the emphasis was changed to „development", embodied in the 1987-1992 „Isan
Khiau" project (Green Northeast Project), which, among other things, was
to „green" the Northeast with eucalyptus plantations. This historical involvement
coupled with direct personal involvement of certain high-ranking military
officials in the Pulp and Paper industry, explain the origin of the Khor
Jor Kor project in the Internal Security Operations Command.
The Farmers Movement
Although organised farmers resistance is no new phenomenom in Thailand,
former conflict focussed on land, not on forest resources. Encroachment
into forest areas was tolerated by the RFD and actively encouraged by the
military and other government agencies. This changed as the degraded forest
areas became interesting for reforestation and the expansion of protected
areas. During the 80s, local protests against eucalyptus plantations led
to revival of peasant resistance. Opposition to the Khor Jor Kor project
started in 1991, developing into a North-eastern wide network of „47 forest
committees" in 1992. This network was a major factor in the development
of the national farmers organisation Samacha Khon Jon („Forum of
the Poor"). This organisation plays a significant role in forest policy
at a local and national level.
Strategic Groups in Thailand's Forests
The Strategic Groups approach is helpful to understand changing strategies
of the ruling elites towards forest policy. However, within each „Strategic
Group" there are also competing factions (for example the political patronage
structures in the RFD). In general, there is an evident convergence between
the strategies of the main Strategic Groups, with the lines of conflict
emerging more clearly between the ruling elites and a „Non-strategic Group",
the farmers. This can be demonstrated clearly for the Khor Jor Kor project,
but also for current debates centred around the community forest bill.