„Sozio-Ökonomie der Waldnutzung in den Tropen und Subtropen"

Doktorand:  Rolf-Dieter Sprung (Forest Science/Tropical Forestry)
Tel: +49-761-203-8600
Betreuer:  Prof. Dr. Jürgen Huss (University of Freiburg)

Participatory Land Use Planning in Thailand - 
Conflict Potentials in Project Planning and Implementation
(Vorläufiger Arbeitstitel, Stand Januar 1998)

General Research Background

Strategies to conserve tropical natural forests by centralised protected area management have proven to be ineffective. In search for alternatives and with substantial financial contributions by donor agencies participatory approaches involving local communities in forest conservation and management have been developed. The ongoing controversy among experts as to the type and level of participation that should be anticipated and the extent of usage rights that should be granted suggests lack of convincing evidence as to the effectiveness of such approaches in terms of forest conservation.

Participatory Land Use Planning in Northern Thailand:
Severe resource degradation in the highlands of Northern Thailand has led to growing concern for forest and soil conservation in mountain watersheds. In an effort to protect the country`s main water source from further degradation most of the area was classified as protected watersheds in the mid 80s. This classification, based mainly on bio-physical criteria, has widely restricted landuse and settlement thereby ignoring the fact that most of the area is and has been populated for centuries by various hilltribes. 
As an alternative to meanwhile infeasible resettlement programmes and in order to adress the complexity of environmental problems a model called "Participatory Land Use Planning" was developed jointly by the Royal Forest Department and the University of Chiang Mai. The approach integrates measures of soil and forest conservation whereby emphasis is put on enabling local communities to assess and modify local land use systems according to watershed management objectives. After promising results during a pilot implementation that started in 1987, the model has been adopted by various large projects of international donors and has gained widespread popularity also in other countries.
Critics, however, claim it to overemphasize social and psychological aspects such as community organisation and environmental awareness without providing clear guidelines for resource management and proof of its resource effectiveness. 

Research Objective

The study is based on the hypothesis that the resource effectiveness of participatory forest management is related to conflicts of interest within and between participating parties.
Since participatory forest management takes place in a complex bio-physical, socio-economic and political environment these conflicts are expected to appear on different levels. While local communities have to satisfy their needs from an often already degraded forest resource, Government agencies have to justify their position under growing pressure from national and international lobbies.
With two case studies on Participatory Land Use Planning in Thailand the study therefore tries to identify and explain conflict potentials of participatory forest management in a given local context. It focusses on discrepancies between the actual status of natural forest resources and related project objectives. 


Two mountain villages comprising of local Thai, Karen and Lisu ethnic groups were selected for case studies by the following criteria:.
  • Location at altitudes within the critical "middle zone" (1) · 
  • Representation of typical landuse systems and problems of the region · 
  • Different natural forest cover · 
  • A full project cycle over ten years

The study was confronted with the problem of identifying forest related interests of villagers living in protected areas. In a situation where communities face unsecure land rights, fear of possible resettlement and still lasting tensions with Government agencies, it could not be expected that real interests and problems would be articulated frankly. The field study therefore attempted to identify such interests not only by sociological methods but also by analysing patterns and dynamics of forest use with a systematic forest and land use inventory. This also provided independently gained data that could be counterchecked with evaluation reports and attitudes of Government agencies as to the extent of natural forest degradation and the role of different ethnic groups. Accordingly the following methods were applied:

  • Rapid rural appraisal techniques 

  • to determine traditional village use areas (2)
  • Forest and land use inventories 

  • to analyse patterns of forest use, forest area dynamics and types of forest degradation in traditional village use areas. 
  • Questionnaire surveys of village households

  • to gain data on household structures, community organisation, traditional landrights, village land use systems, perception of environmental problems and levels of participation. 
  • Semi-structured interviews with key-persons 

  • to identify roles, attitudes and interests of Government, Non-Government and donor agencies.

Preliminary Results

Patterns of forest use and forest area dynamics reflect ethnic composition and social dynamics of local communities.Traditional land use systems of local Thai, Karen and Lisu ethnic groups have different impacts on natural forests.

Traditional forest policies contradict participatory forest management. Participation of local communities is determined by the willingness of Government agencies to disregard existing laws and regulations. 

Project interventions labeled "participatory" rather reflect political priorities of Government agencies than real needs of local "participants".Compensatory measures such as the demarcation of community forests and the establishment of small scale industries do not prevent the use of protected forest areas.

Project intervention has focussed on reducing the rate of forest conversion into farmland. There are neither clear guidelines and criteria for controlling the use of wood and non-wood forest products, explicit project aims, nor sufficient data on demand and supply relations. 


  • (1) Increasing land shortage in the lowlands and resource degradation in high altitudes has led to migration of ethnic groups traditionally populating these areas into medium altitudes between 600-1500 m above sealevel. This so called "middel zone" is characterized by increasing pressure on natural resources and inter-ethnic conflicts, thus has become a priority area for project intervention
  • (2) A village use area is the area of actual and potential land and forest use associated with a village. It was defined by local inhabitants who claim traditional usage rights to this area. Village use areas are ususally separated by natural boundaries such as rivers or mountain ridges. 

Selected Bibliography

  • AMLER, B. 1992: Landnutzungsplanung für Entwicklungsländer, Berlin
  • MCKINNON, B.V. 1989: Hill Tribes Today, Bangkok/Paris 
  • SAMER, L. et al. 1996: "Can Villagers Manage the Highland Resources Well?" (in: Highland Farming: Soil And the Future, pp 13-22), Chiang Mai
  • SHARMA, P.N., WAGLEY M.P. 1995: The Status of Watershed Management in Asia, Kathmandu
  • SHARMA, P.N. 1996: Case Studies of People's Participation in Watershed Management in Asia, Kathmandu 



by Eberhard Weber March 1998