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.
General Research Background
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
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
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
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
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.
(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.
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,
SHARMA, P.N. 1996: Case Studies of People's Participation in Watershed
Management in Asia, Kathmandu
by Eberhard Weber March 1998