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

Doktorand: Dipl.-Ing. agr. Rainer Schwarzmeier 
Tel: +49-711-459 3476
Betreuer:  Prof. Dr. Franz Heidhues; Institut für Agrar- und Sozialökonomie in den Tropen und Subtropen, Universität Hohenheim

Socio-Economic Aspects of Community Forest in Northeastern Thailand - A Case Study
(Vorläufiger Arbeitstitel, Stand Januar 1998)


In the past three decades Thailand has gone through several impressive economic changes. It has developed from a largely agrarian community to a bustling, industrialising society. As a result of these economic changes Thailand experienced one of the world highest rate of economic growth in recent years. Unfortunately Thailand's outstanding economic growth has contributed to a number of fundamental problems the nation is facing. Examples are increasing the destruction of the country's rich natural resources and rapid deterioration of the environment, the persistence of poverty among the rural majority, and the growing rural-urban income gap caused by sectorial growth and structural changes.
In 1961, forests covered 53% of the landscape of Thailand. This figure has decreased drastically over the following 30 years to 26% in 1991 according to statistics from the Royal Forest Department in Thailand. Especially critical is the situation in the Northeastern Region where the forest coverage rate has declined from 42% to 13% in the same time due to increasing demand for timber, building of infrastructure, and extension of land for subsistence and export-orientated farming. This development has led to a growing competition and conflicts over the limited forest and land resources.
According to the „Thai Forestry Sector Master Plan" from 1993 Thailand should maintain 40% of its total land area as forest. This goal increases conflicts over land resources between government and rural population.
The „Thai Forestry Sector Master Plan" is widely criticised by local NGOs and Farmer Organisations mainly due to lack of concepts for sustainable forest management, involvement of private investors in reforestation (fast growing trees, e.g. Eucalyptus), and insufficient participation of local communities in forest protection and management activities.

Research topic

The research topic has been developed in order to fit into the actual political and scientific discussion on community forests. In recent years a community forest law has been discussed by governmental organisations, NGOs, academics and farmer organisations. Even though the ideas by these organisations still differ on many aspects, there seems to be a growing consensus that the protection and management of natural forests should mainly be based on village community level.
The potential income generation in community forests has now been widely accepted. But there still seems to be a lack of detailed information on the economic importance of community forests to villages and households within these villages. Therefore the following aspects are to be addressed within my research project:
  • 1. Actual economic contribution of community forest products to the village/household economy (analysis of the actual situation)
  • 2. Comparative analysis with alternative economic activities on village/household level.
  • 3. Specific interests of village groups towards community forest.
  • 4. Potential of community forests in supporting the rehabilitation of forests (example in the province of Sri Sa Ket)


The field research took place in the southern part of the Northeast region. The main research site for the case study is the „Non Yai - Community Forest" in the District of Potisrisouan, Sri Sa Ket Province. The main method applied has been standardised quantitative and qualitative interviews at household level. These interviews took place on several occasions during the field research phase and followed the seasonal working schedules of the households (farmers). A forest assessment took place in order to analyse the actual ecological status and the economical potential of the community forest respectively.
Other techniques like RRA or PRA methods had been applied whenever suitable in order to support the conduction and the results of the interviews and to gather information on relations between socio-economic aspects on village level and community forests activities.
Results and findings of the in-depth case study will be reviewed and transformed on provincial and regional level by interviews with local key persons or external experts from the Royal Forest Department, NGOs and academics.

Preliminary results

The „Non Yai" community forest covers 352 ha and is located within an area of 2560 ha which was declared National Forest Reserve in 1971, several decades after most of the area has been cleared for agricultural use. The forest is described as Mixed Deciduous Forest. The main tree species are Dipterocarpaceae, Xylia xylocarpa, Pterocarpus macrocarpus and Afzelia xylocarpa. More than a decade ago five villages in the district of Potisrisouan decided to stop farming on their fields and to restore a natural forest area under their close supervision. The decision can be described as a result of both external pressure and of internal reasons. Today a community forest committee with ten representatives from each village is responsible for the supervision of the community forest area, with the support of the Sri Sa Ket Provincial Office of the Royal Forest Department. The preliminary results of the research project indicate that villages with community forests are fairly operative with a wide array of income-generating activities to choose from. In these villages there seems to be a balance between forest dependent and non-forest dependent activities. Products used from the forest can be classified as food (mushrooms, roots, vegetables, fruits or insects), herbal medicine and fuel wood. The use of forest land as grazing area is steadily declining. There seems to be a growing demand for construction wood. Limitations are the lack of trees with appropriate size and government regulations which prohibit logging. Most of the products are collected for self-consumption. Distribution or marketing of community forest products play a minor role and often takes place within the villages. The collection of minor forest products tends to decline for households with access to secure and attractive income generating activities. Whereas farmers with limited incomes due to moderate land holdings, lack of education or old age still depend on community forest activities. If the community forest concept is to be a successful mean in restoring Thailand's forests, it seems to be necessary to increase the economic attraction of community forest. Preconditions are among others secure land rights for villages on their community forest land and regulations which allow the implementation of sustainable forest management measures. 


by Eberhard Weber & V. Brenner,
March 1998, updated Sept. 2000