University of Helsinki, Helsinki 2006
Community forestry and environmental literacy in northern Thailand
Towards collaborative natural resource management and conservation
Doctoral dissertation, April 2006.
Conservation and sustainable management of tropical forests needs a holistic approach: in addition to ecological concerns, socio-economic issues including cultural aspects must be taken into consideration. An ability to adapt practices is a key to successful collaborative natural resource management. Achieving this requires local participation and understanding of local conceptions of the environment. This study examined these issues in the context of northern Thailand.
Northern uplands are the home of much of the remaining natural forest in Thailand and several ethnic minority groups commonly referred to as hill tribes. The overall purpose of this study was to grasp a regional view of an ethnically diverse forested area and to elicit prospects to develop community forestry for conservation purposes and for securing people's livelihood. Conservation was a central goal of management as the forests in the area were largely designated as protected.
The aim was to study local perceptions, objectives, values and practices of forest management, under the umbrella of the concept environmental literacy, as well as the effects of forest policy on community management goals and activities. Environmental literacy refers to holistic understanding of the environment. It was used as a tool to examine people's views, interests, knowledge and motivation associated to forests.
The material for this study was gathered in six villages in Chiang Mai Province. Three minority groups were included in the study, the Karen, Hmong and Lawa, and also the Thai. Household and focus group interviews were conducted in the villages. In addition, officials at district, regional and national levels, workers of non-governmental organisations, and academics were interviewed, and some data were gathered from the students of a local school.
The results showed that motivation for protecting the forests existed among each ethnic group studied. This was a result of culture and traditions evolved in the forest environment but also of a need to adapt to a changed situation and environment and to outside pressures. The consequences of deforestation were widely agreed on in the villages, and the impact of socio-economic changes on the forests and livelihood was also recognised. The forest was regarded as a source of livelihood providing land, products and services essential to the people inhabiting rural uplands.
Traditions, fire control, cooperation, reforestation, separation of protected and utilisable areas, and rules were viewed as central for conservation. For the villagers, however, conservation meant sustainable use, whereas the government has tended to prefer strict restrictions on forest resource use. Thus, conflicts had arisen. Between communities, cooperation was more dominant than conflict.
The results indicated that the heterogeneity of forest dwellers, although it has to be recognised, should not be overemphasised: ethnic diversity can be considered as no major obstacle for successful community forestry. Collaborative management is particularly important in protected areas in order to meet the conservation goals while providing opportunities for livelihood. Forest management needs more positive incentives and increased dialogue.
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© University of Helsinki 2006
Last updated 12.04.2006