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Due to the wide range of support provided by various governmental and non-governmental organizations, there has been tangible improvement in a number of socio-economic aspects for hill tribe communities in Thailand (see Annex IV for the report on Monitoring of the Second Master Plan on Community Development, Environment and Narcotics Control). As was expressed by highland community members interviewed for this research, there have been favourable changes in such areas as overall living conditions (including infrastructure), participation of community members in decision making, sanitation, access to education and health75.

Box 10: Community colleges

The 8th National Education Development Plan (1997-2001) took into account such issues as the increasing number of high school graduates, in contrast to the low absorption capacity of formal universities (only 25 percent), as well as the lack of higher education institutions in border provinces. In response to the needs of more lifelong learning activities and inadequate higher education institutions for community development needs, MOE is to establish "community colleges". A community college will offer two-year comprehensive technical and vocational programmes. It will aim at promoting community-based lifelong learning based on local culture and traditions. In the North (hill areas), Mae Hong Son, Tak and Uthai Thani provinces are designated to be community-college project sites

Source: Basic Information for the Establishment of Community Colleges in Thailand

Meanwhile, new problems are emerging, in addition to lingering problems deriving from poverty, lack of infrastructure, delayed land settlement, ambivalent legal status of hill tribe people in Thailand and illegal immigration of hill tribes. Hill tribe people interviewed for this research pointed out degradation in such aspects as agriculture (including scarcity of arable land, soil quality and lack of water sources) and income (including rise in household expenditure due to the introduction of the cash economy and a lack of markets)76. Also, one of the emerging problems is out-migration of the hill tribe labour force (influx of young people into lowlands and cities). Most of these people are unskilled and unprepared for the new environment and thus are vulnerable to possible exploitation and unlawful conduct. HIV/AIDS77, prostitution and drug addiction are also of great concern. For highland communities, these problems may imply the breaking-up of families, many of which already lack household heads who are engaged in seasonal employment in urban areas.

In response to these lingering as well as emerging problems, increasing attention is being drawn to comprehensively addressing the issues that threaten the quality of life of hill tribe people. The need for awareness building within and outside of highland communities has also been stressed. This gradual shift of focus of assistance, from the traditional emphasis on illegal trafficking and land settlement, reflects the development priorities set in the eighth and ninth national economic and social development plans, i.e. human resource development and people's participation in national development.

Planned reorganization of government ministries may lead to changes in the line ministries providing support to hill tribes which would affect future prospects of highland development.78 For example, future prospects concerning highland education would depend largely on the outcome of the National Education Act put in effect on 20 August 2001. One of the implications of the act would be that less-advantaged children in remote areas who attend non-governmental schools set up by foundations, NGOs or government agencies such as the Border Patrol Police would have even less access to education opportunities. Some people have voiced concern over a clause which stipulates that the ideal size of a school will be determined according to each locality, with a view to facilitating the organization of efficient and appropriate teaching and learning activities. In line with this clause, small schools located in remote areas, including those in highland communities, could be subject to merging into school centres in cities. The government teachers working in remote areas would thus be called back to work at these school centres79.

In the meantime, the government officers and field staff interviewed for this research consider that assistance to highland communities should be reinforced. Quality of life issues including education and health care would be given importance in order to develop the human potential and self-reliance of hill tribe people. It was pointed out that, based on the "Education for all" and "Equality" policies stipulated in the National Education Act, community-based self-help initiatives would be further supported80.

In promoting education opportunities, integrated or holistic approaches to highland development would need to be emphasized as a means to respond to a wide range of issues, which are closely related to one another. Efforts should be made to harmonize modern knowledge and technologies with local wisdom and practices. In this conjunction, issues of particular attention would include the following:

First, there would be a need to develop comprehensive policy guidelines that would also take into account newly emerging issues in hill tribe communities. These guidelines would serve to harmonize priorities among government agencies and for non-governmental organizations. Inter-agency collaboration would be facilitated if based on the clearly defined mandate of each agency, in such a way as to enhance cooperation on specific support activities81. As designated by the Cabinet resolution of 7 February 1987, DPW would remain the principal organization supporting hill tribe development and welfare. With further inter-agency collaboration, its task of coordinating governmental and non-governmental organizations to support hill tribes would be facilitated. DPW priorities towards highland development, whether the "basic needs" of five years ago, the "land settlement" of the present or the "quality of life (to be equivalent to the lowlands')" of the future, are of common concern among other line agencies providing support to hill tribe communities.

Second, further emphasis would need to be given to mutual sharing and learning among the concerned governmental and non-governmental agencies. It would be another way to contribute to inter-agency collaboration in identifying community needs, implementing projects and in monitoring and follow-up82. To take the example of DNFE, it was pointed out that HCLC was a learning experience for DNFE in terms of deepening understanding of hill tribe community life and hill tribe needs and expectations (such as the lack of volunteer teachers and teaching material, and the fact that audio-visual material encourages learners). The Somdet Ya project, which is in the second year of implementation, would also provide valuable indications as to the sustainability and replicability of its pilot approach. While serving as valuable first-hand information for the training of new DNFE volunteer teachers,83 the lessons learned would be useful for the officers and staff of other governmental and non-governmental organizations.

Mae Fa Luang volunteer teachers
(CLC in Chiang Rai, Akha tribe village)

By the same token, the DOAE experience in assisting hill tribe people through ATTCs would also be useful for other organizations, particularly since knowledge and technology improving agricultural production are considered to be an essential subject of support to hill tribes among field workers in highland communities. Possibly, DNFE, DPW and NGO staff could also participate in DOAE training reflecting not only the current DOAE priority on food security and sufficiency but also future priorities, i.e. quality, productivity and product safety84. Technical support would be based on the existing skills of hill tribe people, including agriculture and traditional crafts. DNFE, DPW and NGO staff would benefit from DOAE training and be able to transfer the skills acquired to their respective target communities.

Third, in line with the ongoing decentralization of the Royal Thai Government, the Tambon (sub-district) Administrative Organization (TAO) should also be strengthened to play an active role in support of the wellbeing of hill tribe people. In the future, in addition to its principal role on social welfare, DPW would also assist TAO in managing development budgets85 transferred from the central level86.

Fourth, with increasing recognition of their role in assisting highland communities, collaboration with NGOs would need to be promoted. The Ninth National Economic and Social Development Plan, aiming at poverty alleviation, sustainability and stability, good governance and strengthening of development foundations, emphasizes the growing significance of the role of civil society in the decision-making process. As in the case of IMPECT, taking advantage of their flexibility, extensive grass-roots networks as well as commitment and understanding of local cultures and traditions, NGOs would supplement the activities of the government agencies, particularly in terms of reaching out to remote communities. More concretely, NGOs could be instrumental in such areas as (1) community empowerment and conservation and restoration of traditional culture; (2) promotion of sustainable agriculture; (3) fostering and supporting local economic development and cooperation through the promotion of cooperatives and saving schemes; and (4) assistance to small-scale enterprises (such as general retail, food processing and preservation, and animal husbandry).

Fifth, through awareness building and by reviving the unique ethnic and cultural identity, empowerment of communities and local institutions, both by external support and internal initiatives, would need to be further encouraged to achieve participatory and sustainable highland development, both in the planning and implementation processes. Due to growing emphasis on people's rights and their participation in their own development, particularly under the 1997 "People's Constitution", the government is becoming increasingly aware of the role of hill tribes in the process of highland development. Capacity building of hill tribe communities would be indispensable to enable community members to cope with long-standing and newly emerging problems, particularly in terms of agricultural development, local curriculum promotion, community-based resource management, local-language radio programmes and inter-community networking. Hill tribe people, if given a chance, can learn to actively involve themselves in planning, decision making and implementation, which would contribute to establishing a sense of ownership among hill tribe people in sustainable rural development.

Lua tribe community with Mae Fa Luang CLC
(Mae Chem district, Chiang Mai)

Finally, to support the efforts made within Thailand, international communities would need to strengthen partnership with the national- and local-level governmental and non-governmental organizations as well as among themselves in addressing the issue of sustainable rural development for hill tribe people. FAO is in an excellent position to support highland development based on the organization's current multi-disciplinary expertise, past and present support. Its involvement would be consistent with its leading role for the 2002 International Year of Mountains. It is important to note that FAO considers education to be a prerequisite to building a food-secure world, reducing poverty and conserving and enhancing natural resources. Education, whether formal or non-formal, would therefore be a cross-cutting issue in all FAO programmes in highland assistance87.

More concretely, one of the areas where FAO could further strengthen its assistance would be international advocacy on sustainable agriculture for food security. It would be a timely issue in the framework of the International Year of Mountains. In this connection, FAO would be able to provide a neutral form for different partners to meet and discuss the subject. Secondly, FAO would be able to play an active role in promoting education and training focusing on local curriculum development, particularly in such subjects as agriculture and on-farm and off-farm income generation. While responding to the needs of the hill tribe communities in acquiring modern skills, FAO would be in a position to support the communities' efforts to harmonize indigenous knowledge and traditional techniques with modern technology. In this context, FAO could also extend its support for community-based sustainable agriculture practices and resource management. This kind of attempt for local curriculum development would also generate valuable information to share among hill tribe communities and support organizations. Thirdly, in terms of strengthening tambon (sub-district)-level organizations to manage sustainable highland development (including information system and planning), FAO would be able to supplement government efforts. Finally, promotion of small enterprise development among hill tribes would be a subject where small-scale grass-roots support from FAO would be effective.

Education, along with infrastructure, communications and health care, is an indispensable enabling factor for enhanced rural livelihood. It enables hill tribe people to take fuller advantage of employment and training opportunities, whether they choose to stay in their communities or decide to earn income in urban areas. Consequently, hill tribe people, based on the skills they acquired, could enhance their capacities, which would help ensure sustainable rural development.

75 Field interviews (May, July and September 2001)

76 Field interviews (May, July and September 2001)

77 According to the data available, 1 252 HIV/AIDS victims were reported in highland areas in 1992 (Tribal Research Institute, 1994). The current figure is estimated to be much higher.

78 At present, the prospect of ministerial restructuring remains uncertain

79 Bangkok Post, 23/09/01

80 Interviews, DNFE, July and September 2001

81 Field interview, NESDB, 04/09/01

82 Field interview, NESDB, 04/09/01

83 Case Study: The Hill Tribe Community Learning Centre Mae Fa Luang

84 Field interview, DOAE, 06/09/01

85 The development budget includes revolving funds of one million baht per village allocated under the current government.

86 Field interview, DPW, 06/09/01

87 Targeting the Rural Poor: The Role of Education and Training

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