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28. Thailand

Country data

Total land area in 1996 (thousand ha)


Total forest area 1995 (thousand ha)/% of total land area


Natural forest 1995 (thousand ha)


Total change in forest cover 1990-95 (thousand ha)/annual change (%)


Population total 1997 (millions)/annual rate of change 1995-2000 (%)


Rural population 1997 (%)


GNP per person 1995


Source of data: *) FAO - State of the World’s Forest 1999

General information

Administratively, Thailand is divided into four regions: the North, Northeast, Central and South. There are 76 Provinces and 716 Districts. The North is mainly mountainous with average altitudes rising above 200 m above sea level. The Northeast comprises the Korat Plateau, which lies 100-200 m above sea level. The Central Plains are the alluvial basin of country’s principal river, the Chao Phraya, which feeds the most fertile area known as “the rice bowl of Asia”. Most of the land area in this region lies below 50 m above sea level and is prone to flooding. The Southern Peninsula consists of a narrow strip of land where mountain ranges run north to south separating the eastern coast along the golf of Thailand and the western coast along the Andaman Sea. Thailand has a coastline of more than 2,500 km. Thai society comprises many ethnic tribes with the Thai in the majority and Chinese, Khmer, Laotian, and hill tribes the minorities. Buddhism is the national religion.

Thailand is quite vulnerable to severe weather events such as tropical storms, flooding and drought. At least 2 tropical storms have hit Thailand annually since 1991 and the new areas affected by flooding seem to be increasing. Most Thai people believe that the severity of damage could be reduced if the local ecological systems are better conserved. A massive landslide in Southern Thailand induced the Government to impose a logging ban in 1989.

According to the Government statistics, the population reached 62 million in 1999. The population grew at an average of 1.5% per year during the period 1980-1997. The number of people living in poverty dropped substantially from 18 million in 1988 to 7 million in 1996. Per capita real income increased from Baht 2,000 per month in 1988 to more than Baht 3,830 in 1996.

About 80% of Thailand’s population are farmers. The need for agricultural land is progressively growing as a result of the increasing population and rising demand for goods and services. The cultivation of marginal soils, which cannot support sustainable agriculture, is increasing, mainly through encroachment upon state-owned land. When crops such as maize and tapioca are in great demand in the world market, forest encroachment intensifies.

The economy grew by between 6-11% during the early 1990s, boosted by continued expansion in the non-agriculture sector. Both exports and imports grew rapidly. However, the social, natural resources and environment goals were not met. Rising social inequity has threatened the economy and political stability.

Since the second half of the 7th National Development Plan (1994), the economy has shown signs of slowing down. In 1997, the Government decided to adopt a managed float system of exchange rate. Production, investment, and domestic demand collapsed, and unemployment increased as businesses and manufacturers ceased operations, cut production costs or downsized. As a whole, the economy posted a negative growth rate of about 10% in 1998.

Thailand’s forest resources have been subjected to continuing pressure and devastation. Demand for land for subsistence farming, commercial agriculture, physical infrastructure, tourism and other uses remains high. The Government undertook an accelerated reforestation programme after devastating floods destroyed two villages in 1988.

Under previous National Development Plans, the emphasis was growth-oriented with attention focussed on whatever would contribute significantly to the economic development. However, this resulted in countless social ills, including aggravated environmental degradation, and created a rural/urban-rich/poor income gap. In the Eighth National Development Plan (1997-2001) the emphasis is on human resources development. The Government policy includes economic stability and confidence enhancement, agricultural production structure adjustment, service structure adjustment, and natural resource and environmental management.

The main objective in forestry sector development is to preserve and rehabilitate the area of conservation forests to at least 25% of the total area of the country, as well as to maintain the mangrove area at not less than one million rai (400,000 acres) by the end of the Eighth Plan. The development strategies for natural resources and environment management are as follows:

· preserve and enrich the natural resources;

· create a balanced ecology;

· protect the environment in order to improve the quality of life and build a solid foundation for development;

· establish a management system for the efficient utilisation and protection of natural resources and the environment for the benefit of the society and community; and

· protect against and give relief from natural disaster.

To achieve the reforestation target, a number of schemes have been introduced and carried out by Government agencies (the Royal Forest Department, Forest Industry Organisation, and the Thai Plywood Company), the private sector, NGOs, and people’s organisations. In addition to these schemes, in order to pay tribute to the Golden Jubilee of King Bhumipol Adulyadej (The Fiftieth Anniversary of H.M. the King’s ascension to the throne), the National Forestry Policy Committee launched a “Reforestation Campaign” during 1994-96. The target area was five million rai, or approximately 800 thousand ha, at the following locations:

· 50,000 km along the roadsides;

· around the school premises, government offices, and religious places;

· areas such as parks, recreation areas, dams and reservoirs, riversides; and

· existing deteriorated forests.

Forest resources

The first National Development Plan formulated under the aspects of economic growth and basic structure development was implemented in order to accelerate development in 1961. Before the Plan, the forest resource was very productive with its coverage more than 70% of the total land. Wood was the important export commodity and income earner, second only to rice. The Royal Forest Department was founded in 1896 to take in charge of forest management, which enabled the central government to look after all logging. The forest area was 27,36 million ha, or 53% of the total land area and the total population was 26 million. During 4 decades, the population increased considerably with a consequent conversion of the forest area into agricultural land.

During the period of rich forest resources, forest management was mostly focused on logging. The forest reserve was zoned starting in 1964. Forest protection and conservation forests were introduced due to increasing forest encroachment. Afterwards, the forest village approach was introduced and cultivation rights land was issued. Subsequent to the tragic floods, landslides, and logging ban in 1989, the Government handed over the degraded forest reserve lands to the Land Reform Office in order to release the lands to lessen people’s suffering from the lack of cultivable land.

The Cabinet resolution of 10 and 17 March 1992 was passed to carry out forest land zoning in 1,220 reserves covering an area of 23.52 million ha in 63 Provinces. Forest reserves are classified into three categories as follows: the conserved forests zone (Zone C) of 14.12 million ha; the commercial forest zone (Zone E) of 8.30 million ha; and the suitable for agriculture zone (Zone A) of 1.16 million ha. The Royal Forestry Department (RFD) handed over 7.08 million ha of the degraded forest reserves (all Zone A and some part of Zone E) to the Land Reform Office for agricultural purposes. As the result of a joint survey, 0.58 million ha of land unsuitable for agriculture were handed back to the RFD. Currently, the RFD is responsible for the forest reserve area of 17.07 million ha and the Land Reform Office is responsible for the degraded forest reserve area of 6.5 million ha. According to Government statistics (1998 survey), the remaining forest area was 12.97 million ha, or 25% of the total land area. Table 1 shows the trend of the size of forest areas from 1961-1998.

The first national park and the first wildlife sanctuary covering an area of 0.25 million ha were established in 1962. After that time, the number of parks and sanctuaries increased, particularly during the 4th-7th National Development Plans. In 1998, there were 139 national parks and 59 wildlife sanctuaries, covering an area of 6.95 million ha and 4.04 million ha respectively.

Table 1: Forest area 1961-1998


(mill. ha)

% of land area


































Teak plantations were started in 1956. Subsequently, several plantation projects have been introduced, including non-teak species, eucalyptus and other fast-growing species for fuel wood, watershed rehabilitation, community forests and private plantations. Up to the end 1999, the total plantation area was 2.10 million ha, consisting of 1.15 million ha of protected forest rehabilitation and 0.95 million ha of commercial forest rehabilitation.

Non-wood forest products (NWFPs) include a diverse array of useful commodities in Thailand. They have been an important source of income and food for the rural people. At least five million forest dwellers have been critically dependent on NWFPs. No concessions have been granted for these products. Permits for some commodities have been issued on an annual or short-term basis. Records of harvests are scarce and incomplete. Some important NWFP commodities are: medicinal plants, edible plants, rattan, bamboo, bee products, lac, and pine resin.

Coastal resources

It was reported that the mangrove forests covered an area of 0.37 million ha in 1961. However, in 1996, it was only 0.17 million ha. The causes that reduced the area were several, including conversion to other uses such as mining, shrimp farming, residential areas, roads and public buildings. Most of the existing mangrove forest areas are found in the southern region, particularly along the Andaman Sea. Table 2 shows the trend of mangrove forest area from 1961 to 1996.

All 29 cabinet resolutions concerning mangroves have been revised in order to define clear and systematic management guidelines that are suitable for the real and current situation. The revision will be submitted to the National Forest Policy Committee and the Cabinet for further consideration.

Table 2: Mangrove area 1961-1996


(mill ha)

% of land area






















Thailand has a coastline of more than 2,500 km. The coastal areas can be divided into the Gulf of Thailand area, which adjoins the Pacific Ocean, and the Andaman Sea area of the Indian Sea. The physical structure and natural endowments of the Thai seas have generated a great variety of biological and non biological resources. There are more than 1,000 species of fish and about 900 types of other marine resources.

Mangrove forests and coral reefs are natural resources vital for maintaining the ecological balance of Thai seas and coastal areas. Mangrove forests are important nursery grounds for a variety of fish. They are also an important source of charcoal and firewood and protect the coastal areas from soil erosion.

Policy and planning

The Cabinet Resolution of 3 December 1985 stipulated several important forest policies, including the following: 1) promoting forest management sharing between the Government and the private sector; 2) improving the administration system to make it compatible with the changes in forest situation; 3) specifying the target forest areas at 40% of the country’s area of which 15% are conservation forests and 25% are commercial forests; 4) the Government and the private sector should jointly develop and manage the forest area both for direct and indirect benefits; 5) reducing forest destruction by improving agricultural technology; 6) integration of the Forest Development Plan into the National Development Plan; 7) accelerating the city planning process and designing forest utilisation zones in each province; 8) appointing a National Forest Policy Committee under the Forest Act; 9) intensification of private forest plantations to meet the need sof forest industries; 10) defining 35% slope areas as forest areas; 11) creating incentive private forest plantations; 12) planning on human resources development and settlement based on a nature conservation basis.

The important targets under the current plan, 1997-2001, include the following: 1) a forest area of 17.07 million ha will be strictly protected from illegal activities and encroachment, and 3.34 million ha will be under an intensive forest fire control programme, and the productive forest areas of 14.36 million ha will be managed as protected areas in the form of national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, non hunting areas and head water areas; 2) in order to increase the forest area, various programmes and projects on forest rehabilitation and plantation will be implemented, including State plantations on dry lands and mangrove forests, head water ecosystem rehabilitation, commercial forest plantations, community forest development, and reforestation for the Royal Golden Jubilee; 3) survey activities will be carried out in 66 Provinces to solve land tenure and forest problems and the forest boundaries will be clearly and transparently demarcated; 4) relevant officers and target groups will be trained in forest management; networks of subordinate agencies will be laid down, and forest maps will be produced; 5) arboretums and botanical gardens will be continuously managed and public relation and information dissemination concerning forest conservation will be carried out.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives has defined 3 main agriculture and co-operative strategies for the 8th National Development Plan concerning forest management as follows: 1) Competitive competence by appropriately adjusting the agricultural producing structure and system to meet the potential areas and market needs, increasing co-operation with all related agencies on research and development; 2) Promoting natural resource conservation and sustainable development by encouraging environmental friendly activities, formulating plans for management and biodiversity resource utilisation, adjusting the planning system and budget allocation consistent with the resource base, decentralisation of natural resource protection and management, including conflict resolution in natural resources utilisation to local organisations and communities, emphasising law and regulation improvement in order to involve all parties involved in sustainable natural resources and environment utilisation; 3) Developing human resources and farmers’ organisations by putting down capital for education and technology transfer systematically and compatibly with target groups, giving land tenure to poor farmers, increasing agricultural alternatives, emphasising management capacities, production and marketing, and encouraging low interest loans, and establishing an information network utilising both modern technology and local knowledge.

Forest management and institution

The mandate of the Royal Forest Department can be summarised as follows: a) enforcing of 5 Forest-Acts and other related Acts; b) extending and developing natural resources conservation and forest ecological rehabilitation; c) studying, seeking, researching, experimenting and developing appropriate technologies on forestry, wildlife and other related subjects; d) implementing authority under the provision of laws, ministry decrees and Cabinet resolutions.

The Royal Forest Department has defined forest conservation and development strategies into 5 major aspects for the Forest Action Plan in the 8th national Development Plan, 1997-2001, as the following: 1) protection of the remaining natural forests; 2) rehabilitation of the degraded forests and forest plantation extension; 3) reduction of forest and land resource utilisation conflicts; 4) enhancement of management effectiveness; 5) strengthening forest research, development and extension.

In regard to forest management, new strategies have been crafted, including the following important aspects: a) Adjusting the administrative system by introducing a forest ecosystem structure, in which forest, soil, water, wildlife, human and other related factors live in harmony; b) Reforming the administration by allowing all stakeholders, including government, the private sector, academics and citizens, to participate in the administration as a partnership; c) Defining 2 main types of target areas for management, i.e. protected forests to be kept intact by implementing habitat management, and commercial forests to be increased by implementing sustainable management; d) Stopping illegal logging, particularly in protected and high risk forest areas, by establishing an ad-hoc task force to resolve the problems and direct investigations; co-operating with the Ministry of Defense to intensively look after the forests located at the border areas; and in collaboration with Custom Department to jointly check timber imports, strictly patrolling and arresting all law violators; e) Motivating the officers in their duties; f) Building people’s awareness of the important role of forests for the environment; g) Strengthening research and development and transfer of technology.

A Special project to pay tribute to the 72nd King’s Birthday called “Forest loves water” was implemented by campaigning to jointly plant 5 million trees in 72 provinces. Due to unavoidable circumstances, the reforestation target of five million rai under the Golden Jubilee of King Bhumipol Adulyadej could not be achieved as planned. However, it was reported that about 1,416,014.92 rai was successfully reforested during 1994-97. Therefore, the plan has been continued and it was expected that the target would be reached in 2002.

Insufficient budget is one of the biggest constraints of forest management, particularly during the past few years of financial crisis. The slow down of the economy resulted in the migration of the unemployed labour force back to rural areas, where those desperate people then encroached upon the remaining forest for their sustenance. At the same time, government revenue diminished, which resulted in fewer resources for forest protection and rehabilitation of degraded forestland.

About 0.41 million ha of forest reserve have been permitted for various objectives such as rock quarries, the mineral industry, road construction, electricity, reservoirs, government offices, religious places, and forest plantations. During 1982-1992, about 1.19 million ha had been allocated and been given to 727,082 citizens in order to mitigate their land tenure trouble.

Although Thailand has imposed a logging ban since 1988, forestland is still subjected to continuing pressure and devastation. Demand for land for subsistence farming and other uses remains high. The shifting cultivation practiced by hill tribes and refugees has degraded watersheds.

Forestry Sector Master Plan

In line with the efforts to arrest the deforestation rate, the Government submitted a request for assistance from the donor community to launch a Forestry Sector Master Plan (FSMP). The exercise began in 1991 assisted by ADB and FINNIDA. The lead institution was the Royal Forestry Department.

The immediate objective of the FSMP is to formulate a master plan at the national level for the development of the forestry sector, which should be sufficiently broad-based and balanced to cope with various sectoral problems. The exercise aims at improving sectoral planning skills as an initial step to institutionalise long-term planning in the forestry sector.

During the FSMP exercise, 22 sub-teams were created to carry out in-depth studies of the forestry sector. The result was a macro-plan that spells out national-level decisions. The drafting of the FSMP called upon other development partners to help build a national consensus on policy and development directions for the forestry sector.

The FSMP proposes 15 sub-sectoral programmes grouped into three major dimensions i.e. socio-ecological, technological, and institutional. The socio-ecological dimension covers conservation and forest-based rural and urban development aspects. The development programmes in this dimension are referred to as Peoples’ and Environment Programmes, and include forest protection, forest-based rural development, watershed management, conservation of ecosystems, biodiversity, and urban forestry. The technological dimension covers the management of multi-purpose forests and the development of man-made forests to produce wood and non-wood forest products. The development programmes in this dimension include management of multi-purpose forests, man-made forest and agroforestry development, fuel wood and rural energy development, wood-based industry development, and non-wood forest products development. The institutional development dimension covers the supportive framework provided by forestry sector institutions. The development programmes in this dimension include policy and legal reforms, organisations and human resources development, extension, research, and impact monitoring and evaluation.

In the context of FSMP, fuel wood is not included among the NWFPs. Fuel wood is widely used in the household sector and by small enterprises. Wood supplies from around the houses (home garden, wood lots, and public forests) are able to fill the demand for fuel wood.

The Royal Forestry Department (RFD) improved some elements of the FSMP and it was presented for consideration by the National Forest Policy Committee (NFPC) on 30 April 1997. The Committee agreed in principle and asked the RFD to modify the FSMP to make it up to date and relevant to the changing situation of the country, including the preparation of an action plan, for approval by the Cabinet. The revised plan has been submitted by the RFD for consideration by the Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives before presenting it to the Cabinet for approval.

The macro-level FSMP will be implemented through local-level plans drawn up for a bottom-up process. This approach is currently being applied on a pilot basis in two provinces: Lampang in the North and Surat Thani in the South. The exercise will provide excellent opportunities for NGOs, people’s organisations, religious organisations, and other groups who best represent the interests of the local people to participate in the FSMP exercise. Local communities and villagers will have decision-making powers concerning the forest resources entrusted to them.

Collaboration with partners

Thailand is serious on forest related international co-operation, particularly concerning international agreements and conventions. Many of the international conventions have been ratified, including International Tropical Timber Agreement (ITTA), CITES, RAMSAR, World Heritage Convention. Unfortunately, most of the implementation of the international agreements and conventions has not progressed as expected due to several constraints, including lack of funding, unfavourable economic situation, insufficient technology, unfavourable political conditions, and limited people’s understanding.

At the moment, there are several regional forestry programmes, projects, and activities with offices located in Bangkok, including Forestry Research for Asia and the Pacific (FORSPA); Regional Wood Energy Development Programme (RWEDP); Information and Analysis for Sustainable Forest Management; Model Forest Approach for Sustainable Forest Management; Regional Community Forestry Training Programme (RECOFT); Asian Institute of Technology (AIT).

The logging ban, imposed in 1988, has drastically cut wood supplies. Therefore, the industry has to rely on imported wood, as well as on rubber and other plantation-grown wood. A review revealed that the policy, legal, and land-tenure conditions are not supportive of forest plantation development. Consequently, major private sector investors are looking outside Thailand for land to produce industrial wood.

Focal point
Dr. Plodprasop Suraswadi
Director General
Royal Forestry Department
Paholyothin Road, Bangkhen
Bangkok 10900, Thailand
Phone: (662) 5614292-4 ext.805
Fax: (662) 5614872


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