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Investment in land development in Thailand - Boonkerd Budhaka and Manu Srikajorn

Boonkerd Budhaka, Natural Resources Economics Specialist

Manu Srikajorn, Soil and Water Conbservation Specialist

Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, Thailand


Thailand is an agricultural country situated in Southeast Asia having a total area of approximately 51 million ha. About 70 percent of the north is mountainous, while most of the northeast consists of high plateau which has been deforested and has become mainly agriculture. Eastern Thailand is marine terrace of which 80 percent is agricultural. The southern peninsula has forests, rubber plantation and mining. Land is an important factor and is the foundation for agricultural production in Thailand.

The agricultural growth rate during the past decade has been achieved largely through expansion of cultivated land. Agricultural expansion was mainly achieved by clearing forest to create new farmlands, not through major increases in productivity. This has led to serious land pressures. Forests in Thailand have declined steadily and are now at a critical level, while agricultural land is over - exploited and increasingly degraded. Improper use of land resources has brought about problems of the loss of soil organic matter - soil erosion as well as land abandoned due to acidification and salinization. Such problems tend to be increasingly serious and affect the social and economic climate. Consequently, land development is an investment in maintaining and enhancing the future productivity of the soil. This paper provides an overview of Thai government land development programmes.


From the early 1960s when the first National Economic and Social Development plan was initiated through the year 2001, when the Eighth plan ended, Thailand progressively conducted a variety of land management activities. Building institutional and public awareness of natural resource concerns as well as collecting and analyzing land resource information has helped the country identify and respond to land resource problems. Research activities conducted over many years have provided perspective to help address problems of soil quality and suggest how to increase agricultural yields. Technology transfer through varied training courses and demonstration projects has encouraged farmers to be aware of the importance of sustainable land development and use.

However, land development has generally been weak and poorly funded. When compared to the problems affecting land resources in Thailand, service work can cover only small area. The total budget allocated to major land management activities from 1964 through 1992 was US$120 million, but investmnent stepped up in the following years. During the Seventh Plan (1992 - 1996) US$207 million was invested, and during the Eighth Plan (1997 - 2001), investment rose to US$305 million. Thailand also received external assistance to launch land development projects in the form of technical cooperation and grant aids.

In general, during the period Thailand's land development target activities included:

Collection of data for a land database Land use planning and soil suitability maps for cash crops were established. Moreover, the development of MIS, RIS and GIS database systems provide Thailand with three valuable soil databases - a soil database detailing soil series and related information, a land use database and a database of forest reserves.

Soil improvement and rehabilitation Compost and green manure are applied to improve soil over an area of 0.9 million ha. Problems such as saline soil and acid soil over an area of 0.86 million ha are successfully managed.

Soil and water conservation Soil and water conservation systems were established over an area of 0.8 million ha or 3.7 percent of the affected area. Vetiver grass is promoted as ground cover to be planted to prevent soil erosion in 0.19 million ha, and a land and water utilization system has been initiated in more than 76 000 ha.

Research activities During the period 1994 to 2002, government agencies conducted 1 892 land development research projects. The data and assessments realized through those projects have been distributed to the public through via computer network. Moreover, the agencies produced soil management reports classifying 62 soil series to be used as a manual for solving soil problems.

Information transfer Government agencies conducted training courses to transfer knowledge and useful information on land development to local staff and farmers. In addition, 1 007 land development villages were designated as information centres for transferring proper land development technology in their locality.


The following management approaches have been conducted:

Soil and water conservation measures

Soil and water conservation measures are extremely important for arable area in the country whose main occupation of the people is agriculture such as Thailand. This is due to losses of soil nutrients mainly by erosion process on the nuded area with no soil conservation measure applied. Consequently, no more soil nutrients left for plant growth as erosion process go on continuously for a long period of time. This will result in poor crop production at the long last. It is not possible to exploit the land for producing crop anymore.

The operation of soil conservation on farmland is being done by regional service centres throughout the country. The soil conservation practices have been implemented both structural and agronomic types. The most common of the former of soil conservation measure in the field terrace has been widely used in low slope area. Bench terrace is less common measure. Hillside ditches of the Taiwanese type seem to be more potential. At present, various types of agronomic practices are implemented. These are compost application, green manuring, cover cropping, cropping systems, mulching, tillage practices, tree planting and agroforestry.

Soil conservation measures have been accepted and adapted relatively well in the alley cropping system. The problem of the technique is that it may affect crop yield. The only structural measure being widely adopted now is the small contour platform for growing rubber trees somewhat similar but smaller than the hillside ditches of the Taiwan style which is being used to a limited extent for growing cash crops in the north.

In the past three decades, it can be concluded that soil conservation measures are only suitable for Thailand's sloping land: high sustainable potential includes green manuring and cover cropping, alley cropping with contour hedgerows of leguminous bushes and agroforestry systems. Of medium sustainable potential is mulching, strip cropping and crop rotation, alley cropping with contour grass strips or trash strips and fertilizer application. Conservation tillage, contour cultivation, hillside ditches, terracing, and individual basins have low sustainability in Thailand.

Level of participation of people, farmers associations and NGOS

Most farmers, chief of village, district official and research official in local area.

Technical backup

Depletion of fertility in cropland is brought about by the combined action of many factors such as the removal of large amount of nutrient materials by annual cropping, losses of soluble constituents through leaching processes, and by the rapid rate of organic matter decomposition as a result of microbial activity in cultivated soils. In addition, the process of erosion is now recognized as one of the most serious forces in the rapid depletion of fertility and productivity of cultivated land.

Soil under natural condition with ample vegetation like forest and grassland erodes at negligible rate. But due to the demands of man for food, fibre, and other necessities that are acquired mainly through the use of land, some of the forestry and grassland are needed to be removed and replaced by the demanded crops, which mostly are intertilled or rowcrops. The intertilled crops afford little protection to the soil so that erosion has proceeded unchecked. Rowcrops production especially on highly eroded land year after year without proper soil conservation, therefore cause serious erosion then the land will become unproductive.

Ecological restoration

Soil conservation measures can help prevent environmental pollution by means of reduction of sedimentation. Since soil is slightly eroded due to proper soil conservation measure, many metals both heavy and light in the soil will not transport to some other places especially to many water resources such as river and brook.

Levels of project success and failure

Soil conservation projects have been implemented for nearly 40 years. At their inception in the early 1960s, soil and water conservation stations and units were set up throughout the country, especially in the north and northeast where erosion was not serious. Initially, terracing was introduced as a free service to farmers, linked with ploughing their fields without charge. Farmers were willing to accept the new methodology due to the free ploughing service. Later they removed the terraces because of the reduced cultivation area. Today, however, some farmers have come to realize the long term benefits and accept some soil and water conservation measures and adopt them in their lands (especially in the north).

The obstacles to accomplish such activities may be due to (i) the lack of basic data and information needed for establishing appropriate soil conservation measures for the respective area, (ii) present work standards of extension workers do not allow for sufficient contact with farmers, (iii) approaches to farmers has been inappropriate as most projects are of a top - down nature, and (iv) the lack of adoption of soil and water conservation.

Organic matter and waste products

Some 36 million ha (70 percent) of total area can be classified as deteriorating areas with unfertile soils and limited plant nutrients. Similarly is approximately 31 million ha (60 percent) of lands are classified as areas facing a serious problem of low level of soil organic matter.

Soil degradation is caused by loss of soil organic matter including the failure of implementation to maintain satisfactory organic matter levels. Soil organic matter plays a major role in soil functions and quality such as a source of nutrients, promotion of favourable soil physical condition, soil biotic population and plant nutrients absorption. These beneficial effects to soil organic matter imply that the maintenance of satisfactory level of organic in soils is essential for sustainable soil management. Organic recycling for soil improvement project was set up to serve the resolution of farmers poverty in rural area of Thailand. The project was conducted in the rural development component of national development plans, beginning with the Fifth National Economic and Social Development Plan (1982 - 1986) until the present Its implementation consists of training, programme in compost making for farmers, field demonstration and extension of compost making and also green manure application and its seed production, and some research activities on organic fertilizers as well. It was launched in 38 provinces in the initial stage of the Fifth National Economic and Social Development Plan and later was extended to 76 provinces. To date, there is a project for sustainable agriculture established by the collaboration between Thailand and the DANCED project.

Most farmers, compost producers, development, environmental and energy - related NGOs participate in the organic recycling project.

Technical backup-up

Organic fertilizer is recommended to increase crop yields. Some experimental results conducted in eastern and northeastern Thailand showed that the application of organic fertilizer combined with chemical fertilizer would appropriately raise the crop yield (Figure 1).

Composting is the process of decomposition of waste products from farmlands and byproducts of agro - industry microbial activities. At present, LDD1 is an effective micro - organism for the decomposition process selected and isolated by government technical specialists. There are plenty of agricultural waste products such as rice straw, cornstalks and corncobs, soybean pods which can be used as raw materials for compost. Up to now, agro - industry has released various kinds of waste product such as bagasses, rice hull, sawdust and coconut dust which could be converted to organic fertilizer and are included a lot of animal waste in Thailand. Nevertheless, some legumes can be applied as manure by planting and incorporating in flowering stage to make the soil fertile, these plants are known as green manure such as Sesbania are recommended for lowland or paddy field mean while Crotalaria juncea and Vigna and Canavalia ensiformis are suitable for upland areas.

Ecological restoration

Compost can reduce environmental problems due to agricultural waste and industrial waste products by means of recycle processing from raw materials to organic fertilizer, reduces burning of rice straw in paddy fields and decreases bad odour, insects and pathogens from organic garbage, diminishes environmental problems from various kinds of industrial waste such as bagasse, distillery waste, filter cakes from sugar factories and wastewater from canneries. Making compost from water hyacinth can solve water pollution due to concentrations of water hyacinth clogging canals, rivers and other waterways. Compost can maintain the balance of environmental ecology system.

Levels of project success and failure

The Organic Matter for Soil Improvement Project was set up in 1982 to encourage farmers living in unfertile areas, particularly in rural poverty area in 32 provinces to make 50 000 tonnes of compost. Implementation of the project target was achieved because farmers accepted the concept of organic fertilizer. However, the project in the Eighth National Economic and Social Development Plan had been present continuously from the Fifth Plan. Since 1982, 3 889 000 tonnes of compost was produced and 41 120 ha of green manure utilization was done by demonstration and extension. Recently, commercial companies have manufactured microbial accelerators for compost making and produced compost for commercial purposes.


Two major measures, (i) prevention and (ii) improvement and reclamation were implemented in salt - affected areas.

Improvement measures are mostly applied in slightly and moderately saline areas. Adopted technology packages, e.g. salt - tolerant plant varieties, compost, organic matter, green manure, and soil amendment are used to improve soil properties and increase yields.

Prevention and reclamation measures are used in strongly saline soils areas. In the Northeast where strongly salt - affected soils occur, biological control as reforestation which include screening of suitable salt - tolerant varieties of plants with deeper rooting system and high consumptive use of water are recommended to prevent spread of soil salinization. These plants have been grown in recharge areas to reduce amount of excess water that percolated to the water table. This lowers the saline groundwater table to the depth that capillary rise will not bring saline water up to the soil surface. Reforestation minimized salt - affected area in the project site by a proportion of 5:1.

In the coastal areas where saline soils are formed from marine or brackish water sediment and subjected to inundation of sea water or brackish water during high tide, constructing of dykes or polders has been recommended to prevent the encroachment of sea water or brackish water and to leach salts from root zone with rainwater or water of lower salt concentration.

Reclamation processes usually required soluble calcium for replacing exchangeable sodium. Desalinization of these soils showed that at the depth of 0 - 100 cm the average EC was reduced by 40 percent, while the highest desalinization occurred at the depth of 20 - 40 cm.

Level of participation of people, farmers’ associations and NGOs

In northeast Thailand's Nakonrachasima province, inappropriate land use resulted in soil salinization from the movement of saline ground water, and reduction of arable land and forest areas. A pilot project on reforestation for prevention of soil salinization was operated. Seventy percent of farmers from 31 villages agreed to participated and have their land reforested to prevent soil salinization.

Technical backup

Soil and crop management techniques, biological and engineering control measures have been conducted to assist in the prevention, improvement and reclamation of lands affected by salinity. Moreover, legislative measure, sometime is needed to protect deterioration of cultivated lands.

Monitoring land salinization was conducted by using satellite imagery in conjunction with ground verification. As salt - affected soils are dynamic, monitoring must be a continuing activity. This is useful in research, in preparing saline soil maps and, in particular, salinization control. Studies in the northeast and central plain regions helped classify salt - affected lands and in identifying improvements and control measures and research, e.g. programmes in reforestation, increasing crop yields in salt - affected lands and in influencing the effect of shrimp farming in fresh water areas.

Ecological restoration

Environment become important in terms of soil salinization problems. Although inappropriate landuse such as salt - making and brackish water shrimp farming give farmers high profit, they can cause serious impact on adjacent areas and the environment. This includes the reduced capacity of the land to provide long term economic value, the increased investment cost and the problem of soil and water management. In the northeast, inland saline soils are constantly expanding. Inappropriate land use results in soil salinization from the movement of saline water, and reduction of arable land and forest areas.

The improvement and rehabilitation of these areas led to the use of marginally suitable and unsuitable land which will result in ecological restoration including sustainable use of land.

Watershed management

The problems of catchment area of major rivers which are being largely degraded by forest encroachment and agricultural exploitation are now the serious situation of the country. The effects have caused severe erosion and sediment transportation downstream as well as many other changes in hydrological characteristics. The crisis has become more serious in this decade from consequent effects of flash flood alternate with water shortage. Then the need of watershed management becomes more imperative and should be taken into consideration.


Government has conducted many activities to help farmers solve soil problems and get more food production, including (i) the improvement of low to moderate saline soils by using African Sesbania and other kinds of green manure resulting in rice yield per rai increases of 225 - 300 kg/yr, (ii) improvement of acid soils in the central plain and acid and saline soils in the south by using agricultural lime with major crop yields increasing by 255 kg/yr and (iii) soil improvement by using compost and green manure helps increase major crops by 20 percent and decrease chemical applications by 20 percent.

Income and employment generation

Government agencies encourage income and employment generation by two main activities:

Coordinate with local organizations who take care of farmer groups in encouraging farmers to produce seeds of green manure plants distributed by the government. Government then purchases all production by variety, quantity, quality and price.

Hire the private sector to produce the plant seeds. The government agency will identify such specifications variety, quantity and quality.

Historical trends

Economic policies

The Eighth Plan identifies one objective concerning the proper utilization of natural resources and environment to support sustainability in economic and social development and improvement of quality of life.

Regarding land resource, one department responsible for soil management has been assigned to reduce soil erosion of at least one million rai per year and rehabilitate at least one million rai a year of the area troubled by saline soils, acid soils and degraded soils

All development activities have to be implemented in order to maintain the increasing of agricultural product without harming nature.

The government village to be the representative of the government agency and let them provide suggestion concerning land development to farmers. The government agency also conducts the following activities to reduce soil erosion problem.

Land use zoning

Apply GIS to do land use zoning in 255 watershed areas. Establish soil suitability map at the scale of 1: 50,000 and the recommendation of appropriate soil management and follow up present land use to make a marketing plan. Establish land suitability map for brackish water shrimp farming at the scale of 1: 250 000 in 41 provinces and a map of proper area for brackish water shrimp farming in coastal area at the scale of 1: 50 000 in 25 provinces.

Soil and water conservation, soil improvement and soil and land management

Soil and water conservation

Prevent soil erosion by conducting soil and water conservation system and planting vetiver grass. Develop small - scale water sources: construct farm ponds; improve land by establishing proper system of land and water utilization.

Soil improvement and management

Improve soils by using compost and green manure; reduce soil problems such as saline soils and acid soils by using non - chemical methods; manage land utilization in the land that have special characteristics such as coastal land, highland and peat land.

Research and development

Government has conducted research studies based on groups of soil series and disseminates the research results on its own computer network.

GIS development

A government agency has developed its own computer network and linked data between its headquarters and local sites. As a result, farmers and the local staff will be able to use the data to solve their problems by one stop services.

Farmers and local staff potential development

The government agency has conducted training courses for the local staff as well as volunteer soil doctor and farmers to improve their efficiency in using high technologies to solve land use problems.

Administrative activities

The government agency has conducted the following three administrative activities: five techniques to increase work efficiency; public sector standard management systems and outcomes: PSO; Output - oriented budgetary system.

Investment trends and prioritization in land during the Ninth Plan (2002 - 2007)

The main objective of the Ninth Plan focuses on the development of human resource by improving education and health system, and management of natural resource and environment in accordance with the development of science and technology.

The plan also emphasizes on the balance between the utilization and the rehabilitation of natural resource which leads to sustainable natural resource utilization. It is expected that, in the year 2006, soil erosion problem area will be decreased at least 0.8 million ha. and the area of acid soil, saline soil as well as low fertility soil will be rehabilitated at least 1.6 million ha.

Long term perspective plan developed for land development

Aim Maintain the fertility of soil resource to be the base of sustainable agricultural development.

Objective To achieve sustainable land use by soil and water conservation and soil improvement practice.

Transfer land development technology to the public and promote popular participation to be responsible for soil resource management over the long term.

Strategies Land survey and classification by zoning land use area in accordance with client needs in each agency and follow up the situation of land utilization in order to evaluate and set the agricultural productivity and marketing plans.

Improvement of integrated soil resource management with focusing on area participation

Development of land resource management and research in order to get optimum use by accelerating the conduct of soil management and research according to group of soil series. GIS technology may be used for this activity.

Develop systems of technology transfer and public relation, land development service, soil data, and land utilization for the target group. Technology transfer will be done through the centre of agricultural technology transfer of each subdistrict: giving soil data, developing arable land for sustainable agriculture. Each activity will be conducted by using GIS technology.

Develop land information and GIS systems throughout the country as one - stop service centres; improvement of working system and development of capacity building by: supporting private sector and educational institutions to participate in government activities; and training government officials to use new technologies of administration, technique and operation concerning their job; reorganization by decentralizing some of officers to work in local area to support and strengthen the work of the local stations; developing work standard of the government agencies by using PSO, five techniques to increase work efficiency and output - oriented budgetary system.


Relate land and water development activities to the FAO Special Programme for Food Security. At present, sustainable agriculture is well known among researchers and should extend to the farmer. The principle of sustainable agriculture is to exploit natural resources such as organic fertilizer and biofertilizer as much as possible in producing crops and to try to reduce the amount of chemical substances in both fertilizer and pesticide. This can be achieved by introducing crop diversity and exploiting natural resources as much as possible.

The use of organic fertilizer from organic matter for soil improvement is well known among people who are aware of the toxicity of food due to the application of chemical substances. Such persons require organically produced fruits and vegetables so that now that there are specialized companies selling organic produce, and there are farmers willing to produce organic fruits and vegetables.

Total agricultural waste in Thailand is approximately 36 million tonnes/year. Industrial waste is 23 million tonnes/year and animal waste is 22 million tonnes/year.

Shrimp culture has been done in 22 455 ha in 23 provinces of arable land in Thailand's central plain. The rapid increase of inappropriate land use has resulted in decreasing arable land. Moreover, discharged saline water from shrimp ponds into adjacent areas by irrigation canals or seepage of saline water has caused soil salinization. This situation has impacted the availability of land for cultivation. In July 1998, the government acted with regard to such salinity problems, introducing a total ban on shrimp farming in freshwater areas throughout the country and at the same time announcing its intention to reclaim the land to be use for agricultural purposes.

The adoption of sophisticated soil and water conservation technologies especially proper cropping systems plus adequate conservation measures and the application of the concept of sustainable agriculture will lead to the alleviation of farmer poverty.

Economic returns on investment of soil and water improvements

Agricultural land use often results in land degradation and the reduction of productivity. Degradation of land results in loss of current income and increase the risk and also threaten prospects for economic growth. Despite relatively low average return to agriculture, the cost of degradation, and thus the benefits of conservation, are substantial. However, there are methodological problems in estimating cost and benefit of soil and water conservation on regional or national level.

The economic impacts of erosion can be analyzed from two perspectives, on - site impacts and off - site impacts. Farmers are concerned only with the on - site costs and benefits of soil erosion, whereas society must also be concerned with off - site or external costs. Off - site costs and benefits are an integral part of the economic impacts on land degradation.

From the farmers perspective, costs of soil erosion consists of two components, direct cost; costs incur to farmers to undertake soil conservation measure and foregone output; the loss of current output results from using less soil. The benefits of soil conservation are the gains in current and future production and thus income incurring to farmers from having more soil available today and in the future. In measuring the on - site costs of soil erosion, the main objective is to estimate the present value of net income lost through excessive soil erosion, that is the difference between present value of net returns of farming system with soil conservation and present value of net returns with erosion.

Besides the on - site impacts, there are many possible off - site or downstream impacts of soil erosion for instance, reservoir sedimentation, effects on agricultural in lowlands, impacts on water supply and potability and impacts on drought or flood cycles. In measuring off - sites costs is to estimate the present value of any external costs arising from the downstream impacts, that is the foregone net economic benefits from any loss of downstream economic activity.

Adoption of soil conservation measure and maintenance and improvement if such practices are the ultimate measures of success of any soil conservation initiative. Farmers, especially subsistence ones, have limited financial resources to invest in soil conservation. Also factor, such as land tenure, credit and marketing systems discourage long - term investment and land productivity preservation. Farmers are reluctant to undertake efforts not providing income or reducing their input costs, either in cash or in - kind services. This means that conservation measures must have visible short - term benefits to farmers; benefits they would appreciate might be increased yield per land unit or better production per unit of labour. Technology that is appropriately designed and properly implemented is necessary for success.

Lessons from successful projects

The Organic Recycling for Soil Improvement project of the Land Development Department has succeeded in making Thai farmers aware of the benefits of using agricultural organic waste as compost for soil improvement. The department produces 150 000 packages of microbial activator LDD.1 every year for rapidly decomposing plant residues to make about 150 000 tonnes of compost per year. Microbial activator LDD.1 consists of such beneficial microorganisms as bacteria, actinomycetes and fungi having high efficiency in decomposing plant residues. Furthermore, the department promotes green manure production in agricultural areas and supports green manure seed programmes for farmers.

Management approach for land development projects

At present, government agencies have soil 'doctor' units throughout Thailand. Such units help farmers afford and apply the new technology in soil and water conservation and soil improvement in their fields so that farmers can make better use of their land area, increase their income by increasing crop production and preserve and improve sopil quality. In addition, soil and water conservation demonstration villages have also been set up as the pattern for farmers to adopt on their land.

An Organic Recycling Project for Soil Improvement has been introduced and promoted to Thai farmers by technical specialists from regional centres in 69 provinces. Thai farmers learn about soil management focusing on organic agriculture concerns such as building soil by adding compost, animal manure, green manure, and plant residues such as unburned rice straw and mulches.

Concering watershed development, management activitiy programmes have begun to improve land use such as:

Examples of development projects in land sector

The Organic Recycling Project for Soil Improvement is one example of development projects in the land sector. There is an extension policy regarding soil organic matter management using agricultural organic wastes to farmers in Thailand's land development villages. Officials in all regional centres support and promote the use of microbial activators (LDD.1) and green manure seeds as well as giving agricultural extension information on the role of organic matter in soil and organic waste utilization for producing organic fertilizers.

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