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Chapter 1 - Project background

1.1 Project problem and concept

Khao Phu Luang National Reserved Forest, located some 250 km northeast of Bangkok, covers an area of 1 178 km2 of rolling hill country. As recently as 40 years ago, the whole area had a dense natural cover of dry evergreen and dipterocarp forest with many streams flowing in the valleys between the hills. It was largely uninhabited except for a scattering of isolated forest dwellers who gathered forest produce as a livelihood. A few farming communities also existed along the edges of the reserve.

By 1980, however, less than 10 percent of the natural and undisturbed forest remained and many of the streams had run dry; Khao Phu Luang was forestland only in the legal sense of an area reserved for forest. Successive waves of encroachment by legal and illegal loggers were followed by subsistence farmers who penetrated the forest along the loggers' trails to practice shifting cultivation,

and by commercial farmers and entrepreneurs who exploited the forest land for cash crop production. There was a considerably larger resident population but it was mostly dispersed throughout the area rather than concentrated in village communities. The people were poor and lived in generally depressed conditions. As encroachers on a national reserved forest, they were illegal squatters with no status or rights. Government infrastructure and services such as health, education and agricultural extension services were virtually non-existent.

During this period, the Government in Thailand (as in most countries) focussed on either the role 'of forests in maintaining the ecological balance of the environment -- to protect watersheds, to reduce erosion or deforestation, etc. -- or their productive role to provide timber for industry. The main concern of foresters and of forestry departments was to safeguard the forests, especially in environmentally sensitive areas, to regulate the felling of trees for industry and to monitor and promote replanting schemes to assure the regeneration of forests for future use. Trees were the foresters' main concern. How people were affected by forestry measures was not considered part of their professional responsibility.

More recently, however, there has been a growing awareness among development planners of the need to also consider the potential social role of forests in forestry strategies. It is felt that the pursuit of environmental and industrial objectives should be balanced against socio-economic and political issues. But these issues are complex. In a country such as Thailand where agriculture dominates the economy, forestry is sometimes in competition with agriculture for land resources. Past forestry production has mostly benefited the urban-industrial sector, often at the expense of rural populations. Well-planned forest-based activities, however, have significant potential for alleviating poverty in rural areas. To develop this potential, foresters and forestry departments must extend their concern and Interest -beyond the trees to the people.

This concept is usually referred to as community (or social) forestry. Community forestry provides forest products and trees for rural people who no longer have access to them and finds ways of increasing the benefits of forest resources to people who live in or near them. Community forestry centres on the idea of people's participation -- getting local populations to plan and execute their own projects on a self-help basis. Although opinions vary as to what should be included under the term, it generally covers all activities which intimately involve local people in forestry: growing trees on farms; processing forest products at household, artisanal or small industry level; establishing local woodlots, etc. Community forestry activities involve individuals, households or local communities which take prime responsibility for planning, implementation and management. Outputs include small timber and poles for buildings and fences,. fuelwood, leaves for fodder and organic fertilizer, and fruits and other edible forest products.

The project reviewed in this study clearly falls under the ommunity forestry umbrella -- it is a voluntary resettlement scheme based on an integrated land use approach combining agricultural and forestry activities.

1.2 Deforestation and landlessness in Thailand

The seriousness of the problem of deforestation in Thailand is dramatically Illustrated in national forest data (see Table 1). In 1961, 53 percent of the total land area (273 628 km out of 513 115 km2 ) was forested. In 1982, forest covered only 31 percent of the country. Even more disturbing, the rate of deforestation increased sharply over time. Between 1961 and 1975, the average annual loss of forested area was 4600 km2 whereas in the period 1975-1982 it was 7 492 km2.

The most frequently cited cause of deforestation In Thailand is excessive and uncontrolled tree felling by the commercial lumber industry. Vast areas of valuable forests including teak, yong and other precious lumber have been cut. Even stocks of commoner forest resources such as those used in construction have been depleted. There are now an estimated 10 million hectares (10 000 km ) of formerly forested land which are denuded and lying idle. Thailand, an, important exporter of lumber in the not distant past, is now a net importer.

The conversion of forest land for agricultural purposes also figures importantly in the process of deforestation. Here we can distinguish two phases. The first relates to the historical penetration of unoccupied forestland by subsistence farmers as a normal process of territorial occupation and of community expansion. The second or modern phase is that of the agricultural exploitation of the forest for profit.

There is evidence to suggest that, historically, when the population of an established farming community got too large for the carrying capacity of available village agricultural land, a number of families moved out as a group to clear land and start a new settlement in a neighbouring area. The population of the original community was thereby restored to a size that was manageable In relation to its territory. Over time, however, the territory became fully occupied and there was no room for further local expansion. Landless farmers were forced to migrate over longer distances, often to till land that was only marginally suited for agriculture.

The major change is that access to forestland is now restricted by law; settlers are technically illegal squatters subject to eviction. In spite of this, however, migration to forestland rather than to Bangkok or to other urban centres continues to be the preferred option of landless farmers. If this were not so, given the rate of internal migration in Thailand, the population of Bangkok and of other cities would be at least doubled.

In the last 30 years or so, forestland encroachment and clearing for crop production has not been limited to poor landless farmers. With the growth of agricultural export markets and the relatively high agricultural prices of the 1960s and 1970s, cash crop production, especially of maize and cassava, became highly profitable. Many established commercial farmers, as well as urban and town entrepreneurs using hired labour, cleared vast tracts of forestland for cash cropping. The encroachment and deforestation of the Khao Phu Luang reserved forest described in Chapter 2 provides a striking example of this process. Nonetheless, the rate of increase in area of farmland for the whole country from 1975-1982 was only about one-third the rate of deforestation for the same period (see Table 1).

Table 1 - Forestland and Farmland in Thailand


Forestland km2

% of total area:
513 115 km2

Loss per annum km2

Farmland km2

% of total area:
513 115 km2

Gain per annum


273 628




221 707




209 220



179 538




198 417



180 979




186 518



182 074




175 224



186 306




170 229



188 165




165 470



190 398




160 932



194 070




156 775



197 739





5 564




7 492


2 600

Source : Narinchai Patanapongsa, n.d., p.5

1.3 Thai policy response to deforestation and landlessness

Thai policy makers have long been aware of the need to protect national forests. The Protection and Reservation of Forest Act (1938) set aside about 50 percent of the total area of the country as reserved forestland with Crown property status. Forestry policy on the management and protection of this forestland was further defined in subsequent forest acts (1941, 1957, 1964, and 1978), as well as by a number of less formal but legally binding Cabinet decisions. The main points covered by these documents are: provisions for the demarcation of areas identified for reservation; establishment of national reserved forests; designation within reserved forests of disturbed forests for reforestation, of national parks, wildlife reserves, and areas in which logging concessions are to be granted; and determination of conditions regulating tree felling by concessionaires. Specific guidelines and targets for forestry policy implementation have been set out in the National Five Year Economic and Social Development Plans from 1961 onwards.

The first National Development Plan (1961-1966) provided for the area of forestland to be reduced from 50 to 40 percent of the total land area in response to population increases. A number of land settlement projects on forestland in the 1960s and 1970s were authorized by; the Cabinet. A landmark in this respect was the 1974 decision in principle of the Kukrit Government to grant usufructuary rights to forestland dwellers. The 1978 Forestry Act specifies conditions under which disturbed forestland may be used for non-forestry purposes, including agriculture. The Royal Forest Department (RFD) land licensing scheme, authorized by Ministerial Order (Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives) in 1981, empowers the Director General of the RFD to grant usufructuary rights to up to 15 rai (2.4 ha) of reserved forestland to qualified petitioners. This scheme, known as the Sor Tor Kor (STK) programme after the Thai acronym of the usufructuary title created for this purpose, became a regular feature of RFD-sponsored forest village projects. It is described in greater detail in Chapter 4. The Fifth National Development Plan (1981-1986) departed from its predecessors by stressing income distribution and poverty alleviation more than economic growth. Its forestry measures aimed at conservation rather than commercial exploitation and tried to compromise with the population pressure causing encroachment, for example, by fostering the extension of forest villages under the STK programme.

1.4 Forest policy implementation measures: forest conservation and control

The RFD has consistently lacked the personnel and financial resources to effectively protect reserved forests, national parks and wildlife preserves, or to enforce forestry laws in relation to encroachment and damage. Although removal of settlers from encroached areas has been considered, there has always been much reluctance to move in this direction as such measures are politically unpopular and inconsistent with the image of Government commitment to the welfare of the people. The 1941 Forestry Act defined forest as "land which is unowned according to the Land Act", that is, land which is not under the jurisdiction of the Lands Department, a definition which still holds. Since much of the originally designated forestland area has long since been deforested, the legal definition of forest in such places no longer makes sense and is a source of considerable confusion. In the layman's view, land on which trees have been removed is no longer a forest and therefore forestry laws do not apply.

In the past, many long-term logging concessions were awarded in reserved forest land, with the objective of making the concessionaires responsible for the care and preservation of the forest. In practice, however, these areas have proven to be too large for adequate supervision by the concessionaires, even in the case of the Forest Industry Organization (FIO), a Crown corporation which generally acts in accordance with Government policy. An alternative supply to meet the increasing demand for wood has been provided by illegal loggers who, operating outside of the law, have been much more destructive to natural forests. In 1979, the Government reduced conceded logging areas by 50 percent to conserve wood supplies but illegal logging continues, operated by local organizations which resort to bribery and violence to silence would-be informants and obtain the cooperation of local authorities.

1.5 Forest policy implementation measures: reforestation

Of particular relevance to community forestry project implementation in Thailand are the remedial measures taken to deal with deforestation and forestland encroachment by landless farmers, i.e. reforestation and allocation of public forestland for agricultural purposes, including agroforestry.

The Government has been involved in reforestation for a long period but over a relatively limited area. RFD has been the main agency responsible for this but the FIO has been involved with the forest village approach since 1967. In the 12 years from 1973-1985, 3 267 km of disturbed forest were replante by the RFD. In the 1976-1982 period, the FIO established 469 km of plantations, both independently and in cooperation with provincial lumber companies. At this rate, the total area reforested in the past decade has been substantially less than that deforested in a single year. In a statement made at the end of 1985, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives noted that the total area then being reforested was only 10 percent of the annual rate of natural forest destruction.

Many factors contribute to this state of affairs, the most frequently cited being budgetary constraints and lack of equipment. Others include technical problems such as insufficient attention to species/habitat relationships and accurate timing of reforestation activities, especially in harsh climatic zones such as that found in the northeast of Thailand. Survival can be as low as 50 percent. Managerial factors, such as inadequate attention to worker-supervisor ratios in plantation operations are also significant.

Other factors may be grouped under the general heading of failure to take into account and to relate to the populations affected by the reforestation programmes. Local people have consequently been reluctant to cooperate with officers engaged in reforestation and at times (especially in the case of insurgents) have openly resisted them. Complicating the situation, foresters have been ill-equipped by their training to understand and deal with rural people. The importance of these people-related problems has been recognized by the RFD and measures such as those discussed below are being taken to overcome them.

1.6 Forest policy implementation measures: use of forestland for poverty alleviation

Government programmes initiated since the 1960s to implement the policy of using disturbed public forestland to solve problems of rural poverty and landlessness can be divided into two broad categories: those planned in relation to reforestation activity; and those designed principally to provide farmland to landless farmers. Prominent among first category programmes are those using the forest (or agroforestry) village approach to involve villagers in reforestation while at the same time providing them with land to cultivate. The FIO operating in its own forestland concessions pioneered in this field in 1968 but other projects have been implemented directly by or with the strong involvement of the RFD. In all cases, forest village project sites remained under RFD jurisdiction as reserved forestland.

Second category programmes, on the other hand, were executed by the Department of Public Welfare (Self-Help Land Settlement Division), Ministry of Interior, and by agencies of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives including the Agricultural Cooperative Promotion Department (Land Settlement Cooperatives Division), and the Agricultural Land Reform Office. These programmes have been implemented on degazetted forestland, over which jurisdiction was transferred from the RFD to the implementing agency concerned. Although the Government allowed the private use of forestland under these programmes, it did not transfer outright ownership to the beneficiaries. Certificates were issued under the authority of the Ministry of Agriculture which gave temporary rights to the land. This issue will be discussed further when the implications of the policy are considered in relation to the implementation of the STK programme in the social forestry project site.

The forest village concept as developed by FIO in its concession areas stemmed from the need, on the one hand, to control shifting cultivation by forestland encroachers and, on the other, to create a

pool of workers to work on tree plantations. The basic concept was to group the encroachers of a plantation area in one location and to provide work and living conditions that were sufficiently attractive to convince them to abandon shifting cultivation and join the work force of the FIO replanting project. The approach used was a modification of the Taungya system and was described as a socio-agri-sylvic system.

The plan involved setting up village sites for 100 households, each complete with infrastructure: water, electricity, drainage, roads and provisions for schools, temples and cooperative stores, provided without cost to village members. Employment was guaranteed for at least two members of each household as was the right to use 10 rai (1.6 ha) of plantation land a year to produce one's own crops by intercropping with plantation trees and provision of 0.5-1 rai (.08-.016 ha) in the village area to build a house. Each household had to assume responsibility for at least 10 rai (1.6 ha) of tree plantation a year. If a household planted at least 30 rai (4.8 ha) of trees which survived the first three years, it was entitled to a special bonus of Baht 1 500 (US$75 at 1967 prices). Thereafter, if the household continued to plant at least 10 rai of surviving trees per year, the bonus was Baht 1 200 ($60) a year. Also included in the package of benefits was: the provision of agricultural credit to farmers -- Baht 200 per rai under cultivation ($62.50 per ha) paid in five installments; the free use of FIO vehicles to transport agricultural produce to market outlets; and the provision of health care by FIO medical personnel and facilities.

By all accounts, the record of the FIO forest village approach is excellent, both In terms of cost effectiveness of reforestation and of benefits to forest village members. However, it falls far short of meeting the demand for reforestation and the needs of the rural poor. Currently, FIÓ forest villages accommodate only about 2 000 households. In recognition of this fact, the Fifth National Plan established a national policy supporting the creation of forest villages with a target of 100 new villages for the planning period. Moreover, by Ministerial Ordinance, the RFD was directly involved in forest village project implementation and by 1984 had, set up about 75 villages. Theoretically, RFD forest villages should have the same welfare and infrastructure benefits as FIO villages. However, as a Government agency, it has lacked the managerial flexibility of the quasi-private sector commercial enterprise-based FIO. A distinguishing feature of the RFD villages is that members are given usufructuary rights to designated agricultural land set aside for permanent cultivation within the village territory. In FIO villages, members have no such permanent holdings but intercrop in the plantation area on a rotating basis corresponding to the growth cycle of the trees planted. Theoretically, therefore, the RFD villages have greater potential for the villagers to achieve self-reliance and independence because their land holdings provide more opportunity for self-generated income.

In this context, second category programmes dealing with the provision of degazetted forestland for agricultural enterprise are not without relevance. The early agricultural land settlement projects run by the Public Welfare Department met with little success. Existing regulations established that only unoccupied deforested land could be made available for the relocation of landless poor. By implication, this land was invariably of poor quality. This, combined with the fact that little was provided In the way of development inputs, created a situation that was not viable for the settlers. Later land settlement projects of the Public Welfare Department and of other agencies have been more successful because they have given more realistic consideration to economic viability from the settlers' point of view. Land settlements In the South, for example, were organized in the context of tree crop plantations: rubber, oil palm, etc. Current land reform projects of the Agricultural Land Reform Office on encroached forestland are planned with the assumption that the provision of land alone is not enough. Beyond making available a minimum economically viable size holding, a development package includes the provision of agricultural credit to ensure that even the smallest holders can earn an adequate income from their land.

1.7 Elaboration of the RFD/UNDP/FAO Social Forestry Pilot Project

The RFD approached the UNDP/FAO for assistance in the early 1970s. Several options were examined and the alternative seen as most feasible was an integrated interdisciplinary effort originally formulated as a project involving "small scattered fuelwood plantations in combination with agro-forestry and resettlement." The Government agreed that a pilot project should be implemented and, if successful, replicated throughout northeastern Thailand. A project document for a project planning phase (Phase I) was prepared and signed in March 1979 by representatives of the Royal Thai Government (RTG), the UNDP and FAO, and work began soon afterwards.

Several tasks related to project preparation were accomplished during the planning phase which lasted one and a half years. These included the identification, demarcation and survey of the area for the pilot project. The site selected was an area of some 9 600 ha located within the Khao Phu Luang national reserved forest. It was characterized by a relatively harsh climate but was nevertheless suited to upland agricultural crops. The site was deemed to be representative of the problems of deforestation of northeastern Thailand. Several surveys and studies were conducted to gather and collate data of relevance to project preparation, including socio-economic surveys; a soil and potential land use survey; a forest inventory; a review of forest policy and legislation; and agroforestry application studies. Contact was established with Governmental and other agencies having expertise and services which could be useful to the project including provincial and district Government offices, agricultural extension, community development, public health, non-formal education, fishery, as well as banks.

Meetings with residents of the project area were arranged at household 9- village and sub-district (tambon) levels to discuss the project with them and elicit their reaction. Meanwhile, the RFD proceeded to lay the foundation for Phase II of the project. This included a 16 km road to improve access to the project area; a tree seedling nursery on an area of about 1.6 ha; a small trial planting to test the suitability of available species; and constructing semi-permanent field offices and staff accommodations.

The project document for Phase II set out the objectives under four headings: forest rehabilitation; socio-economic development; project staff development; and infrastructural development. The immediate objective of the project was rehabilitation of degraded natural forest resources in the project area by reforestation in 40 percent of the total area, harmonized with socio-economic development (or alleviation of poverty) of forest encroachers as a precondition for the

establishment of man-made forests. The socio-economic aspects of the project (in the form of inputs leading to in-creased cash benefits, land allotment, infrastructure and services to forest encroachers) were intended to attract the forest encroachers to resettle permanently in and farm the remaining 60 percent of the project area and, in the end, to become willing participants in forestry activities (using agroforestry techniques) to complement cash earnings from agricultural production.

The project laid strong emphasis on staff development, especially in different aspects of community development. The foresters were also intended to play a leading role in getting agencies concerned with rural development to actively cooperate with foresters and, at' the appropriate time, take over the responsibilities in these new settlements that are theirs by custom.

Institutional arrangements for implementation of the project provided for two cooperating components, the RFD and the UNDP/FAO technical advisory group. The former included a National Project Director and his Deputy, a Project Field Director and his three Deputies, technical support staff, auxiliary staff and a complement of labourers. The technical advisory group was composed of a Chief Technical Adviser, two short-term Associate Experts, an Administrative Assistant and a number of part-time consultants or experts drawn from local universities. Provisions were also made for the involvement of locally- based units and staff of the Ministries of Interior, Agriculture and Cooperatives, Public Health and Education in an auxiliary capacity. Those which actually became associated with the project in a significant manner included:

Based on the original projection of a project duration of four years, the project agreement was for a RTG contribution in local currency of Baht 30 579 950 (US$1 528 998 at 1981 prices). In fact, it was to be much higher than that as this amount covered only the participation of the RFD in the project and not that of other Government agencies which provided funds for roads, schools, health stations, extension services, etc. out of their own budgets. The UNDP budget for the project was US $1 100 000.

The Project Document for Phase Ii of the project was approved for implementation and. signed by representatives of the RTG and of UNDP/FAO in October 1981. It was placed under the responsibility of the Royal Forest Department, the designated RTG implementing agency, and Its official title was: Development of Diversified Forest Rehabilitation in North East Thailand (UNDP Project No. THA/81/004). The project duration was subsequently extended by one year to September 1986.

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