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28. Forest and poverty alleviation in Thailand
Suree Bhumibhamon
[41]


ABSTRACT

During the last decade, the percentage of Thailand's population living below the poverty line has declined by half to 11.4 percent in 1996. However, the proportion in rural areas has increased to 12.9 percent. In the ninth national economic and social development plan Thailand has targeted poverty reduction and set four main objectives, which include attacking poverty and inequality, increasing the potential of the poor, strengthening the poor-dependent economic sector and strengthening the participation process. To alleviate poverty, the present government has set up a series of activities, including debt suspension for farmers, improved capacity in sustainable agriculture, one sub-district one product programme, village and community fund, bank of the poor and the "30 Baht Health Care Programme". People in Thailand maintain a close relationship with forest and trees and a very large number of the rural poor derive some part of their livelihood incomes from forest resources. Forests still remain the main source of medicinal plants, construction wood, fuelwood and charcoal, and about 240 plant species are identified as edible. Their impact, however, has frequently been limited by failure of the government to transfer full or effective rights and by regulations and actions that restrict access by small producers to markets for forest products. Thailand has however, developed strategies for sustainable management of the forestry sector.

INTRODUCTION

Poverty is a massive problem which means having insufficient food, income and other inputs to maintain an adequate standard of living. Poverty may mean vulnerability to shocks to the livelihood systems and inability to cope with and recover from them. Poverty also means weaknesses in the position of the poor which prevent them from exercising options that a resource endowment could make available. Therefore, in order to address poverty, one has to look at empowerment, security and opportunity.

The office of the National Economic and Social Development Board has conducted research on the incidence of poverty in Thailand. Thailand's major industries are agriculture, tourism, mining, tin and light manufacturing. Thailand has been a country with significant economic growth in the past. GNP per capita in 1990 was US$ 2740 but as the country faced the economic crisis since 1997, it dropped to US$ 1970 in 2002.

Over the past few decades, the percentage of Thailand's population living below the poverty line reduced by half, i.e., from 27.2 percent in 1990 to 11.4 percent in 1996, but rose to 12.9 percent in rural areas. It may be mentioned that the poor in Thailand can be classified into two groups, the ultra poor and the marginal poor. The ultra poor (very poor) are defined as those with annual income of less than 80 percent of the poverty line; they constitute 9.34 percent of the total population of 5.8 million people; 3.4 million of which are in the farming sector.

Urban poverty in Thailand was also studied and there are about 2000 slum communities with 2 million people. They are daily wage earners and small traders. They are faced with the problem of land and housing, insecurity, property, rights in the city, access to basic infrastructure, health and education. Community network helps them in sharing problems and set up communal decision making to find possible ways to upgrade their way of living.

Poverty relies much on several indicators, such as level of income and consumption, socio-economic indicators, vulnerability to risks and socio-political access. In Thailand, the poverty line is set to its four dimensions, including income, health and education, vulnerability, voicelessness and powerlessness. The 1997 Human Development Report presented the Gender-related Development Index and Human Poverty Index measuring achievements of 146 countries in life expectancy, education and income, and Thailand was ranked 39 in the list.

In its ninth national economic and social development plan, Thailand has targeted poverty and set four main objectives, which include attacking poverty and inequality, increasing the potential of the poor, strengthening the poor-dependent economic sector and strengthening the participation process. Moreover, rural development policies in general and agriculture policies in particular, have traditionally been implemented in a top down and prescriptive manner and are generally unresponsive to actual development needs of local communities. Modern production technologies introduced to poor farmers have a high risk factor attached to them and often lead to severe levels of debt in rural areas. This results in loss of farm-lands for many marginalized farmers who are not able to repay their debts.

So, to alleviate poverty, the present government has set up a series of activities, including debt suspension for farmers, improved capacity in sustainable agriculture, one-district-one-product programme, village and community fund, bank of the poor and the 30-Baht Health Care Programme.

CLOSE RELATIONSHIP OF FOREST, TREES AND PEOPLE

Traditionally, agriculture is the backbone of the Thai society. The country still remains one of the six countries in the world that produce sufficient food and export it to the world market.

All natural forestlands and natural forest resources in Thailand are considered property of the State. The Forest Policy therefore, aims at preservation and utilization of forest resources. However, people in Thailand maintain a close relationship with forest and trees and a very large number of the rural poor derive some part of their livelihood inputs from forest resources. Forests form an integral part of the social and cultural framework for forest dwellers. Furthermore, about 240 plant species are identified as edible plants by the Thais.

Forests still remain the main source of medicinal plants, construction wood, fuelwood and charcoal. However, their impact has frequently been limited by failure of the government to transfer full or effective rights and by regulations and actions that restrict access by small producers to markets for forest products. Thailand has however, developed strategies for sustainable management of the forestry sector as mentioned in the eighth national economic and social development plan (1997-2001). The strategies include:

To conserve forests and protect biological diversity, Thailand has established a comprehensive protected areas system covering an area of 10.6 million ha or 20.6 percent of total land area, including 124 national parks, 53 forest parks, 57 wildlife sanctuaries, 44 non-hunting areas, 15 botanical gardens, 22 protected mangrove forests and 49 arboreta.

FARMERS IN THE FOREST

Only 21 percent of Thais live in urban areas. With large number of people living in rural areas, the population growth in Thailand has led to increased land encroachment. Forest encroachment has disturbed the existing ecosystems and when forest areas were converted for settlement and farm practices, severe environment degradation was observed. Certainly, the most effective way to slow down population growth and poverty would be to increase the economic strength of the country. Approximately, 60 percent of the population is employed in the agricultural sector. However, agriculture accounts for only about 9 percent of the GDP.

In 1971, Thailand adopted a national policy to stabilize the population by promoting a creative government-supported programme. The growth rate of 3.2 percent in 1971 dropped to 1.6 percent in 1986 and 1.1 percent in 1998. At present, the population of Thailand is 62.3 million with a growth rate of 0.8 percent. Life expectancy in Thailand has increased from 60 years in 1960 to 69 years in 2002.

There are about one million families or about ten million people living illegally in the forest, including one million members of hill tribes. It has been observed that about 1 out of 6 Thais depend for livelihood on the natural forests. It is expected that with the proposed Community Forestry Bill, the legislative recognition of the customary rights of the local communities to use, manage and protect their forests will be possible. This means that people will be able to participate in decision making concerning the use and sustainable management of forests.

LOGGING BAN

The Royal Forest Department (RFD) was established over a hundred years ago to regulate teak logging operations in the north of Thailand. A management plan was prepared by the British (Mr. H. Slade) and successively developed further. It was recommended to send four Thai scholars to study forestry in England, 11 to Dehradun and 32 to Burma Forestry School. Most foresters were trained to understand forest management, control logging operations and transportation, marking logs as well as collect tax for the government.

The establishment of Phrae Forestry School, 68 years ago, was aimed to train Thais to understand logging practices, manages forests and planting more trees. After 20 years of establishment, Phrae Forestry College and three other colleges were merged to form Kasetsart University. Faculty of Forestry was formed for greater emphasis on forest management, forest biology, silviculture, wood technology and forest engineering. The curriculum was revised several times and higher degree (M. Sc. and Ph. D.) programmes are now offered.

By the early 1960s, development theory and practices strongly focused on industry-led approaches, where rural poor can provides manual labour. Like other underdeveloped countries, forest products in Thailand enter extensively into economy and face vigorous demand. Logging areas for teak, besides other hardwood and softwood species, were expanded throughout the country. Poor management practices and the uncontrolled encroachment led the government to declare total logging ban in 1989. To achieve this goal, the government has set up the following action plans:

LAND-USE PROBLEMS

As there are a large number of people living in the forest areas, the government authorities have been active in establishing settlements for landless families. The Forest Village System was introduced by the Forest Industry Organization (FIO) in the plantation units and further implemented in other areas.

Forest Village System will provide the land of 1 Rai (40x40m) for settlement and 14 Rai for farm practices. Rural poor will be hired for forest plantation activities and at least two members in each family will have better chance to earn some incomes. They are allowed to plant crops in between tree rows and will receive the award if the trees in the area of their responsibility, survive well and show good growth.

STK (right to form) Certification was modified from Forest Village System and the programme expanded very fast, while the basic requirements had not been managed properly. However, STK did not improve the security of ownership or provide incentives for reforestation. STK cannot be used as collateral for loans, while the land improvement cannot be liquidated through sale. Later, land reform system was introduced and Land Usufructory System was adopted but the restriction of transferability is well intended aiming to prevent the sale of land and the continuation of forest encroachment. Rural poor still demand more land for settlement, farming practices and aquaculture practices. The existing problems remain to be solved particularly in the protected areas. To counter these problems Thailand has to establish community forests.

EXISTING FORESTS AND DEFORESTATION

Like most developing countries, the forest resources have been disturbed and rural poor were blamed for disturbing the forest. In fact, people from urban areas have been active in demanding land and worked in closed collaboration with rural poor so as to claim more occupied land. In 1900, forests covered about 70 percent of the total land area. This dropped to 53 percent in 1960, 29.4 percent in 1985, 27.95 percent in 1989 and 26.3 percent in 2001. With the new satellite imagery programme, it has been possible to include small marginal forests and left-over forests in the farm. The total existing forest area is now at around 30.6 percent.

There are many factors leading to forest destruction in Thailand. Shifting cultivation, encroachment for settlement, farm practices, tourist resorts and shrimp farms have been reported in various parts of the country. Illegal logging practices have diminished the existing forests and commercial tree species have been logged out. Tree cutting for fuelwood and charcoal has been done by rural poor. Poor management practices result in forest area becoming deforested. The disturbance of the existing forests as caused by uncontrolled encroachers and hunters also cause forest fires. Deforestation has also caused floods, erosion and siltation in the main rivers. The government has managed to complete watershed classification work in 24 major watershed areas.

NATURAL REHABLITATION

Natural forest rehabilitation has succeeded in reducing biotic influences. However, more forest rehabilitation work has been promoted in Thai society during the last five years. About 5 million Rai was allocated for this work and the private sector, companies and organization can provide their financial support and set up their management techniques to protect the planting sites and generate tree growth. Petroleum Authority of Thailand (PTT) has completed the rehabilitation tasks in about one million Rai and presented to HM the King. The management practices were applied into action work and with the financial support from the company, rural poor who live near the forests have better opportunity to help in planting and protecting the forests. More forest rehabilitation work will be developed.

REFORESTATION

Tree planting has been taken up as industrial plantations, tree farming, road side tree planting, farm woodlots, shelterbelts etc. Thailand grows teak as the main economic species. Other important tree species are Acacia auriculaeformis, Acacia mangium, Afzelia xylocarpa, Azadirachta excelsa, Azadirachta indica siamensis, Casuarina junghuniana, Dipterocarpus alatus, Eucalyptus camaldulensis, E. deglupta, E. urophylla, Leucaena leucocephala, Pinus kesiya, and Pterocarpus macrocarpus.

It is hoped that the private sector will plant more trees in the future and this will provide more jobs for the rural poor. However, the impact of the fast growing demand for raw material will promote people to grow more eucalypts on the farmlands in the near future.

The concept of agroforestry has been used so as to make efficient use of land. Poor farmers will have better income from the practices. It is also possible to promote community reforestation with agroforestry systems in the degraded forest area and this may lead to the establishment of local industry centers.

COMMUNITY FORESTS IN THAILAND

Community forestry will provide opportunities for communities to build and strengthen their governance skills and capacity to influence policy. Local people improve their management skill for managing local natural resources. Community forest is also honouring diversity through ethics of reciprocity. Since the early 1990, Community Forest Bill has come under intense negotiation and debate among policy makers, government officials, foresters, villagers, non-government organizations and academics. Four versions of the act were drafted for debate and negotiations in 1997. Community Forest Act has not yet been approved by the parliament.

FUTURE TREND

For more than four decades, His Majesty the King of Thailand has been demonstrating sustainable development techniques through his 240 royal projects on the grounds throughout Thailand. Sustaining farming has been supported by the government. Certainly, the better way of farming should be permaculture which leads to a sustainable way of farming where people and nature support one another.

It is also necessary to establish a balance between poverty alleviation and conservation through good participatory management plans. More programmes on the participatory management of natural forests and woodland and by the extension of agroforestry will be developed, which will allow the farmers to cooperate with each other, invest their labour and soil fertility through the planting of a variety of crops.

Water is one of the main indicators promoted by the government. In Thailand about 89 percent of the total population has access to safe water. The Year of Water was declared in June 2003 and this will help to bring more participatory management practices to certain ecosystems.

With support to the poor people to participate in decision making, the Thai government has declared war on poverty. The Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has declared that poverty shall be gone in six years. He also promoted one-district-one-product policy so as to bring the local communities throughout the country to produce goods for cash. He has also declared that 25 river basins throughout the country will be rehabilitated.

The government has also restructured the organizations responsible for forestry resources. Royal Forest Department was restructured into several organizations and some subdivisions will be recombined with other departments. It is hoped that the resources will be better managed.

It is noticeable that the poor continue to remain poor while the rich are becoming richer. Previously, the poor would collect minor forest products to sell, while the rich would transport, process and package the products to meet the market demands. It is difficult to solve this universal problem but self-reliance systems can serve the purpose. Self reliance system was suggested by HM the King of Thailand, with the aim that one can adapt to what he has and efficient practices can be developed through proper land classification and utilization.


[41] Faculty of Forestry, Kasetsart University, Bangkok, Thailand; E-mail: fforsrb@nontri.ku.ac.th

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