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The politics of conservation and the complexity of local control of forests in the northern Thai highlands

by Portal Web Editor last modified Jan 10, 2013 09:11 AM
Contributors: Anan Ganjanapan

This journal article examines state conservation policy and local control of forestland in northern Thailand. Increasing environmental threats led the Thai government to pass a resolution calling for a stronger conservation policy to protect watersheds. The state strictly enforced forest conservation policy on ethnic minorities in the highlands and poor villagers in the lowlands, while favoring business interests in the context of national development. Environmental conservation became a cover for the struggle for control over resources. Shifting cultivation was distorted for having only a negative impact on the environment, disregarding the realities found in local practices that are varied, complex, adaptive, and quite dynamic in many cases. Under heavy competition for the utilization of forests by the poor and developers, forest encroachment and illegal logging were common and commercial interests enjoyed benefits at the expense of the poor. The state's militarized approach to forests conservation policy denied the rights of local communities in forest conservation, and resulted in increased destruction of forests, marginalization of poor villagers and ethnic groups, and aggravation of conflicts between the state and forest settlers. In an effort to defend their community rights to forests, villagers engaged in formal village organizations and created special conservation groups. They translated customary rules into written regulations and organized patrol groups to safeguard the forests. The author argues that forests cannot be conserved in isolation from local villages that have long existed within them. Forest conservation should take into account the concepts of communal property and local participation in forest management.

Author(s): Anan Ganjanapan

Publication Date: 1998

Location: Thailand

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