Thailand: Karens seek to make a living in forest zones


Tanpisit Lerdbamrungchai, The Nation –

Date of publication: 
9 October 2014

Chiang Mai – A GROUP of Karen people in Chiang Mai province has asked for the right to continue using forest zones – where their families have lived for generations – for their livelihood.

“We need a guarantee that we can continue living in our home area,” Wilas Wiwednaro, one of the group’s leaders, said last week as his group submitted a request to the Royal Forest Department (RFD).

His group comprises Karen members from forest zones in Ban Kiao Bong, Chiang Mai’s Galyani Vadhana district.

“Our families have lived here for a long time already. We have not destroyed the forest. The government should not pressure us too much,” Wilas said. He understood, however, that none of his members had land title deeds.

The request from this Karen group for the right to manage the forest zones was made in response to a law that has declared their home area a part of a national reserve.

Galyani Vadhana district chief Adul Huangnil admitted that a large number of hilltribe people lived in headwaters zones, which have become part of the forest reserve, for a long time already.

His district covers about 440,000 rai and is home to not just Karen but also Lisu and Hmong – however just 1,300 rai are held under title deeds.

Adul said although these hilltribe people had engaged in mobile plantations, they usually worked just enough for their family’s consumption.

Somsak Kaewsrinuan, an official of the Raks Thai Foundation, said the government should understand that these mobile plantations did not destroy forest zones.

“They [work] over small plots of land only and sooner or later they will move on, allowing the plots to return to abundance naturally,” he explained.

Sakda Maneewong, director of public participation at the RFD’s Community Forest Management Bureau, said his agency had understood many people had long lived in the forest zones and they were different from investors who engaged in deforestation.

“So, we have made it an urgent mission to check the locals’ identity, history and the forest in their home zones to determine whether they should participate in the demarcation of usable forest zones,” Sakda said.

He believed designating areas for locals to make their living should prevent any further forest encroachment.

Sakda said local villagers might be pinning their hopes on the National Council for Peace and Order’s policy to take tough action against deforesters without adversely affecting locals who had long lived in forest zones.

“The country has about 9,000 community forests to date,” he added.

Sakda said locals were allowed to manage and regulate their community forests. “They will lose the management rights only if the government finds they have failed to protect the forest,” he said.

Somsak said problems of using forest zones for plantations would arise if locals changed their way of life in response to market demand. “If they are going to make plantations for commercial purposes, they will not co-exist peacefully with the forest. They will end up destroying it,” he warned.