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Summary of National Report on Protected Areas and Development



The Thailand PAD Review included an assessment of the countryís environmental situation and of the key development sectors that depend significantly on various environmental goods and services provided by PAs. The review demonstrates the importance of PAs as productive assets in the economy, and thus, the need to manage them effectively to maintain and enhance their contribution to sustainable development.

During the past several decades, Thailand underwent rapid economic development. Despite the countryís drift into recession in the 1990s, since 1980 aggregate gross domestic product (GDP) has totalled 142 per cent. Between 1960 and 1990, the area devoted to agriculture doubled, but the area under forest cover was reduced by more than half. The extent and impacts of environmental degradation have become issues of serious national concern. A range of measures and programs has been established to arrest and reverse the negative trends. Since 1987, national socio-economic development plans have included environmental concerns in development policy and planning.

PAs are at the heart of a nationís natural resource conservation strategy. Conserving natural resources is vital in maintaining the productive potential of the national economy. For example, maintaining forest cover is key to conserving national water and soil resources ó fundamental assets for agricultural and industrial production. Conserving pristine habitats has direct economic implications for national revenue generation from tourism. Similar relationships exist between PAs and other sectors of the national economy.

Demographic characteristics

Thailandís population increased from 23 million in 1961 to 62 million by 2001. During this period, a successful National Family Planning Program reduced the countryís annual population growth rate from 1.9 per cent in 1960 to 0.9 per cent in 2002. With the increasing availability of urban employment, Thailandís rural farming population declined from around 90 per cent of total population in 1950 to 70 per cent today. A policy to bring swampland under cultivation was accelerated in the 1960s and 70s. With support from the World Bank, the Royal Thai Government encouraged the expansion of export cash crops. Farmer-homesteaders occupied forest areas cleared by commercial logging. By 1980, rapid population growth ó combined with a policy to expand commercial agriculture ó led to an estimated 10 million people establishing farms on land which had been declared National Forest Reserve. To resolve this problem, the government established a National Land Reform Program, which providing nontransferable usufruct certificates to poor and landless families.

Policy-induced settlement of previously unoccupied land led to rapid deforestation. In response, the government developed policies directed at protecting forest lands and watersheds. By the 1980s and 90s, as industrial development transformed Thailand into one of Asiaís boom economies, the population shift from rural to urban areas relieved some of the pressure on the countryís remaining forests.


Although Thailand experienced unprecedented economic growth in the 1980s and 90s, the benefits were far from equitably shared. In 1992, on the pretext of government corruption, a military coup díetat established a new regime and replaced the national constitution. Broad-based discontent led quickly to the overthrow of the military government and to calls for a new constitution. The enactment of the Peopleís Constitution in 1997 was followed by the Government Decentralisation and Reform Acts 1998 and 1999.

Increasing public concern about the environment, pressure to downsize government, and recognition that local people should play an active role in natural resource management have combined to impel a movement toward decentralised natural resource and protected area management in Thailand. The new constitution provides a mandate for radical reform of the governance system, and for the management and governance of rural natural resources with peopleís participation. Recent government reforms attempt to rectify the past reliance on strictly sectoral and expert-designed resource management approaches and to resolve problems associated with overlapping and competing jurisdictions among some government agencies. A restructuring of agencies responsible for conservation and protected area management took place in October 2002 with the establishment of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE).

Natural resource management

Industrial production has grown steadily over the past two decades and become Thailandís main source of GDP. The country has become one of the worldís most important exporters of agricultural products, and is consistently among the top two or three rice exporters. Investment in irrigation infrastructure has enabled production of two to three crops per year on the nationís best agricultural lands. This benefits millions of farming families across the country.

Yet, for several decades Thailandís annual rate of deforestation was among the highest in the world. Timber sales contributed to national revenues. Conversion of deforested areas to export cash cropping helped boost GDP but resulted in widespread watershed degradation. Large-scale hydro-power projects were constructed in several of Thailandís primary watersheds. Although energy production contributed to industrial development it increased access for illegal logging, settlement and wildlife poaching.

Thailand possesses abundant water resources but demand has begun to outstrip supply. Water demand and deficits are expected to increase. Water resource and irrigation development has been a significant contributor to Thailandís domestic and export agriculture, and has led to the depletion of watersheds and aquifers. Industry is dependent on water, but has contributed substantially to the reduction in quality and quantity. Wetlands located in industrial areas have been polluted with toxic wastes (which infiltrate to subsurface aquifers) and have been extensively converted to paddy production.

Thailandís magnificent coastal and marine areas, tropical and subtropical mountain ranges, and unique and diverse cultures have long been highly regarded for tourism. Tourism has become a major employer and revenue provider; more than ten per cent of the work force is currently employed directly or indirectly in the tourism sector. In 2000, tourism contributed 11.4 per cent of Thailandís GDP and accounted for 7.1 per cent of total national capital investment. Tourism has also been a contributor to the clearance of coastal mangrove forests, pollution of near shore marine environments, and destruction of coral reefs. These environments are vital to sustained tourism revenues and to the nationís important commercial fisheries.

Thailand has become one of the worldís most important shrimp exporters, which has involved extensive conversion of mangroves to shrimp farming. Fish catch from the rich fishing grounds in the Andaman Sea and Gulf of Thailand has increased consistently during the past couple of decades, and fisheries exports contribute over US$ 4 billion annually to Thailandís GDP. But the increase in fleet size and in the sophistication of fishing equipment has begun to deplete fish stocks. Higher investment is now required per unit of commercial catch, reducing the profitability of fishing enterprises. The degradation of mangrove forests, sea grass and coral beds - critical for fish spawning, feeding and recruitment - has resulted in declining fish stocks, especially near-shore fish catch. This has had a marked negative impact on the livelihoods of poor artisanal fishing communities.

Thailandís protected area system

Thailandís protected area system was inaugurated in the 1960s following enactment of the Wild Animals Reservation Act (1960) and the National Parks Act (1961). Area gazettal increased rapidly during the 1980s and 90s. Although one of the primary objectives of PA gazettal was to conserve biological diversity and critical habitats, most contiguous forest areas were already diminished. Wetland, brackish and freshwater sites were under-represented and several biogeographical zones were not sufficiently covered. As of July 2002, there were 81 terrestrial national parks and 21 marine parks with a total coverage of more than 18 per cent of the kingdomís total land area.

Thailandís PA system is fragmented. Many of the areas may be too small to sustain their flora and fauna, especially populations of large mammals, including tigers, leopards, elephants and bears. Recent efforts to redress deficiencies in coverage of habitat include the declaration of 19 protected area complexes. Each complex comprises a number of protected areas in a shared geographic region; 17 complexes encompass forest habitats, while 2 cover marine and coastal habitats.

Protected area management

The national PA system lies at the heart of efforts to maintain environmental goods and services for sustained productivity in various economic sectors. The number and area of various categories within the system is changing rapidly, with ongoing additions aimed at increasing the area to 25 per cent of Thailand. The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNWP) under MONRE is working to revise its current system of protected area classification to bring it in line with internationally accepted IUCN categories.

Five-year management plans are being produced for all gazetted national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. By 1999, more than 30 national parks and about 20 wildlife sanctuaries had approved management plans. Local communities and other stakeholders are now consulted during the planning process. A committee comprising representatives from DNWP, the Tourism Authority of Thailand, universities and selected NGOs review the management plans. Internal monitoring indicates that PA management plans have around a 50 per cent implementation rate. The reasons for this moderate performance include prescriptions being too elaborate or demanding, insufficient staff, insufficient time or inadequate equipment.

A number of pilot projects have been implemented in response to difficulties over resource use between PA managers and local communities. Frequently, PA boundary demarcation is now carried out by walking the proposed boundary lines with local community representatives. Local communities and civil society groups are increasingly outspoken in their demands for a more substantive role in the design of PA management plans, and in the actual implementation of PA management activities.

Future directions in protected area management

Broad priorities for action to improve PA management include:

  • developing a national protected areas system plan and an appropriate legal framework for its management;
  • developing policies and approaches that maintain economic benefits while ensuring effective protection of core conservation zones;
  • developing and improving formal processes for multi-stakeholder consultation and sharing of protected area and environmental management responsibilities and benefits;
  • providing training to PA management staff in facilitating collaborative management;
  • clearly demarcating PA boundaries, especially those of core zones;
  • creating natural corridors between PAs in forest and marine protected area complexes;
  • improving the environmental impact assessment process, laws and the enforcement of laws against activities damaging to PAs and natural systems; and,
  • establishing site level protected area advisory committees.

Many development sectors receive benefits from PAs and need to be involved in their conservation and enhancement.

Forestry development and protected areas

Protected forests make important contributions to a number of economic sectors. The maintenance of forests in their natural state is associated with the provision of a range of ecological services.

Future directions:

  • Zone protected forests to reflect a range of regimes, from protection to sustainable multiple use.
  • Establish community forestry in and around PAs.
  • Establish natural corridors linking PAs.
  • Ratify the International Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)

Water resource management and protected areas

Forested watersheds and natural wetlands within protected areas are extremely important in the effective management of national water resources.

Future directions:

  • Establish site-level watershed management committees.
  • Establish fire protection associations within local communities.
  • Increase storage capacity without negatively affecting watershed forests.
  • Rehabilitate degraded watersheds.
  • Increase water use efficiency.

Energy development and protected areas

The energy sector is undergoing a period of restructuring and privatisation. Thailand produces only about 20 per cent of its energy from domestic fossil fuels and hydro-power. With the country’s economy beginning to recover from the global economic slowdown, energy demand is expected to increase.

Future directions:

  • Develop sub-watershed conservation schemes.
  • Emphasise research on and development of alternative energy sources and their maintenance through PAs.
  • Tighten controls over energy exploration in PAs.
  • Provide for EIAs of energy proposals in national PA legislation.
  • Introduce a “user pays” system so that energy facilities contribute to the maintenance of ecosystem services they receive.

Tourism and protected areas

Ecotourism is now the fastest growing sector of the global tourism industry and Thailand stands to gain significant economic benefits by safeguarding the integrity of its natural environment. The number of tourists coming to Thailand has increased steadily, from 1.2 million in 1977 to 7.44 million in 1996. By 1996, the collective expenditures of international tourists to Thailand increased to $11.25 billion, becoming the country’s primary source of foreign exchange.

Future directions:

  • Apply the user pays principle so that a proportion of tourism revenues go to improve protected area management.
  • Plan and implement tourism development to ensure environmental sustainability and maintenance of conservation assets.
  • Initiate collaborative planning and management approaches to tourism with PA stakeholders
  • Involve the National Protected Area Committee, Site Advisory Committees and communities in monitoring tourism activities.
  • Increase public sector investment in sustainable tourism.

Agricultural development and protected areas

PAs support agriculture in various important ways; for example, in providing reliable water resources, in maintaining genetic resources and in providing habitat for pollinators. Yet, encroachment of PAs is a serious threat.

Future directions:

  • Involve local communities in participatory demarcation of protected area boundaries.
  • Shift to sustainable agriculture practices, including new forms of protected areas, throughout the agricultural landscape to conserve habitat corridors and gene pools as well as water and soil resources.
  • Facilitate the expansion of appropriate protection regimes through farmer networks.

Fisheries development and protected areas

The productivity of both inland freshwater fisheries and near shore and marine fisheries depends on the protection of a range of ecosystems, including mangrove and riparian forests, riverine rapid and shoal systems, sea grass beds and coral reefs. Thailand’s commercial fisheries industry has contributed significantly to national GDP, with total revenues of more than US$4 billion in 1998. As of 1998 the fisheries sector employed nearly one million people. Although Thailand’s fisheries outputs grew steadily over the past decade, this has led to over-exploitation of fish stocks and destruction of habitat. Fisheries production is expected to level off and then decline.

Future directions:

  • Rehabilitate and protect mangrove and coral reef systems.
  • Extend protection over riverine systems and wetlands.
  • Introduce collaborative management of MPAs that involves resource users.

Roads and protected areas

Roads and transport play a critical role in the attainment of higher living standards. While roads through PAs can facilitate efficient transport, they can also fragment critical habitat, destroy natural assets and place critical natural resource systems in jeopardy by opening them up to illegal exploitation.

Future directions:

  • Minimise disruption to PAs and ensure that road construction causes minimum environmental damage.
  • Where feasible, establish checkpoints along access routes to control traffic volumes and illegal activities within PAs.

Community development and protected areas

Thailand stands on the threshold of a significant change in the ways in which rural communities are involved in natural resource management in areas adjacent to and within PAs. Discussions are ongoing regarding the precise wording of the pending Community Forestry Law. The law should also establish a set of principles and guidelines for the sustainable management of coastal and marine resource systems by local communities. It is now widely accepted that local stewardship of natural resources plays an important role in the longĖterm sustainability of their use.

Future directions:

  • Extend the use of local agreements for community-based resource management.
  • Enhance community relations skills among forestry and natural resource management professionals.

Economic development and protected areas

There is a shift from viewing PAs as isolated pockets of conservation to planning and managing them as productive components of development landscapes. Each PA has its own characteristics, and its own potential to contribute to development. The total economic value of PA goods and services to surrounding communities and sectors is very significant.

Future directions:

  • Prepare a national PA system plan and comprehensive PA legislation.
  • Increase user fees for a range of environmental services and ensure that revenues enhance PA management.
  • Develop forest and marine complexes through cooperative management of groups of PAs and establishing connecting corridors to extend and conserve habitat.
  • Zone PAs for a range of activities, from multiple sustainable use to strict conservation.
  • Devolve PA management authority to regions, provinces and districts.
  • Develop capacity to support devolution of protected area management authority.