Summary and recommendations of the
first national round table
18 October 2001, Royal Forest Department Conference Room
organised by the Royal Forest Department and IUCN
Nearly 100 representatives from Royal Thai Government ministries and
departments, academic institutions and non-government organisation, convened
at the Royal Forest Department to consider issues, achievements and challenges
during the past 10 years of efforts to conserve Thailand's protected area
estate. The consultation was the first of two national round tables to
be convened in the context of the review.
During the past several decades, a range of economic development activities
including urban and industrial development, agricultural expansion and
tourism have posed significant threats to the preservation of ecological
integrity in these areas. In many cases, these threats have led directly
or indirectly to the deterioration of their conservation status and ecological
In Thailand as in the other three countries in the region, the review
is focused on bringing about a more robust understanding of how national
and regional economic development objectives can be better achieved by
properly valuing and planning for the contribution of protected areas
to national and regional sustainable development. Participants at the
first Thailand round table suggested that by doing so, the review is breaking
Proceedings of the first national round table
The first Thailand round table began with several excellent presentations
from representatives of three of Thailand's foremost conservation agencies;
- Dr. Surachet Chetamart of the Kasetsart University Faculty of Forestry,
- Krissana Intharasook of Wildlife Fund Thailand, and
- Dr. Schwann Tanhikorn, Director of the Royal Forest Department's Natural
Resources Conservation Office.
These presentations discussed the historical development of Thailand's
protected area system and national conservation strategy, and touched
to some extent on the importance of effective protected area management
for preserving the ecological services on whose delivery a range of economic
development activities depend. The final presentation by Dr.
Jeremy Carew-Reid, Director of the International Centre for Environmental
Management, outlined the scope and purpose of the review and went
more explicitly into the environment and development relationships that
the review has been designed to explore.
Following the presentations, participants divided into groups to thresh
out the main achievements, and key issues and challenges currently facing
Thailand's efforts to harmonic protected area conservation with economic
development. After lengthy consideration, the review itself decided to
take a broad view with respect to the meaning of protected areas, to include
any and all areas at which efforts are being made to preserve environmental
integrity and ecological services, regardless of their formal legal status.
The round table participants felt that for purposes of their discussions,
in order to simplify the already complex situation in Thailand, it was
best for them to focus on legally designated, gazetted as national conservation
The principle findings of the working groups are summarised below.
Principle findings of the working groups
- Development has proceeded rapidly with the establishment of impressive
infrastructure including electricity generating capacity, irrigation
systems and water works, agricultural and fisheries production efficiency,
tourism facilities and industry. People's quality of life and livelihoods
- Public awareness regarding the importance of environmental conservation
has increased markedly during the past decade.
- A number of environmental laws and conservation regulations have been
- Thailand has introduced a ban on commercial logging as well as on
fishing in critical fisheries recruitment areas such as Pattani Bay.
- A cabinet resolution has been enacted to cease the extension of concessions
in mangrove forests.
- The spatial extent of the national protected area estate has steadily
increased with the declaration of new protected areas and the expansion
- Government as well as local community conservation efforts have improved.
While certainly still far from optimal, this has resulted in improved
ecosystem management and environmental conditions on farms, in forests,
and in coastal and marine areas.
- The participation of civil society (or "people's participation")
in the environmental debate and decision making has increased. The principle
is now highlighted in Thailand's new Constitution.
- Local communities have become stronger, and better able to plan and
implement effective environmental actions on their own. Many community
conservation groups and networks have been established.
- Buddhist temples and the clergy have become increasingly active on
environmental issues and environmental conservation efforts.
- Efforts to restore integrity to Thailand's damaged forests dedicated
to Their Royal Majesties the King and Queen have helped to improve the
condition of forests throughout the kingdom.
- The initiation and near passage of the Community Forestry Act will
provide legal support for local communities to play an active role in
natural resource conservation and sustainable utilisation.
- 30 million rai of land has been set aside for land reform which could
provide the basis for reducing social conflicts as well as protected
- The quality and extent of current land use, wetlands, soil series,
mineral resources and coral reef maps for the entire kingdom has increased
- Agricultural areas have expanded and, in some cases, continue to expand
into protected area boundaries, limiting their extent and impacting
on their ecological integrity.
- Agricultural encroachment leads to soil erosion, disturbance of hydrological
systems leading to floods and drought, sedimentation of streams and
rivers, as well as chemical contamination.
- Many conflicts have arisen as a result of insufficient multi-stakeholder
planning for the utilisation of water resources.
- Fishing areas have encroached into critical resource zones on which
the sustainability of marine production is dependent. The use of illegal
equipment is another significant cause of degradation to marine fisheries
but is poorly controlled.
- Land use planning in general, and coastal zone planning and management
in particular, have been weak. They have not taken sufficient account
of the need to control potential for economic activities causing environmental
degradation. Industrial development and shrimp farming are examples.
- Rural poverty is a cause of encroachment into protected areas and
of the illegal exploitation of their resources. To an extent, this is
a result of insufficient knowledge, understanding and awareness among
rural communities of the economic importance of preserving ecological
integrity in nearby protected areas.
- In general, the delineation of protected area boundaries has not followed
scientific principles and has, at times, also been impractical. Primarily,
this is due to location conflicts with existing settlements and village
multiple use areas.
- Tourism planning and management have been insufficient to prevent
tourism from becoming a cause of environmental deterioration.
- Efforts to solve the many environmental conflicts and problems resulting
from improper planning have cost the government and taxpayers considerably
in terms of budget required to try and solve the problems. Environment
vs. development conflicts are often highly contentious and take a very
long time to solve.
- In general, the budget and staff allocated to address environmental
protection as well as problem solving are insufficient.
- The jurisdiction for protected area management in Thailand is often
unclear, due to the overlapping responsibilities among a number of departments.
This is another one of the principal causes of the inefficiency or ineffectiveness
of environmental management.
- National policies and the political will to accomplish environmental
conservation objectives need to be strengthened and sustained.
- The living standards of rural people dependent on natural resources
must be improved.
- Many protected area boundaries have not yet been formally and appropriately
- National forest reserve, mangrove forest zoning and watershed classification
need to be re-implemented in order to coincide with current needs and
- The expansion of the national protected area estate through the declaration
of new sites and the expansion of existing ones needs to be carefully
reviewed. There is a need to provide a scientifically sound basis for
establishing the areas as conservation sites. Care must also be taken
to avoid creating potential for subsequent social conflict due to the
overlap of protected areas with community lands. Communities living
in or around national parks must be involved in park management.
- There is a need to stipulate and apply robust environmental, ecological
and social principles to improve the formal designation of protected
areas. These revised principles should include a range of protected
area alternatives. Some of these alternatives would permit controlled
sustainable uses at varying levels of intensity. Among the alternative
designations would be included different types of legalised community
forests and community sustainable use areas. Such arrangements will
require the effective designation and enforcement of community regulations
and social sanctions. Scientific principles should be applied in determining
environmentally sound and appropriate sustainable land and resource
use regimes, including soil-crop suitability assessment. Planning for
protected natural resource areas should include mineral resource inventories
and possibly, procedures and regulations for the controlled exploitation
of these resources.
- While commercial logging has been banned and concessions in mangrove
forests will no longer be extended, there remains a need to improve
on implementation and enforcement.
- Public awareness regarding the need for conservation needs to continue
- Under auspices of the Environment Law, Environmental Protected Areas
including pollution control areas need to be established.
- A better balance between conservation and development needs to be
achieved. This requires better understanding regarding how to integrate
conservation with development.
- The EIA process needs significant revitalisation to ensure scientifically
robust analysis. We need to know the environmental implications of development
plans before any projects that will have an impact on the environment
are implemented. Development projects must be required to apply effective
measures to prevent or mitigate negative environmental impacts. The
"polluter pays" principle should be applied. Greater and more
genuine public participation is required in the EIA process. The public
hearing process needs substantial improvement.
- The newly established national committee on "The Restoration
of Thai Seas" must be effective in promoting and implementing appropriate
- Appropriate allocation of the 30 million rai of land set aside for
national land reform to reduce rural landlessness and poverty, while
decreasing pressures on protected areas, remains a challenge.
- The ongoing government and political reform processes present significant
challenges. New and more appropriate government structures are required
to improve the effectiveness of protected area management, along with
greater legitimacy for involvement by local communities and civil society
under the ongoing government decentralisation process. A shared vision
regarding the environment, its conservation and sustainable use must
be established between government and the people. Collaborative arrangements
need to be established among government, NGOs, the private sector and
Review of protected areas and their role in socio-economic development
in the four countries of the lower Mekong River region
page updated: 22/02/02