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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

Introduction

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 value.

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 new ground.

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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 sites.

The principle findings of the working groups are summarised below.

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Principle findings of the working groups

Key achievements

  1. 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 have improved.
  2. Public awareness regarding the importance of environmental conservation has increased markedly during the past decade.
  3. A number of environmental laws and conservation regulations have been enacted.
  4. Thailand has introduced a ban on commercial logging as well as on fishing in critical fisheries recruitment areas such as Pattani Bay.
  5. A cabinet resolution has been enacted to cease the extension of concessions in mangrove forests.
  6. The spatial extent of the national protected area estate has steadily increased with the declaration of new protected areas and the expansion of others.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Buddhist temples and the clergy have become increasingly active on environmental issues and environmental conservation efforts.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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 area encroachment.
  14. The quality and extent of current land use, wetlands, soil series, mineral resources and coral reef maps for the entire kingdom has increased significantly.

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Key issues

  1. Agricultural areas have expanded and, in some cases, continue to expand into protected area boundaries, limiting their extent and impacting on their ecological integrity.
  2. 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.
  3. Many conflicts have arisen as a result of insufficient multi-stakeholder planning for the utilisation of water resources.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Tourism planning and management have been insufficient to prevent tourism from becoming a cause of environmental deterioration.
  9. 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.
  10. In general, the budget and staff allocated to address environmental protection as well as problem solving are insufficient.
  11. 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.

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Challenges

  1. National policies and the political will to accomplish environmental conservation objectives need to be strengthened and sustained.
  2. The living standards of rural people dependent on natural resources must be improved.
  3. Many protected area boundaries have not yet been formally and appropriately delineated.
  4. National forest reserve, mangrove forest zoning and watershed classification need to be re-implemented in order to coincide with current needs and on-the-ground realities.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Public awareness regarding the need for conservation needs to continue to improve.
  9. Under auspices of the Environment Law, Environmental Protected Areas including pollution control areas need to be established.
  10. A better balance between conservation and development needs to be achieved. This requires better understanding regarding how to integrate conservation with development.
  11. 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.
  12. The newly established national committee on "The Restoration of Thai Seas" must be effective in promoting and implementing appropriate actions.
  13. 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.
  14. 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 local communities.

     

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