Puginier, Oliver: Hill tribes struggling for a land deal: Participatory land use planning in northern Thailand amid controversial policies


Kapitel 4. History of policies and institutional setting

“Government political and administrative policy affecting tribal populations changes continually“. (chotichaipiboon 1997,100)

The above summarises the changing political positions of the government towards hill tribes as the previously autonomous mountain peoples are more and more exposed to government administrations. The process has been dubbed a “carrot and stick“ policy of welfare and development activities on the one hand, and threatening with law enforcement measures on the other (dirksen 1997,330). This characterisation describes the approach of the Office of Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) towards drug abuse control, but since it is also the main agency for bilateral development projects, the description may be extended to other areas like forest management as well. The policy evolution essentially followed a gradual process of initially centralised control of remote areas towards more recognition of local needs and people. It started with forest management and control of hill tribe areas in the name of opium suppression, via intermediate coordination steps of master plans for highland development, and most recently a new constitution that emphasises the participation of local communities.

4.2 Policy prior to planning for the highlands

4.2.1 Unlimited natural resource exploitation

A chronological overview of policies affecting hill tribe life and the resulting social marginalisation into illegality by the state reveals the complexity of interaction between previously autonomous forest farmers and central government agencies with unisectoral approaches such as forestry or social integration only. The earliest policy affecting hill tribes is the first Nationality Act of 1913, which granted Thai citizenship based on bloodline (Thai father) and territorial basis (born in Thailand), thus replacing previous customary laws. A first national census in 1956 failed to include hill tribes and thereby excluded them from Thai nationality, which remained so till 1965 (the nation 2000), thereby setting them apart very early on. There are various dates given for the beginning of government development programmes for hill tribes, starting with schools in 1935 (Chotichaipiboon 1997,98), welfare services in 1951 (Chandraprasert 1997,84) and the establishment of the Committee for the Welfare of Remote Populations in 1956 (Chotichaipiboon 1997,98). Yet both authors confirm 1959 as the establishment of the Hill Tribe Committee, a national organisation in charge of formulating welfare and development policies. Even though these were specifically targeted towards hill tribes, a number of other general policy developments that started earlier also had effects on the highlands, particularly in the areas of forestry, land classification and ownership.

In terms of land and forest policy, effects first came indirectly from the Royal Forest Department (RFD) established in 1896 (under British leadership). Until 1953, forest harvest was in the national interest and emphasis was placed on regulated forest exploitation (mainly teak), so that logging became widespread in this “Phase of Exploitation“ (jantakad and gilmour 1999,93; pragtong and Thomas 1990,10). The first attempts at setting aside protected forest areas were made in the form of the Forest Conservation Act in 1913, the Forest Protection Act in 1938 and the Forestry Act in 1941. The latter provided the most comprehensive coverage of forest law, including felling of tree species and activities on lands that are not under private ownership. In 1954 the Land Code was passed, under which 50 % of the country were declared forestland under the management of RFD. In 1959 opium cultivation was outlawed and criminalized, the same year as the establishment of the Hill Tribe Committee under the Department of Public Welfare (DPW, established 1940, first under the Ministry of Interior). Hill Tribe Land Settlements were established to gather, support and control the previously autonomous hill tribes living on the border of the kingdom in remote mountainous areas. A controversial approach of “voluntary village relocation“ of mainly pioneer shifting cultivators to these land settlements at lower altitudes was initiated, with the aim to extend state control and to eradicate opium cultivation that was part of their source of income (rerkasem 1998,4). How voluntary resettlement really was remains speculation.


4.2.2 Vanishing forests, national security and resettlement

The next phase was marked by a period of contradiction between national development policy and forest protection. In 1960 the government established the National Land Classification Committee to carry out soil surveys and land classification for agriculture, a task that was later continued by the Department of Land Development (DLD) established in 1963 (Arbhabhirama et al.1987,34). At the same time, national planning in five-year cycles was initiated, and the 1st National Economic and Social Development Plan (NESDP, 1961-1666) encouraged the exploitation of forest resources to attract foreign currency. At the same time as forest exploitation peaked and the export-oriented agriculture expanded rapidly, a series of acts to protect the nation‘s natural resources were passed, namely the Wildlife Reserves and Conservation Act of 1960, the National Parks act of 1961 and the National Forest Reserves Act of 1964. The latter declared 50 % of the country as protected forests (jantakad and gilmour 1999,95). As laudable as these efforts to protect the environment may seem, one wonders if the construction of a highway bisecting the first national park Khao Yai (established 1962), with a golf course at its centre, was done for wildlife protection or more for recreation! Although only three national parks and one wildlife sanctuary were established during the 1960s, this figure has gone up to 112 and 44 respectively, covering 16 % of the country (uncsd 1997), though most of them are too small to sustain intact wildlife populations. For the hill tribes this meant that most of them found themselves settling illegally by law, and on top of that they were not considered as Thai citizens, which deprived them of civil rights. This situation improved slightly with the passage of the Nationality Act in 1965, giving hill tribe children the right to Thai citizenship provided both parents are Thai nationals, yet there were only very few who could prove that (aguettant 1996,59). The administrative procedure is still very complicated, and hill tribes were only included in national censuses from 1970, so for them citizenship still continues to be a major issue of civil rights.

In 1965 Thailand began to experience political insurgency influenced by the Communist Party, particularly in northern tribal areas, and hill tribes found themselves trapped between a government that did not accept their lifestyle and Thai communists seeking their support (chandraprasert 1997,84). Against the background of the Vietnam War, they were now directly confronted by the army in combat zones, while the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) continued its welfare programmes under the Hill Tribe Welfare Division. Yet in 1969 hill tribe issues became more important and the Central Hill Tribe Committee was established under the Ministry of Interior (MOI), which greatly increased the “voluntary“ relocation of tribal people to lowland areas, with limited support in housing, water and health facilities (Chotichaipiboon 1997,98). At the same time, the first large-scale highland development projects were initiated as Royal Projects, which focused mainly on the identification of suitable opium replacement crops (dirksen 1997,331). In 1973 the first foreign-funded opium replacement programme was launched, supported by the United Nations Fund for Drug Abuse Control (UNFDAC).

4.2.3 Forest settlement for Thais only, hill tribes should integrate

By now the government accepted degraded forests as a fact and encouraged the agricultural development of these with the Agricultural Land Consolidation Act of 1974, as well as the Agricultural Land Reform Act of 1975 (establishment of the Agricultural Land Reform Office, ALRO) to allocate state-held land to agriculturists for occupation (arbhabhirama et al. 1987,32). In 1975 the National Environment Board was established and played a vital role in the formulation of a watershed classification for land reclassification, dividing the Mae Ping watershed into 3 classes. Over 60 % of the highlands fell into class 1, which meant no resource utilisation to the point that “all residents occupying this zone would be evacuated“ (tangtham 1992,4). This caused considerable controversy and was later mellowed. In the same year, RFD was charged with the establishment of “Forest Villages“ in degraded forest areas and issued land allotment certificates, supplemented by infrastructural development for permanent settlement. The same cabinet resolution was extended to illegal residents of nonwatershed areas in national reserved forests and was called the National Forest Land Allotment Project or STK (hafner and apichatvullop 1990,337). The main objective was to legalise squatters by means of land use rights, but it resulted in lowlanders taking possession of forest areas while hill tribes were evicted. The policy backfired completely in that it started a vicious circle of forest clearance for timber and land sale instead of the intended rehabilitation of degraded areas, a particularly serious problem in the upper north (arbhabhirama et al. 1987,39).


The hypocrisy of this approach is obvious, when considering that hill tribes were excluded from forest settlement, although they had been living in forests much longer than newly arriving Thais and yet fitted the definition of landlessness just as well. In the eyes of the government hill tribes also did not own the land they lived and farmed on, so this approach was one of ethnic segregation. Worse even, the Lahu village of Lo Pah Krai in Mae Ai district of Chiang Mai, which applied soil and water conservation measures, had land taken away that was given to the state owned Forestry Industry Organisation (FIO), not for conservation purposes but for developing a commercial eucalyptus plantation (rerkasem and rerkasem 1994,91). This period saw a widening gap between contradicting policies by government departments with forest settlement for Thais only, while at the same time hill tribes were often evacuated by force from forest areas under the new mandate of the committee overseeing forest destruction in 1976 and headed by RFD (chandraprasert 1997,85). The fact that in the same year DPW was designated as the main coordinating agency for all matters concerning hill tribes under the new approach of “Integration Policy“ to make them good Thai citizens seems like bitter irony, since hill tribes were faced with the threat of forceful relocation from their livelihood basis: the forests. While the Ministry of Interior promoted the “Thaisation“ process with the Department of Public Welfare (DPW), the Ministry of Agriculture remained a threat to hill tribes with the Royal Forest Department (RFD). The year 1976 also marked the establishment of the Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) as the national coordinating agency for drug abuse prevention and bilateral development projects (chotichaipiboon 1997,85), thus adding the component of drug control to the picture.

4.2.4 Security and a watershed classification

The 1980s saw the start of a number of large scale foreign funded highland development programmes, implemented by three lead agencies: the Royal Forest Department (RFD), the Department of Land Development (DLD), both of which belong to the Ministry of Agriculture, while the Ministry of Interior continued with the Department of Public Welfare (DPW). It began with the Thai-Australia Highland Agricultural and Social Development Project (TA-HASD) with a World Bank loan in 1980 and peaked with a total of 168 agencies from 31 government departments and 49 international donors in the late 1980s (ganjanapan 1997,205). This plethora of development activities, which divided northern Thailand according to intervention areas of highland projects, necessitated some form of coordination, and hence the 5th National Economic and Social Development Plan (NESDP 1982-86) included hill tribes as an issue for the first time. Security issues, opium reduction, reforestation, the reduction of hill tribe population growth and the conversion of hill tribes to good Thai citizens were the main emphasis (chotichaipiboon 1997,100). For administration, a Committee for the Solution of National Security Problems Involving Hill Tribes and the Cultivation of Narcotic Crops was founded and headed by the Ministry of Interior (MOI).

This committee identified 74 areas of opium production and dealt with respective development projects that provided infrastructure and development. In addition, a 1st Master Plan for Highland Development and Narcotic Crops Control was drafted by the United Nations Fund for Drug Abuse Control (UNFDAC), the Social Research Institute of Chiang Mai University (CMU) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 1983 (rerkasem and rerkasem 1994,26), in an effort to coordinate the increasing complexity of highland development projects and agencies. Due to its political sensitivity and subsequent modifications, as well as weaknesses in terms of unclear agency mandates, the plan was only implemented in the years 1992-1996 during the 7th NESDP, though it was often mistaken as the 2nd Master Plan. The next step in highland control was the set-up of the Centre for the Coordination of Hill Tribe Affairs and Eradication of Narcotic Crops (COHAN) under the Third Army in the north in 1986 (in Chiang Mai) as a powerful authority to coordinate other government agencies and ease the burden of coordination on ONCB (chandraprasert 1997,87).

Due to the controversy over the first watershed classification, a revised version was presented in 1983 by the National Environment Board (NEB), which was considered “an extension of land use planning for forest areas“ (Tangtham 1992,5). The classification divided watershed forests into 5 classes according to physical features (Table 4-1).


Table 4-1: NEB watershed classification of 1983 (after Tangtham 1992,5).

Watershed class

Physical environment

Proposed management

Class 1 subdivided into:

High elevation (> 500 m), very steep slopes (> 35 %)

Protected or conservation forest, headwater source

Class 1A

High elevation and very steep slopes (> 35 %)

Permanent forest cover

Class 1B

Similar to 1A, yet partly cleared for agriculture or settlement

Should be reforested or maintained in permanent agroforestry

Class 2

High elevation and steep to very steep slopes

Commercial forest, with logging, grazing allowed

Class 3

Uplands (200-500m) with steep slopes

Fruit tree plantation, grazing, agricultural crops

Class 4

Gentle sloping lands

Upland farming, row crops, grazing, fruits

Class 5

Gentle slopes, flat areas

Lowland farming, paddy and other crops

The focus on physical features only, such as slope, elevation, soil, geology and forest cover ignores the hill tribes living in the forests and thus exposed them to the threat of relocation once again. Alternatives to such a classification have been proposed, like one for land use planning with regards to ecological and economic variables (slope, elevation, village location, infrastructure, forest cover) in 1990, and a land capability study to support the environment as well as the people (slope, elevation, water availability, village location, forest cover) in 1994 (knie and möller 1999,146). However, the alternative classifications have not been integrated into policy. 1983 also produced the Land Development Act, which authorises the committee on land development and DLD to undertake any activity related to improving the efficiency or quality of land including soil and water conservation. In 1985 the first formal national forest policy was approved by the Cabinet, which reduced the targeted forestland area of 50 % from 1961 to now 40 %, of which 15 % were to be conservation forest and 25 % production forest. Additionally, any land with a slope of 35 % or more was declared forestland, for which no title deed or land use certificates can be issued. The forest target figures were reversed in 1987 with more emphasis placed on conservation (pragtong 1993,115), but deforestation and uncontrolled forest settlement were thereby not resolved. While the new RFD policy does not explicitly mention hill tribe resettlement, the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) is more direct in setting a threatening atmosphere:

“If the government wants to protect the highland watersheds, it will be forced to institute widespread resettlement of hill farmers... with force if necessary“ (arbhabhirama et al. 1987,80).

4.3 Planning highland development

4.3.1 Logging ban and the First Highland Master Plan

The institutional confusion was overtaken by a natural disaster, which revealed that forest administration had lost effective control over logging. As a result of massive landslides that killed over 250 people in the southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat at the end of 1988, the government announced a ban on all commercial logging in the national forest. The cause for these landslides was immediately attributed to forest clearing for rubber plantations, but more detailed surveys identified that a combination of rock type and prolonged weathering were the underlying reasons, triggered by the ferocity of storms (mckinnon 1997,123). On the positive side, there was a rethinking of forest policy and the development of a master plan was initiated with foreign assistance to deal with various sectoral problems. A part of this change has been the involvement of local communities in forest protection, first by means of a Forestry Extension Program in 1988. This was followed by a proposal from RFD for a Community Forestry Act in 1991, which intends to classify certain parts of reserved forests as community forest allocated to a particular village,


though villagers will not have ownership rights or rights to settle. Village committees are expected to set forth their own regulations for sharing forest produce as well as timber harvest that is taxed if sold. (amornsanguansin 1992,43). However, the act proved to be highly political and has still not been passed by parliament.

This very promising development was accompanied by a renewed forceful resettlement. The Forest Land Resettlement Program (’Khor Jor Khor‘) launched in 1991, largely organised by the Thai army, attempted to move farmers from degraded forest reserves to allow industrial plantations under the guise of reforestation. Most of those evicted were to be resettled in other areas, oftentimes in forest reserves and other areas already occupied by other farmers who were expected to give up their land (rfd 1993,vol.7,16). This needs to be seen in the wider context of the military coup of February 1991 that revealed the military involvement in commercial plantations, which even extended as far as the UNCED Conference of 1992. Thailand vehemently opposed the internationalisation of forest management in the form of a treaty as part of the Group of 77 (England 1997,66). This programme underscores the lack of consideration for rural forest communities at that time. The programme met with extensive local resistance and was finally revoked in 1992 after the reinstatement of civilian rule, certainly influenced by the military bloodshed in response to the public riots of May 1992. However, in that same year the Forest Plantation Act and the Environment Protection and Conservation Act were passed, revealing the dichotomy of policies once again by supporting forest exploitation in the name of industrial development on one hand, and on the other encouraging public environmental conservation while leaving out forest conservation (ganjanapan 1998,79).

The years 1992-1996 also saw the implementation of the 1st Master Plan for Highland Development and Narcotic Crops Control under the Third Army and COHAN as the national administrative body, while ONCB continued to be the coordinating agency for the 20 provinces in which hill tribes live, with respective provincial and district agencies. The focus of the plan was on the socio-economic improvement of hill tribes, settlement, community organisation and environmental conservation (rerkasem and rerkasem 1994,26). For this purpose, a highland community classification was to be carried out, distinguishing four groups of settlement potential for registration:

  1. Permanent village: large community of more than 50 households with permanent settlement and no migration for 20 years. Suitable for permanent agriculture and outside watershed class 1 or wildlife areas, government agencies are present and access by car is possible;
  2. Potential for permanent settlement: no threat to national security, 20-50 households, no migration for 10 years, permanent houses and suitable for permanent agriculture;
  3. No potential for permanence: lacks one of group 2 properties;
  4. Special: special community (not further defined).

In order for a village to be legalised, it must be officially registered in the Village Directory of the Department of Local Administration (DOLA, Ministry of Interior), where it obtains a village number and Thai name (aguettant 1996,50). It must also have a village committee, chaired by a headman (Puu Yai Baan in Thai) with two assistants, one in charge of community defence and the other of village management. The committee is subdivided into work sections in groups like the Savings Group, Agriculturists Group, Women‘s Group, Youth Group etc. Villages with official status are called “core“ or “key“ villages, while smaller settlements are called “satellite“ villages and must use the identification of the “key“ village they are attached to for all official matters. When the village population reaches 400, it may be divided and the new village first becomes a “satellite“ of the existing village, a status that can be subsequently upgraded to “key“ village in time. Legalisation is based on five conditions:

  1. The community must not be a threat to national security;
  2. The community has several active government agencies permanently in the village. The community has accepted the development initiatives and can support them;
  3. The village and fields must be in zones suitable for settlement and permanent cultivation as per government concession, with considerations for natural resources and the environment;


  4. The village has to be in line with the Local Administration Act of 1914 and the voluntary self-protection law of 1979;
  5. The community has at least 50 households and has not moved in the last 10 years. In addition the inhabitants have to practice permanent agriculture with soil and water conservation measures.

As of 1993, DOLA had officially recognised 1,178 highland villages, while the remaining 2,187 communities were recognised as “satellite“ villages, and there are about 35 % “key“ hill tribe villages. (aguettant 1996,58). Registration also extended to the household level in a two-step process, first by classifying hill tribes and then issuing identity cards as evidence of citizenship in order to help them to overcome restrictions due to lack of nationality like no access to higher education, voting, land nor free movement between provinces. First a household card known as “Blue Card“ is issued, listing household members with all particulars including duration of settlement; then a yellow TR-13 is issued to illegal residents, while a white TR-14 card is issued by the local DOLA for Thai citizens after approval of the application. This was initially issued by the provincial governor, but the issuing authority was changed to district chief on 1 June 2000 (the nation 2000). The second step is the acquisition of citizenship with the TR-14 card prior to the end of the next master plan period (aguettant 1996,60), a complex procedure emphasising permanent settlement and close cooperation with government agencies. The more than 30 % of hill tribe people who still do not hold Thai nationality face serious difficulties to integrate into Thai society. It may be argued that the processes of registration and provision of citizenship are the first steps towards highland development, precluding village development and any form of land use planning. As time evolved, DOLA became more important, while DPW as the original agency for highland development lost importance, funding and was transferred to the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare in 1993.

While the master plan was implemented, the 7th NESDP (1992-1996) proposed that 25 % of the country should be protected as conservation forest, which means all of the nation‘s remaining forests (rerkasem and rerkasem 1994,27). At the same time 45.9 % of the country were classified as national forest reserve by the new Watershed Act of 1993, made up of 27.5 % conservation forest (“C“) and 16.2 % economic forest (“E“), as well as a fraction of 2.2 % for agricultural production (“A“), while the watershed classification of 1983 remained unchanged. This was the first time that the government set a targeted area of conservation forest higher than the existing forest cover, which automatically brought back the threat of relocation from national parks and wildlife reserves (ganjanapan 1998,73). There are many examples in which swidden land was taken away for reforestation, particularly where new national parks were established. 1993 also saw the birth of another major forest planning policy in the form of the Thai Forest Sector Master Plan (TFSMP) with foreign support. The new plan shifted towards participation in stating:

“Local communities and individual villagers will have decision-making powers entrusted to them concerning the forest resources they depend on“ (rfd 1993, vol. 2,3).

However, this remained a utopian objective with unrealistic expectations, which is why the plan was never implemented because (jantakad and gilmour 1999,98):

4.3.2 Community forestry and decentralisation

Ever since RFD started to draft a Community Forestry Act (CFA) in 1991, the issue of forest conservation policy has become very political. More awareness and critical debate have highlighted the growing dichotomy between policy enforcement on some groups like minorities in the highlands and poor villagers in the lowlands on one hand, and favouritism towards business interests like the Forest Industry Organisation (FIO) on the other hand. While it may seem that the concept of communities managing their own forests is new to Thailand, in reality it has a long history, particularly in the north. As early as the late


13th century AD, sacred forests protected by watershed spirits are part of the law of King Mangrai, with over 300 systems of local forest control evolving subsequently (ganjanapan 1998,78). Traditional Thai systems distinguished between three types of community forest:

  1. Sacred forest reserved for ceremonial purposes in accordance with guardian spirits, usually biologically rich as utilisation is prohibited (pa phi in Thai);
  2. Watershed forest at the head of watersheds from which they draw their water supply (pa ton nam);
  3. Communal woodland for specific utilisation such as grazing and harvesting of forest products (pa chai soi).

What is interesting is that these systems have strong parallels with hill tribe systems, particularly with the Karen (trakarnsuphakorn 1997,214) and to a lesser extent with the Lahu (ganjanapan 1997,248). This is important in that there is no need to invent new concepts, instead it is possible to build upon local traditions. The Community Forestry Act has been passed as a bill by the cabinet on 5 October 1999, but still has to be passed by parliament to become law (Bangkok post 1999). Indigenous classifications done by villagers as the primary stakeholders may prove to be more sustainable than those imposed by government agencies using physical features only. In the ongoing debate on community forestry it is useful to pinpoint conditions for a community to look after its own forest resources, summarised below irrespective of ethnicity (puntasen 1997,78):

  1. There must be a strong sense of community within the kinship group, mutual assistance like labour exchange and common practices;
  2. There should be mutual benefits for the common users of forest, water and land resources;
  3. Forest, water and land resources need to be well preserved through maintenance of the community forests;
  4. The community requires a strong leader with wisdom and vision to adopt existing local practices to the changing situation;
  5. There must already exist some forms of people‘s organisation in the community, such as a village committee for forest conservation;
  6. There must have been a long tradition in recognising resources as the collective property of the community;
  7. The community must be in a state of permanent settlement with criteria of social composition and sustainable levels of resource use;
  8. The community must have a prevailing resource utilisation network.

The implementation of the 7th NESDP (1992-1996) with its focus on human resource development was a precursor to a reform of the administrative system in 1994, called the Tambon Council (TC) and Tambon Administrative Organisation Act (TAO, Tambon means sub-district in Thai) under the Ministry of Interior (MOI) and effective from March 1995 (puntasen 1997,74). Although the TC was originally created in the late 1950s as the smallest administrative unit in order to propagate democracy at grass-roots level, in practice it was administered locally by the provincial administration and thus had no independent legal status. In contrast, the new TAO is made up of the Tambon Chief (Kamnan in Thai), the village headmen (Puu Yai Baan) and the Tambon Health Officer. This group of automatic members is supplemented by two other members elected by each village, which is a further step towards democracy (Figure 4-1).

TAO Council: Governing body and composed of the Tambon Chief (Kamnan), all village headmen, the local Health Officer and two elected members from each village. Responsibilities include economic, social and cultural development as well as natural resource management at village and Tambon level.

TAO Committee: The administrative section is chaired by the Tambon Chief (Kamnan), two selected village leaders and four people selected from the council members.

80Office of the TAO Clerk: Administrative support, procedures and records.

Figure 4-1: Structure of the Tambon Administrative Organisation (adapted from puntasen 1997,75)

When the TAO legislation was approved, 2,760 new TAOs were created as corporate bodies with administrative autonomy, and overall there are over 6,400 TAOs nationwide compared to around 500 TCs. A Tambon Council with an average income of 150,000 Baht per year for three consecutive years is entitled to become a TAO, and the aim is to convert all TCs to TAOs. Funding initially mainly comes from the provincial administration and the Ministry of Interior (MOI), yet in future more revenue is expected from utility services like water works, garbage disposal and taxes. However, the management of revenue and their accountability have not been specified.

The sub-district council is often seen as a symbol of decentralisation, but there remain some doubts about the viability of TAOs given the centralised government system summarised below (nelson 2000,17-21):

  1. Central control: The Tambon Chief, as the most important administrative officer, continues to be appointed by the Ministry of Interior (MOI), which raises questions to what extent the government is ready to relinquish central control.
  2. Too many duties: Many duties have been assigned to TAOs, categorised into economic, social and cultural mandatory duties covering the maintenance of roads and waterways, health services, education, religion and culture, the development of women, children, youth and elderly, and also the preservation of natural resources. These are formidable tasks and their


    implementation remains a challenge, since district development and agricultural officers have not been mandated to the TAO.
  3. Great diversity: TAOs vary greatly in area, population and income, thus covering a wide range of settlement patterns and economic structures. It has been proposed to divide them into more homogenous units for easier administration. Additionally, the transfer from regional administrations to TAOs has not been clearly mandated, leaving room for manipulations.

Although the TAO act is well intended, there remain some controversies. On the one hand it gives legal power to the community and direct administrative access to provincial funds and conflict settlement. On the other hand it eliminates all forms of traditional leadership as registered villages are integrated into the Thai administration. Thereby hill tribe village representatives find themselves caught between cultural traditions and Thai administration. On a wider scale the right of communities over forest and agricultural resources, particularly in official forest reserves, is an issue that the TAO act leaves open. There is no representation from the Royal Forest Department (RFD) and the Department of Land Development (DLD), yet they are key institutions for natural resource management. It is not clear how the forest sector should relate to TAOs for discussions and planning, which means that there still is no platform for a meeting of bottom-up planning and top-down decision making in natural resource management. Thus without land security the fear of eviction remains, which is a stumbling block to labour-intensive and costly long-term soil and water conservation measures as well as communal forest management. While the TAO act has provided civil incentives for village registration, it does not resolve the forest and land status.

4.3.3 The Second Highland Master Plan and a new constitution

The implementation of the Second Master Plan for Highland Development and Narcotic Crops Control (1997-2001) did not show major changes from the first one, though it mentions implementation problems such as a lack of coordination among agencies, restrictive forest policies, a slow citizenship process, and a lack of planning meetings between provincial and local organisations. The objectives are to accelerate the citizenship granting process (650,000 people still not Thais), to reorganise the administrative structure for easier implementation, and to promote people‘s participation in development as well as environmental conservation (rtg 1997,4). The implementation is done by means of three strategies:

  1. The creation of security for highland communities;
  2. Management of natural resources with a focus on people and forest living together;
  3. Economic diversification and land use boundaries. This strategy emphasises administration for cooperation with the government and private sector. It also stresses the importance of the demarcation of a village land use boundary for planning, temporary residence and relocation. One change from the First Master Plan is that instead of merely resettling villages that have not yet been legalised, government support is intended for non-agricultural activities.

Village registration has proceeded and as of 1997 there were 4,374 highland villages, of which 48 % were “key“ hill tribe villages (adb 2000,5). In Mae Hong Son there are 648 villages, of which 268 (44 %) are registered “key“ villages. Group classification in terms of potential for permanent settlement has proceeded (RTG 1997), and the lower figures for registered villages of 587 are due to the fact that the data for the plan was collected earlier than the subsequent review by ADB (Table 4-2). Mae Hong Son, as the most remote highland province, notably has the highest number of unclassified villages for northern Thailand (150 or 45 % of all villages). This may also be an indication for an unstable situation in terms of in migration as well as small and spread out communities.

Highland administration is carried out by eight Ministries (Interior, Education, Public Health, Agriculture and Cooperatives, Labour and Social Welfare, Defence, Internal Security, and Science, Technology and Environment) and 18 departments. While RFD continues to have the mandate to decide whether or not villages in group 2 and 3 can stay or will be resettled, DLD focuses on the identification and development of permanent villages. The Central Highland Committee continues to be in-charge overall, with the


Governor as head at provincial level, while at district level it is the district officer, and both belong to the Ministry of Interior. There is no mention of how this plan links with the TAO level, particularly important for planning platforms in controversial forestry legislation, hence the important administrative gap continues.

Table 4-2: Village classification of the Second Highland Master Plan (rtg 1997,7)


Village group type for highland communities

Group 1

Group 2

Group 3

Group 4



Chiang Mai

Chiang Rai


Mae Hong Son











Uthai Thanee



Prachuab Kiri Khan

































































































































Note: 327 villages are unclassified and are first placed in group 3. Categories: permanent village (group 1), potential for permanent village (group 2), no potential for permanent village (group 3), and special community (group 4).

The field research started under the influence of two major new developments in 1997: the 8th NESDP and a new constitution. The first important policy is the 8th NESDP (1997-2001), which marks a shift away from previous policies of accelerated economic growth at the expense of natural resources and low-cost labour towards sustainability and popular participation, and the summary recognises (nesdb 1997,2):

“It has become generally accepted that a process of development which disregards natural resources, human values and local customs and lore is antiethical to sustainable national development.“

Nowadays the economic and social state of the people is considered as the main measure of success, so


that planning becomes more holistic. In order to achieve this, the emphasis lies on good governance by strengthening the relationship between the government and the people, and secondly on the implementation of administrative reform for decentralisation. The plan concludes with a chapter on the development of a monitoring & evaluation System in order to foster transparency, for which a nationally accessible database is to be set-up and indicators for development formulated (nesdb 1997,148):

“To create an effective and efficient monitoring and evaluation system, indicators must be at many different levels and relate to the different dimensions of the development process, in such a way as to be consistent with a modern managerial scheme. Popular participation will also be essential.“

The second policy is the new constitution of 1997 with new roles for the government, towards more cooperation with and support of local communities, participatory planning and decision-making, as well as the development of the network on natural resources and data dissemination. Local communities shall be made more aware of environmental preservation and local administration via the implementation of the constitution, as stated in the clauses (jantakad and gilmour 1999,99):

Clause No. 46: “Communities shall have the right to preserve and restore the traditional culture, knowledge and fine arts of the local community and the nation, and participate in the management, maintenance, preservation and utilisation of natural resources and the environment in a balanced way, as provided by law.“

Clause No. 78: “The state authority shall be devolved to local communities, so that they can depend upon themselves, can decide their own activities, develop a local economy and basic service system as intended by the provincial people.“

The new constitution caused controversy with regards to local administration, in that the TAO Council ex officio members (village and Tambon headmen) did not conform with power devolution. After some debate, these ex officio members were replaced by elected ones for four years in elections held on 18 July 1999 (nelson 2000,19). There was considerable protest from village headmen throughout Thailand, yet this new political situation at communal level hardly affected hill tribes. For them TAO membership and local empowerment is a very new development, whose impact is only gradually internalised after decades of social marginalisation by the state.

Power devolution under the new constitution also affected popular involvement in forest management on a small scale, with pilot joint reforestation activities supported by the Royal Forest Department (RFD), summarised below (pragtong 2000,4):

Linked to forest management is the long-standing controversy over forest settlement, which is particularly relevant to the majority of hill tribes who live in forest areas. The field research was affected by a series of three cabinet resolutions in April 1997. The resolutions of 19 and 29 April 1997 allowed villagers who had been living in reserve forests prior to 1993 to remain there, on the condition that they take part in forest conservation. Proof of settlement for the first time took into account the village‘s history as well as the age of trees and buildings, and the government tried to settle land rights conflicts in 107 forest communities in the north and northeast. The third cabinet decision of 22 April 1997 is a general policy statement (Ekachai 1998,11). These resolutions fitted in nicely with the pilot projects at Tambon level with support from RFD. Suddenly an atmosphere of openness was created and hill tribe villagers were ready to reveal their


modified system of land use for agriculture and forestry in the hope to eventually obtain long-term land security, and the issue of land titles resurfaced. At provincial level, RFD even formulated a proposal for the resolution of land use conflicts in conservation forests, pointing out that 70 % of the land is in “perfect condition“, meaning under forest cover (rfd 1997,1). The strictly protective RFD mandate for forests was softened, thereby allowing district officials to discuss community forestry directly with villagers, since they now had a legal basis for a conciliatory approach.

Unfortunately, policy decisions are easily overturned with changing governments and promising developments are inevitably followed by setbacks. The combination of the environmental and financial crises put an end to the new atmosphere of openness, for a logging scandal was exposed in April 1998 in the Salween forest of Mae Hong Son province. Provincial and district forest officials, as national guardians of the forest, had for years participated in illegal logging of mainly teak trees that were sent to Burma and re-imported as Burmese teak wood so as to bypass the logging ban of 1989 (Kaopatumtip 1998,1). The scandal led to a halt of settlement approval in the form of another cabinet resolution on 30 June 1998, which cancelled the three April 1997 resolutions regarding human settlement in forests (Janchitfah and Chinvarakorn 1998,2). Policy for national forest management thus continues to be in a state of flux, though civil development makes evictions less and less likely as time evolves.

The most recent institutional development that might help to overcome differing priorities at Tambon level could evolve from the current restructuring project of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives (MOAC), as part of the ongoing process of decentralisation. A part of this reform at grass-roots level has been the introduction of Technology Transfer Centres (TTC) initiated in 1998, with 82 TTCs established nationwide by the Department of Agricultural Extension (DOAE), with the aim to cover all Tambons in the next few years (gtz 2001,3). The organisational set-up of TTCs has been designed to operate under a committee that consists of (gtz 2001,15):

  1. District DOAE officer as Chairman;
  2. Tambon DOAE officer as Secretary;
  3. Members of other MOAC line agencies (RFD, DLD and DPW are important);
  4. Members of the TAO;
  5. Members of village committees (village leaders);
  6. Farmer or farmer group representatives;
  7. Leaders of occupational groups.

This initiative has been described as “a shift from the previous top-down, blueprint approach to agricultural planning and management to bottom-up, participatory research, extension and service delivery“ (gtz 2001,35). In principle this is a very laudable approach to decentralised natural resource management, yet based on previous attempts to set up new organisational structures it remains to be seen to what extent it can be implemented effectively and with considerations for local priorities.

4.4 Resulting key issues for natural resource management

Policy development for the highlands has continuously been in a state of flux between restrictive law enforcement and a gradual easing of central control in periods of openness. Some policies were directly targeted towards hill tribes, while others focused on the physical environments of forest and farmland only, whereby the social implications for hill tribes were often ignored. With changing policies, two main controversial areas remain, namely whether forest will still be state property or now become a common resource, and tenurial security with title deeds.


4.4.1 Types of land titles

When the Community Based Land Use Planning and Local Watershed Management (CLM) approach was initiated, it was assumed that at a later stage land titles would be allocated. This issue was repeatedly mentioned by villagers as a great disappointment after years of project activities that still do not give hill tribes any legal power to keep their land. The original land use planning proposal stated (Mohns 1989,46):

“In the second step of land use planning the farmers will be promoted by the Land Use Planning Advisors to select up to 15 rai (2.4 ha) for permanent cultivation within areas classified as land capability classes I and II... If this procedure proves to be acceptable to the farmers and if sufficient land is demarcated as permanent - with the consequent abandonment of unsuitable areas - land use permits should be issued to the participating villagers.“

Since none of the target villagers ever obtained a land title, one may conclude that the second step was never reached, or as the TG-HDP put it (Anonymous 1998, vol.1,46):

“Despite its legal basis, there has been no political will to address the sensitive issue of land use rights in highland areas.“

In spite of this unsatisfactory situation, it is nevertheless useful to examine the legislation for land policy as well as types of land classification to identify possible loopholes or even options for policy revision.

Historically, the evolution of individual land rights and enforcement mechanisms is the result of increases in population density relative to land availability. In Thailand, all land belonged to the king in the past, and this only started to change in the second half of the 19th century as part of a transition process from property rights in labour (slaves) to property rights in land (Chalamwong and feder 1988,125). This was initiated through exposure to international trade and the commercialisation of rice production, starting with the first title documents for rice land in the 1860s. In 1901 the Department of Lands (DOL, Ministry of Interior) was established to formalise title deeds. This process evolved till the formulation of a Land Code in 1954, which classifies land by soil fertility and land suitability, and used the first general soil map produced in 1953 as a basis (Arbhabhirama et al. 1987,35). The Land Code defines three types of land documents corresponding to stages of land acquisition: occupancy, utilisation and legal possession. This starts a sequence of land occupation initially, with the aim to eventually obtain a full title deed. There are state and private lands, currently surveyed in a World Bank Land Titling Project from 1984 to 2004 (Rattanabirabongse et al. 1998,20). Land is administered by 14 government departments in two ministries; the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives (Table 4-3).

Table 4-3: Land distribution in Thailand (from Rattanabirabongse et al. (1998,21)

Public Land Area (km2)

Private Land Area (km2)

Forest Land


Title Deed


Government Real Estate


Certificate of Utilisation


Local Administration


Claim Certificate


Public Domain


Communal Lands






Undocumented Land: 42,240 km2 (for redistribution by RFD, ALRO and DPW)

State Lands: no single government agency is responsible for the administration of all state lands, there are 5 categories (including undocumented land) shown below:


  1. Forest Lands; administered by the Royal Forest Department (RFD). 80 % of state lands and 50 % of the country fall under these, covering forest reserves, national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and agricultural land used by private individuals. Most highlands come under this category.
  2. Government Real Estate; under the Treasury Department. Contains land used by government agencies, universities and schools, of which 40 % is allocated to the Ministry of Defence and 58 % for the use of other government agencies.
  3. Local Administrations and State Enterprise Lands; administered by the above agencies and includes lands for religious purposes.
  4. Public Domain; under the Department of Lands. This covers land for the common use of the public, wasteland, abandoned land and islands.

Undocumented lands: Included in settlement schemes operated by government agencies. In encroached forest areas, land that is privately cultivated can be given an STK-1 claim certificate by RFD or an SPG-401 claim certificate by the Agricultural Land Reform Office (ALRO), and both titles become interesting when they can be converted to a certificate of utilisation by DOL. For communal self-help projects the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) can issue NS-3 certificates. For cooperative settlements, the Department of Cooperatives Promotion can issue KSN certificates.

Private lands: whether held communally or by individuals, are either documented by titles under the Land Code or undocumented:

  1. Title deed; (NS-4 from DOL) indicates full ownership and includes a deed utilisation plan with indicated boundaries.
  2. Certificate of Utilisation; (NS-3 or NS-3K from DOL) proves that the person named as owner has put the land to use.
  3. Claim certificate (STK-1 and NS-2); authorises temporary land occupation and a claim of a person who possessed the land and made use of it prior to 1981.
  4. Communal lands; not further defined and proposed for community forests.

Land ownership has been a desirable goal for hill tribes for a long time, but initially they were excluded on the basis that they were not Thai citizens, and more recently based on the watershed classification that designates most highland areas as off limit. The renewed discussion on forest settlement and community forestry may change the situation. Options for modification include the allocation of undocumented lands for communal hill tribe settlements or even STK claim certificates for Thai individuals who have resided on the land since 1981, as in the concept of Forest Villages in the 1970s (hafner and apichatvullop 1990,337), or the conversion of undocumented land to communal lands. However, this is a hypothetical situation that to date seems unrealistic given the lack of political will, but it could change to include hill tribes under the new constitution, if they have become Thai citizens.

4.4.2 Communal forest management

The long debate on community forest management, which is gradually increasing in intensity as well as peoples‘ organisations and finds support in the new constitution, can be perceived in terms of cultural dimensions of development approaches that have evolved over time. A short summary identifies three main development perceptions that have shaped the general public (ganjanapan 2000,3-5):

  1. Buddhist approach (from 1960s): Buddhist monks were used as a tool for development, as intermediaries between government officials and villagers. This is a top-down approach in design and execution.
  2. Community culture (late 1970s): NGOs and academics developed this school of thought, which idealises village culture as the driving force behind development, yet is too much anti-state.


  3. Community rights (from late 1980s): This approach recognises indigenous culture and village life as a value system of rationality between individuals, society and nature. Popular participation is possible by recognising villagers‘ rights in their own organisations and in natural resource management decisions.

This latest approach is most relevant to the development of communal forest management and even includes the rights of hill tribes, thereby reducing the social barriers that dominated the past and encouraging their participation. There have been numerous attempts to formulate a Community Forestry Act (CFA) to provide a legal framework to peoples‘ participation, starting with the first one by the Royal Forest Department in 1992 (makarabhirom 2000,2). While this first version focused on government reforestation schemes, subsequent “People‘s versions“ focused on the recognition of local management systems, to the point of including shifting cultivation and traditional forest maintenance strategies. This is where the debate relates to hill tribes and their land management priorities, as they have become part of the general picture. Three interest groups dominate the debate: the government group, the community group of NGOs, academics and local networks, and the national group of environmentalists and urban people. The closer link between hill tribes and Thais is illustrated by their inclusion in the peoples‘ movements like the Northern Farmers Network in 1995 and the Assembly of the Poor in 1997. At national level, a Karen village elder has even become a member of the National Social and Economic Council, the highest planning commission (odochao 2001,11). The process has gone through a series of public hearings, and on 7 July 2000 the Parliament has approved the bill in principle and appointed a parliamentary commission to finalise the draft, but this does not yet guarantee that the process will lead to new legislation that is enforced.

As the debate is still in progress, resulting laws have not yet been defined, but three levels of management have been recommended that favour a complimentary role of stakeholders rather than a controlling one (makarabhirom 2000,7):

  1. “National level: Community forestry policy committee to review legislation and issues arising in implementation.
  2. Provincial level: Control, monitor and assist in implementation and resolution of local conflicts.
  3. Community level: Community forest management committee acts as primary manager with support from the RFD and NGOs.“

In a complimentary approach, community forestry needs to take into account the reformation of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives (gtz 2001) to meet new challenges of decentralisation and multi-stakeholder participation in forest management. Here RFD lacks the capacity and has too few resources to manage the process alone. On the other hand decentralisation is a gradual process and in a time of transition, where local communities need to learn communal management and joint planning with government agencies. An atmosphere of mutual trust and cooperation needs to be built up, so that constantly changing policies will become a thing of the past.


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