Rainer Schwarzmeier, Franz Heidhues:
Community Forestry in Northeast Thailand -- An Approach for Sustainable Forest Use?


University of Hohenheim, Institute of Agricultural Economics and Social Sciences in the Tropics and Subtropics (490a), Germany

In the early 1990s Thailand launched an ambiguous, widely criticised `Forest Program' to protect its heavily degraded forests in which community forestry should be given a more prominent role. Community based approaches have shown their potential to manage forest resources in a sustainable way particularly where the resource degradation is rooted in the loss of enforceable management and use rights of local communities.

However as these community forestry schemes are placed in a triangle with state dominated, mainly top down approaches on one side and forest management schemes only regulated by marked mechanism on the other, there is a strong need to overcome continuous pressure from both ends and permanent adjustments are necessary prerequisites to secure functioning community forest schemes.

With this background the paper analyses whether and how community forest approaches are able to overcome restrictions and contribute to the sustainable management of forest resources as well as reducing rural poverty. The research assesses general aspects of forest- people-relationship and the evolution of the community forest movement in Northeast Thailand. It evaluates in a case study the socio-economic importance of community forestry for rural households/villages.

Even though many cases suggests that there are local approaches in communal resource management looking back on a long history, their sustainability and applicability to changing socio-economic and political environments seems to be limited. The adjustment processes are exacerbated by the lack of enforceable formal rights of local communities to forests and forest products. The paper presents evidence that villages with community forests have developed a wide array of income-generating activities with a good balance between forest dependent and non-forest dependent activities. The use of forest products tends to be on the decline for households with access to secure and attractive non-farming income alternatives. A successful community forest management concept needs to provide for alternative employment opportunities and an economically attractive use of community forests for local communities. Pre"=conditions are secure communal and private land use rights as well as regulations that allow for sustainable community forest management measures including moderate logging activities.

Keywords: Communal resource management, community forestry, local responses, Thailand


Contact Address: Rainer Schwarzmeier, University of Hohenheim, Institute of Agricultural Economics and Social Sciences in the Tropics and Subtropics (490a)70593 Stuttgart, Germany, e-mail: rschwarz@uni-hohenheim.de
Andreas Deininger, September 2004