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UBC Theses and Dissertations

To defend ourselves: common property management of forests in northern Thailand Roddan, Laura Kay


In the contemporary world, a fundamental shift is occurring in the view of planning for forest areas occupied and used by indigenous people. It is being recognized as important to integrate customary law, such as common property rights to forest lands, into the framework of national policy. However, while this is being recognized on a theoretical level, there have been few real attempts to incorporate customary land rights into national law. The purpose of this thesis is to explore the dynamics involved in reestablishing common property rights. To achieve this purpose a case of an actual project where common property rights to forest land are being reestablished is studied in Thailand. Under present forest legislation in Thailand, forests are state-owned and managed. State-defined property rights and the forest reserve system were superimposed over customary common property systems which traditionally existed in northern Thailand. In the contemporary scene this is resulting in considerable tension between the traditional villagers' view of forests as common property resources and official government policy. State management of forests has been gradually undermining the self-reliance of rural communities, and the authority of traditional institutions to control the use of common property forest resources. Coupled with the inability of the forestry department to provide effective regulation within forest reserves, the result has been widespread legal and illegal exploitation of indigenous forests. Rural communities dependent on forest resources are fighting for their rights to benefit from forest land they have long considered to be their own. The case study is an experimental community forestry project in the village of Huey Kaew, in Northern Thailand, where villagers are fighting for common property rights within state Forest Reserve. The village represents a significant case as it is the first time the Thai government has considered awarding common property rights to land located within state Forest Reserve. The research is conducted through the use of nine categories of analysis drawn from the literature on property rights and self-reliant development. The nine categories are: property rights, land uses, forest dependency, uses for indigenous species, role of traditional institutions, social controls and sanctions, grassroots organization, participation in decision-making, and availability of technical support. Results from the study indicate that there are many obstacles to overcome before common property tenure can be accommodated within the state Forest Reserve system. These obstacles include: disagreement between villagers and government over the location of the land to be awarded as community forest, lack of understanding on the part of the Royal Forestry Department as to land uses in indigenous forests and the dependence of villagers on these resources, break down of authority of traditional institution and customary laws, failure of RFD to recognize the potential of the traditional institution responsible for forest management, lack of support within the community due to the fact that many villagers do not understand what the projects about or do not have the time to devote to it, inadequate authority by the new village level committee created to oversee the project and lack of an extension forester to work with the community in preparing a community forest plan. The case study suggests that until these obstacles are overcome, the project cannot be evaluated as a successful approach to management of indigenous forest or building self-reliance for the rural community. However, the argument for common property management of Forest Reserve Land in northern Thailand is strengthened by comparing the findings from Huey Kaew with the findings from another village, Tung Yao, where customary common property rights have been maintained. These conclusions have important implications for policy on common property rights and self-reliance and offer many lessons on the practical reality of accommodating bottom-up development within a centralized state bureaucracy.

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