DEFORESTATION AND ILLEGAL LOGGING IN THAILAND

DEFORESTATION IN THAILAND

Due to a large amount of deforestation, particularly in the 1970s and 80s, the amount of land covered by forest was reduced from 70 percent in 1950 to 25 percent today. Only about 16 or 17 percent is healthy. Logging and agriculture are the primary culprits. Scientists have warned that of current deforestation rates continue there will be no natural forest left in 50 years.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Thailand's forests were cut down to meet growing foreign demand for tropical hardwoods and wood furniture; teak was especially prized. Most deforestation was the result however of land use changes. Between 1965 and 1989, Thai forests and woodlands were reduced at an annual rate of 2.6 percent. Over the same period, pasture lands and agricultural plots expanded at 3.5 and 2.4 percent per annum, respectively, and by 1989, Thailand was left with 28 percent forest coverage, 2 percent pasture land, and 43 agricultural land.

Factors contributing to deforestation in Thailand include fuel wood gathering, traditional shifting agriculture, government resettlement programs, and development projects. More recently, plantations aimed at cash crops have led to widespread deforestation to grow casssava, intended for export to Europe as a feed for cattle, pigs and poultry. Large swatchs of forests have been cleared by impoverished farmers to grow cassava, used to make tapioca exported to the Netherlands to be fed to pigs. The area of cassava cultivation increased from 100,000 hectares on the 1966 to 1 million hectares in the 1980s. Thailand’s relatition with the Netherlands was seen as a clear example of an industrialized country receiving benefits of tropical forest destruction in a tropical country.

An aerial photographic survey conducted in 1961 showed forests to cover about 54 percent (or if swamp and scrub areas are included, 56 percent) of Thailand. In the succeeding two decades, this area was substantially reduced as a rapidly growing population pushed into the forests seeking new land for agricultural use. Increasing prices for certain upland crops, especially in the 1970s, also acted as a strong incentive for conversion of forests to cultivated lands. By the mid-1980s, the expansion of the cultivated area had resulted in a decrease in the amount of forestland to less than 30 percent. [Source: Library of Congress, 1987 *]

Areas of forest usable for permanent cultivation still existed in the early 1980s, mostly in the South. In other regions there were logged-over areas and scrubland (at times included with forestland), part of which could be used for agriculture. Extant forest areas--minus potentially cultivable land--were still considered sufficient to meet domestic timber and other wood requirements and also to provide a surplus of forest products for export. Foreign and Thai forestry specialists were agreed that for this situation to continue, positive steps would have to be taken, including an adequate program of reforestation, prevention of illicit cutting and the use of steep forest slopes for cultivation purposes, and active promotion of more efficient forest exploitation practices. In the early 1970s, the Food and Agriculture Organization recommended a reforestation program of 1 million hectares. The government later approved a plan to replant 120,000 hectares. *

Major damage to permanent forest areas also occurred, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, through occupation of hillside forestland that was not suitable for cultivation. This practice was carried on throughout the country and resulted not only in destruction of forests but also in erosion and damage to watersheds. Notable forest destruction occurred over time in the North because of shifting cultivation practiced mainly by the hill peoples of the region. Of the roughly 70 percent of this region classified as forests, well over a quarter was being used for such cultivation in the late 1960s, according to a government report. The amount grew tremendously during the 1970s as the population of the hill peoples increased. In addition, many landless Thai were reported to have migrated to the area, and others who were farming agricultural land in the valleys also were practicing shifting cultivation on the hills and mountainsides to supplement production. According to some sources, forested lands in the Northeast declined from about 60 percent in 1956 to less than 20 percent two decades later. *

Deforestation in Thai Forest Reserves

Except for a few small, privately owned, coastal mangrove areas, all forestland was the property of the state. Roughly 32 percent of the 1961 forest area, largely in the North and Northeast, had been designated permanent reserved forest through the end of the 1960s. Government plans called for additions in subsequent years to raise the total to about 51 percent. Clearing or cutting of timber or settling in such land was possible only with an official permit. Many of the stream valleys in these reserve areas, however, were highly suitable for agricultural use. [Library of Congress *]

Because of corruption and lax land title laws, forest reserves are being deforested by both villagers and developers. Squatters get a hold of land in forest reserves by setting fires which degrades the land and allows the squatters to claim the land for farming. They then sell it to large commercial farmers who sell the land to developers and plant eucalyptus which dries out the soil and harbors little wildlife. [Source: Noel Grove, National Geographic, February 1996]

Traditionally, farmers had been able to occupy unreserved public land on a free basis, restrictions in such cases relating only to the cutting of certain timber tree species, which remained the property of the state. As population growth increased the demand for land, farmers in the 1970s also moved into the reserved forests with little or no effective hindrance from government agencies. This situation was generally nonreversible, and observers anticipated that eventually most such holdings suitable for cultivation would be legalized under the agricultural land reform program. *

The exploitation of Thailand's forests was the responsibility of the Royal Forestry Department. Through the Forest Industry Organization, a state-owned enterprise, the government controlled nearly all extraction of mature teak. However, illegal felling of teak continued to be a serious problem in the 1980s, although the extent of the cutting was uncertain. A decade earlier, estimates had placed illegal cutting at from one-third to an amount greater than legal cutting. Some idea of the magnitude of the situation was evident in a 1973 report of the Royal Forestry Department, which cited some 7,600 incidents of illegal teak felling. The department was not only unable to patrol adequately all forest areas but authorities also failed to act against illegal logging operations connected with politically influential individuals and families. *

See Timber

Forestry Policy and Management

The Royal Forestry Department has jurisdiction over the public lands, especially the numerous protected areas and environmental sanctuaries. By tradition the people have lived within these forested zones for decades and millennia in some cases, claiming them as ancestral lands. Another factor complicating the legal context is the presence of huge speculative markets for real estate that have emerged as a by-product of industrialization. A sort of "wild west" mentality is emerging in the northern part of Thailand, where speculators convince farmers to sell lands that may or may not belong to them in the first place (see THAIBIRD case). There have been reports of some lands being sold three times in a day. [Source: Ted Case Studies]

Thailand first introduced controls on forest exploitation in 1898 and, at the same time, developed the first teak plantations. By the mid 1990s commercial plantations covered over 800,000 ha, 55 percent of which were planted with teak. Eucalyptus was introduced in 1950, initially as a fast means of reforesting areas that had been over-exploited. In 1993, the government launched a project to encourage the private sector to grow eucalyptus for the expanding pulp industry. Annual demand for pulp is expected to reach 55million cubic metres by 2015. [Source: Illegal-Logging.Info =]

However, despite management measures, Thailands forests had shrunk from 50 percent of the land cover in the 1960s to 25 percent by the end of the century. Recognising the severity of deforestation and forest degradation, the government introduced a complete ban on logging in 1989. Measures to project the remaining forests and promote plantations were introduced. Thailand has moved from being a net exporter to a net import of forest products. =

Thailand has established a network of protected areas, covering over 20 percent of the national land area. Other conservation measures include strengthening forest laws and regulations relating to enforcement, and increased forest patrols. The government has also tried to limit shifting cultivation in upland areas and introduced forest fire controls. =

A Community Forest Bill was passed by Parliament in late 2007 which supporters say provides for community participation in forest management. However, community representatives and lawyers believe that it reduces communities rights to resource management set out in the countrys new constitution and are challenging the provisions of the Bill. The budget of the foresty department is relatively small. There are few rangers in the forest and they poor;y paid. In mamy cases they piited against heaily armed pachers and illegally organized by rich crime syndicates. =

Logging Ban in Thailand and Deforestation in Cambodia and Myanmar

On January 10, 1989 Thailand banned harvesting of timber in the country following the worst flooding there in nearly a century. It is now illegal to sell timber felled in Thailand and, theoretically anyway, all imported timber must be registered with the government before going on sale.

The disastrous floods that triggered the ban occurred in November, 1988. During the floods, 350 people died and there was $120 million in property losses. Flood waters and tons of cut timber washed down deforested slopes in Surai Thani Province , burying a number of villages. Soil erosion caused by deforestation exacerbated the floods, thereby making the damage and loss of lives much worse. Since a large part of the logging was actually for the purpose of export, after the ban resourceful Thai businessmen began importing wood from their unstable neighbors — Myanmar and Cambodia.

Thailand had long been a traditional exporter of raw logs and in more recent years had begun to develop a competitive furniture industry. Despite the ban on harvesting, Thailand's furniture industry has continued to climb in terms of total output and export value. The country now imports large amounts of raw teak and other wood from Myanamar and Cambodia. This trade is not documented nor is it always even carried out with the permission of the governments in Yangoon and Phnom Penh, respectively. In fact, these two countries are now experiencing some of the highest deforestation rates in the world. [Source: Ted Case Studies]

When the Myanamar government faced international sanctions due to its human rights policies, and was short on cash, it awarded 22 logging concessions to Thai firms, raising about $100 million. Myanamar used the hard currency to purchase weapons from China to use in its domestic war against the Karen people.

Many Thai investors also imported wood from Cambodia by purchasing concessions from the Khmer Rouge, who controlled forested tracts adjacent to the Thai border. It was estimated that the value of the concessions was worth $100 million to the Khmer Rouge, again allowing them to purchase arms. The Supreme National Council of Cambodia and the United Nations, who ran the country between 1991 and 1993, adopted a ban on the export of logs in September, 1992, aimed at depriving the Khmer Rouge access to funding. However, Thai firms continued to import logs, in part due to the lack of a real government in the country and sometimes with the blessing of Phnom Penh, who also needed hard currency. These shipments usually went via Laos or the Gulf of Thailand. About 7 million of Cambodia's 18 million hectare area remains forested. Politics, Local Communities and Deforestation in Thailand

The World Rainforest Movement reported: The causes of deforestation in Thailand are forestry concessions, expansion of cash crops, failure of problem-solving in land occupation and the issue of land license, illegal logging, reforestation by private business, infrastructure, purchase of land for profit anticipation, and people loosing power and rights to control their resources and knowledge. The underlying causes of deforestation in Thailand are liberal capitalism, economic growth policy, state centralised natural resource management, the weakening of civil society and the gap of worldview in each sector. [Source: Thai NGOs Working Group,World Rainforest Movement <>]

Ban Klang village is located in a fertile forest area with several creek sources where in the past were dense with teaks. The Ban Klang forests can be divided into three types: evergreen forest, sundry forest and deciduous forest. Ban Klang community has lost the forest from several causes which are forestry concessions and illegal forestry concessions by Businessmen and Mafia. The forestry concessions and the illegal forestry concessions has resulted in several natural crises in Ban Klang. Creeks have been short of water, rice cultivation has been unsuccessful due to drought and creeks and streams have become shallow by earth coming down from the declining forest. <>

At present, the state of declining of the forest is worsening. The forest area of river sources have been destroyed which has affected the existence of living things and the richness of the watersheds. Therefore, the villagers have considered the causes of the problems and tried to rehabilitate, maintain and protect the water source forests that have been destroyed. They have got together and established "Ban Klang Community Forest Committee" with the objective to make community cooperate with community and community with government, promote the knowledge and the understanding of forestry preservation, find methods and cooperation to rehabilitate the invaded and declining forests for the Maemai and the Maetum creeks can be sources of life essential supply for the people living around the watersheds. The adaptation to protect the forests and the community’s activities have resulted in increased fertility in the forests around the village. The villagers have realised that the community survival is based on common elements from the forests. The way of life of the villagers highly depends on the nature, therefore, the villagers see the importance of the forest rehabilitation and protection. Although the villagers have the new forest management system and can implement it efficiently, the government does not accept and recognise the community’s organization. Therefore, the regulations can be imposed only on the community’s members but not on outsiders that break them. <>

The Nong Yo community forest has a forest area of 1,557 rai. The forest is a mixture between the hardwood and the evergreen forests. The Nong Yo forest is surrounded by 8 communities either original or new settlers. The communities’ main career is agriculture and labouring to Bangkok and other big cities. Around 1967, the Tammai company is Surin province was granted forestry concessions in the forest area to produce sleepers and firewood. The forest became sparse and people could expand their cultivation areas to grow upland plants. In 1979 Forest Industry Organisation (FIO) hired by Tammai company started to restore back the forest and rehabilitate the damaged forest area by planting wattle, eucalyptus an Melia azedlarach. <>

The preference of the Eucalyptus Garden-Like Reforestation Project over the communities’ cultivation area has caused trouble, such as economic, social and poverty problems, because the communities have lost a vast cultivation area, the decreasing level of underground water, the forest area are arid, the soil is not fertile, natural trees have been cut for use and various breeds of animals have been extinct. Because of the impacts on the 8 villages, a protest was made to the involved organizations to cancel the garden-like forest status. The Nong Yo forest rehabilitation plan was offered as a forest management that would be run by the communities around the forest. <>

Satoon is a province located on the Andaman sea side. It is in southern Thailand and has two geographical types which are mountainous areas covered with forests (land forest) and The shore on the Andaman sea side. Most forest areas in Satoon are in the north of the province. There are 18 preserved forests in Satoon which cover 729,980.55 rai or 47.12 percent of the province. Satoon lost a forest area of 170,625 rai within five years or on average 34,125 rai/year or 93,49 rai/day. The causes are illegal forestry concessions for trade; community expansion to make a living and to have inherited land from their ancestors; and area expansion for good breeds of rubber tree plantation. Due to the mention causes, the case study provides a list of arrests and legal claims proceeded by officers of the conserved national park of Ban Sea and officers at the provincial police station of Satoon province. <>

The case study distinguish the communities’ conditions into 3 cathegories which are communities that have strong organisations, communities that have medium-strength organisations and communities that have no firm organisations cannot get together to solve the problems. The first communities give the first priority to the right to make a iving in the forest area, the second cooperate with outsider while he third ones are fixed targets for not everlastingly utilising the forests. <>

Illegal Logging in Thailand

Despite the logging ban and conservation measures, deforestation and degradation from encroachment and illegal logging continue to be serious problems. The ban also appears to be resulting in illegal cross-border activities with impacts on the forests of neighbouring countries. Both the Malaysian and Myanmar (Burmese) authorities have recently arrested Thai loggers. There have also been allegations of Thai officials being involved in illegal logging. [Source: Illegal-Logging.Info]

Government officials in charge of protected areas have contributed to deforestation by allowing illegal logging and illegal timber trade to take place. King Bhumibol Adulyadej has blamed the destruction of Thailand's forested areas on the greed of some state officials. This is evident in places such as large protected swathes of northern Nan Province that were formerly covered with virgin forest and that have been deforested even while having national park status. [Source: Wikipedia]

Timber is illegally harvested in Thailand. In addition timber that is illegally harvested in Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos is moved, processed and marketed in Thailand. When logging was banned in Thailand in 1989 Thai timber barons began illegally harvesting wood in Cambodia and Myanmar. When Cambodia banned timber exports in the 1990s the harvest of timber from there diminished but illegal loggers switched their attention to Myanmar and Laos.

The 1989 ban left thousands of logger out of work, caused timber prices to soar, making illegal logging an attractive endeavor. Illegal loggers often work at night. Thais suspected of illegal logging have been shot to death in clashes with military forces near the Myanmar border.

Combating Deforestation and Illegal Logging in Thailand

A number of solution were proposed to counter deforestation including supporting alternative agriculture, suppoting watershed management and network, and good managing of forest by stopping removing people out of forest, supporting community forest and allowing local community and civil society to participate natural resource management at all level. [Source: Thai NGOs Working Group,World Rainforest Movement]

Forestry officials fight an uphill battle against illegal loggers. The loggers usually keep track of where the rangers are and stay out of harms way. Loggers are often armed, have high-tech electronic for monitoring police communications and have spotters that can provide warnings of pursuing officials.

In Myanmar sanctions placed by the international community often had little impact on the harvesting of timber because often was the case that the actual sellers of the Burmese wood (much of it teak) were actually the various ethnic groups (such as the Karen) that live in the remote highlands of Myanamar and are fighting the government. In turn for selling wood, these groups then had funding to buy more military equipment. Thailand's ban then set into motion a string of events: Myanamar's forests are now being cut much more rapidly and the power of the government in Rangoon vis-a-vis the differing parts of the country is weaker.

Reforestation in Thailand

The Thai government has formulated a series of policies to reforest the open tracts of land. One policy chose a economically profitable tree, eucalyptus, as the preference species for reforestation. The tree's pulp is used for paper production and demand for paper pulp is expected to grow by 10 percent annually in the near term. The implementation of reforestation policies, designed to turn commonly held land into Eucalyptus plantations, resulted in the enclosure of these lands, the disruption of tradition land management techniques, the transfer of land ownership to large corporations, and uprooting millions rural farmers and their families. [Source: TED Case Studies]

Because of the reforestation program, many local people will be displaced and forced to resettle in the few virgin forests that remain. One study suggests that a 2000-km2 eucalyptus plantation proposed by Shell could potentially affect 300,000 families. These areas are already densely populated by people already displaced: some 10 million Thais live in degraded forest areas and only 15 percent of the original forests remain.

The first stage of the project focused on reforestation of Thailand's impoverished northeast, part of the "Golden Triangle" for heroin production. The project forced approximately 1.25 million people from 1.5 million hectares to resettle over a five- year period beginning in 1991. These lands were to be converted to eucalyptus plantations. In essence, the plan simply transferred ownership of the land from subsistence farmers and their families to large agribusiness concerns.

One offshoot of the reforestation program was the establishment of large-scale eucalyptus plantations. The wood chips and paper pulp would be exported by transnational corporations such as Shell and Esso to Taiwan and Japan to earn hard currency. The policy has been supported by the Thai Board of Investment, the Thai Royal Forestry Department, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the World Bank. In addition, numerous local and foreign businesses, such as Japan's Oji Paper and Phoenix Pulp and Paper among others, will profit from publicly subsidized purchase of land and the establishment of commercial eucalyptus plantations.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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