Can participatory land use planning at community level 
in the highlands of northern Thailand 
use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) 
as a communication tool?


By Oliver Puginier

(Humboldt University Berlin, Bochumer Str. 19, D-10555 Berlin)


Paper presented at the International Workshop "Participatory Technology Development and Local Knowledge for Sustainable Land Use in Southeast Asia"
Chiang Mai, Thailand
June 6-7, 2001




1.1         The farming systems of the north

The north of Thailand has experienced rapid changes in land use, driven by internal forces like population increases as well as commercial agriculture with increased productivity to secure a living, and external forces related to government policy such as nationalisation (Thai identity), enforcement of forest and watershed conservation, suppression of opium production, and improved infrastructure. The mountains of Thailand were populated from the lowlands upwards in a time sequence, whereby the earliest settlers were northern Thais who occupied the lower areas (up to 1,200 m), followed by a number of Tibeto-Burman mountain peoples moving south from China. The forest farming systems in the highlands are based on shifting cultivation or swidden farming, distinguished by the relationship between cultivation and fallow periods (kunstadter et al. 1978,7):

  1. Short cultivation-short fallow (northern Thai); only supplementary to irrigated wet-rice cultivation in transitional zones between valley and hill lands at elevations between 300-600 metres.
  2. Short cultivation-long fallow (Karen, Lua); Rotational swiddening on sloping land in addition to wet-rice cultivation on terraced fields at elevations between 700-1,600 m, there is no opium cultivation.
  3. Long cultivation-very long fallow (Hmong, Yao, Akha, Lahu and Lisu); Pioneer swiddening on steep slopes and opium cultivation as a cash crop at elevations between 800-2,000 m.

Land resources have become scarce, so that extensive rotational and pioneer shifting cultivation have had less and less space, and now most farmers are forced to use very short rotations with one- or two-year fallows (ganjanapan 1998,75). Nowadays swidden farming resembles that of the northern Thais and is characterised as degraded (seetisarn 1996,17).

1.2         Population increase and deforestation

It is often mentioned that hill tribes have a very high natural growth rate (3% compared to 1.5% for Thais), yet in spite of that they only account for 1.6% (or 1 million) of Thailand’s population that has also grown rapidly to 62 million (Table 1). Parallel to this, the country has experienced a drastic disappearance of forest cover this century, as it is estimated that at the turn of the century 75% of the land was forested (McKinnon 1997,118), decreasing to 60% in 1938 and 53% in 1961 (rfd 1993,9). The decline further continued to 26% in 1991 and pessimistic figures place it as low as 15% (maxwell 1997). The main reported reasons for deforestation have been the conversion of forest for agriculture, national security strategies encouraging forest clearance for economic growth in the 1970s, and to a certain extent hill tribe farmers in the forest (suraswadi et al. 2000,4).


Table 1 Population growth over 40 years (density in people/km2)


National Population

Hill tribe population

For Mae Hong Son







Hill tribes


26.3 mill.





No record


34.4 mill.







57.0 mill.







61.7 mill.






Area of Thailand 513,115 km2

Mae Hong Son hosts 13% of Thailand’s hill tribes

a Data from kunstadter et al. (1978,27) and young (1962,5); 

b Data from rerkasem and rerkasem (1994,6); 

c from adb (2000,6).


The most common criticism hill tribes are exposed to is that their swiddening systems cause deforestation and erosion, yet there have only been few scientific studies carried out to verify that claim. It is therefore important to note that a correlation between forest loss and population does not support that (rerkasem and rerkasem 1994,33; ganjanapan 1998,75). For the years 1982-1989 the loss of forest cover correlates more strongly with annual population increases of lowland population (R2 = 0.83) than with the size of hill tribe population in 1986 (R2 = 0.51) or 1993 (R2 = 0.51, or with annual hill tribe population increases (R2 = 0.65) over the same 13 years (rerkasem 1994,13). Hence attempts to save the forest cover that focus only on hill tribes and their agricultural practices are doomed to fail, since they leave out much more important sources of damage.

1.3         Stakeholders and development priorities

The controversy over the negative impact of shifting cultivation on the environment points to the different problem perception of hill tribe farmers as the dominant primary stakeholders who make a living from the highlands, and government agencies as secondary stakeholders with mandates to administer the highlands that were classified as protected reserve forests in which no agriculture or settlement are permitted (tangtham 1992,5). On the government side, after an initial focus on the elimination of opium cultivation in the 1970s under the Office of Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) as the national coordinating agency for drug abuse prevention, two opposing development policies have evolved:

·        The restoration of forest cover to 25% conservation and 15% production forest by the Royal Forest Department (RFD) under the Ministry of Agriculture (amornsanguansin, 1992), to the point that even hill tribe resettlement by force was considered (arbhabhirama et al. 1987,80).

·        The official registration of hill tribe villages by the Department of Local Administration (DOLA) under the Ministry of Interior, classified by population and long-term residence, progressing from satellite village with no official status to official key village with recognised village leaders (aguettant 1996,58).

Hill tribes on the other hand are looking for food sufficiency and land security to first meet their subsistence needs as well as village registration in order to secure some form of land right, prior to modifying their traditional farming systems towards permanent cultivation. They found themselves caught between contradictory development policies of the government and often sought support for their issues from the wide range of foreign funded highland development programmes that started in the 1970s, which peaked with a total of 168 agencies from 49 international donors (ganjanapan 1997,205).

The large scale development initiatives had the advantage that policy controversies began to be addressed in terms of planning and community participation, leading to the First Master Plan for Highland Development and Narcotic Crops Control (1992-1996) as well as a Second one (1997-2001), a Thai Forestry Sector Master Plan in 1993 (though never implemented), a Community Forestry Act since 1991 (not yet passed), and a Tambon Administrative Organisation Act in 1995. The current 8th National Economic and Social Development Plan (1997-2001) even states:

Local people and community organisations should be urged to play an increasingly active role in the management of natural resources and environments” (nesdb 1997,109).

The fact that some policies have been debated as long as 10 years shows the political nature of highland development in Thailand, and the issue has thus become one of mediation and conflict resolution in order to overcome the apparent dichotomy between forest protection and agricultural subsistence. The highlands of northern Thailand are thus a prime example for a conflicting situation arising when a centralised government system with conflicting interests of forest preservation and integration of ethnic minorities extends its control to the remote areas, where traditional shifting cultivation practices clash with centralised planning – an ideal case study for land use planning.

2           land use planning, participation and GIS

Where there is competition for limited resources, planning aims to strike a balance between a rational technical approach of resource valuation and a social basis for conflict resolution, as defined by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (fao 1993,1): “Land use planning means the systematic assessment of land and water potential, alternatives for land use and economic and social conditions in order to select and adopt the best land use options... Planning also provides guidance in cases of conflict”. 

The FAO also states on the same page, that two conditions must be met if planning is to be useful; the need for changes in land use must be accepted by the people involved, and there must be the political will to put the plan into effect. Based on this principle, highland development activities shifted towards participatory approaches such as the Community Based Land Use Planning and Local Watershed Management (CLM) of the Thai-German Highland Development Programme (TG-HDP) that started in 1990 (Anonymous, 1998). A participatory process of classification and mapping of natural resources at village level was initiated in 3 villages of Mae Hong Son province, and by 1998 it included 30 in Pang Ma Pha district as well as Huai Poo Ling sub-district (or Tambon in Thai). The aim was an improved sustainable use of land, water and forests, a rehabilitation of watershed catchment areas and an intensified agricultural production on suitable land. The most common visualisation tool became three-dimensional topographic models for demarcation of highland areas under shifting cultivation, permanent cultivation, community forest for use and conservation/watershed forest. There are a number of participatory mapping methods, but it is often difficult to produce information that can be standardised or geo-referenced for planning purposes, or even in a way that allows area measurements  (Figure 1 and Figure 2), so that it is difficult to combine them with remote sensing tools.

Figure 1 : Village sketch map of Pa Charoen

Figure 2: Incomplete land use model


In order to go beyond land demarcation and to carry this process up from village level to higher planning, the research project examined possibilities to enter the data from village maps into a Geographic Information System (GIS), so as to provide visual information that is understandable by the people who displayed it. There are several challenges when combining participatory approaches and GIS (abbot et al. 1998,30):

  1. Scaling up to show local concerns as well as broad regional or national perspectives, so that local priorities can be integrated into regional plans.
  2. The access of local people to decision making power through the ownership and use of data, since in the past this access was limited to a few high-level decision makers and thus constituted a merely extractive extension tool.
  3. A land use model or GIS turns local knowledge into public knowledge and out of local control, and can be used to locate resources or extract more taxes. 

These issues have also been studied for wider applications to northern Thailand including areas settled by hill tribes (Saipothong et al., 1999). Given the above problems and building on the CLM approach of the now closed TG-HDP, it was important to first document the achievements of the project and to integrate the land use systems into a computer database for modification and upgrading for future planning to produce:

·        Durable and easily transportable maps recognised by all parties;

·        Aggregated information at sub-district level for regional planning;

·        A tool that allows regular updating of land use data for the rapidly changing land use in the highlands.

The use of a GIS may help to overcome the lack of a common map base for the assessment and management of natural resources such as forests, water resources, protected areas, agricultural land and village locations. The issue of data management and local political interests is a crucial one in the unclear policy framework for highland development, and it is expected that it may also help in the areas of conflict resolution between villagers and government agencies, the assignment of land titles and the determination of sustainable forms of agriculture. Yet at the same time the threat that the revelation of land use to authorities can backfire for farmers in the form of land confiscation is also very real.

3           research methodology

Digitised land use maps were produced using the following procedure. Hand-drawn land use maps were collected in all the 10 CLM target villages of Huai Poo Ling and in three villages in Pang Ma Pha, as only three villages have transferred their land use models onto maps. For Pang Ma Pha it was thus not possible to aggregate the maps into Tambon maps. The village maps were digitised using a hand digitiser into the GIS programme Arc Info and then converted into maps using the map-drawing programme Arc View 3. Contour lines were obtained from the Remote Sensing Centre of Chiang Mai University (CMU) to give a three-dimensional perspective, with 20 m intervals for the village maps and 100 m intervals at Sub-District level. The roads and streams, as well as the Tambon boundaries for Huai Poo Ling were obtained from the Survey Section of the Northern Narcotics Control Office (NNCO) in Chiang Mai in digitised form and overlaid with the remaining data. The different land categories were then colour coded using the same colours as on village maps. Maps were displayed using the Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) coordinates with grid points in steps of 1 km² for village maps and 5 km² for the sub-district map. The polygons for different land categories were added for area calculations. The same procedure was applied to Tambon Huai Poo Ling and aggregated. As the resulting map was aggregated from individual village maps, neighbouring villages often had overlapping outer user boundaries (marked in pink on the map), which is significant in the case of land disputes and official village registration.

Once the maps had been digitised and printed, they were taken back to villages for modifications or corrections, with the aim to later distribute them in plastified A1 size to villages for longer term use. Digitised printouts can also be distributed to other agencies and can be taken to network or district meetings to discuss land use issues. Maps were also distributed to district forest officials to facilitate their work in land use monitoring. The data and the GIS software were then transferred to the Survey Section of NNCO as well as to the ICRAF office in Chiang Mai that collects this data for the whole north of Thailand.


4.1         Pang Ma Pha District (Nam Lang)

Pang Ma Pha has experienced a strong population increase between 1983 and 1998 of 6,000 to now over 16,000 inhabitants, or in terms of population density an increase from 10 persons/km² to now 27 persons/km². As anticipated with the population increase by 10,000 inhabitants, there were changes in land use over a period of 10 years at district level, as shown by Tansiri et al. (1995) using satellite images (Table 2). The most interesting aspect is the decrease in natural forest by 17%, from 77% in 1983 to 60% of the area in 1994; this trend is likely to continue. Bamboo forests have increased from 1% to 13% during the same time, because they developed from bush fallow of abandoned arable land. These will become secondary forests if left undisturbed and are found near swidden lands close to villages. Secondary forest has increased significantly, partly due to tree planting activities for watershed rehabilitation and is found close to natural forests. The loss of over 5,000 ha of natural forest is remarkable and is likely to continue as agricultural cultivation expands with the population increase. This illustrates an overall picture, and land use was examined more closely at village level in Tambon Pang Ma Pha, as all selected villages lie in the same Tambon.


Table 2  Land use change in Pang Ma Pha district (after tansiri et al. 1995)











Urban land














Swidden fields







Bush fallow














Natural forest







Bamboo forest







Secondary forest







Forest plantation







Rocky land














Note: 1 rai = 0.16 ha








4.2        Huai Hea village (Pang Ma Pha)

The Lahu Sheleh village of Huai Hea (class 3, no potential for permanence) is furthest away from Pang Ma Pha town and has a population of 200 (or 10 people/km²). Huai Hea became registered with DOLA in 1987 as key village No. 8, although the Department of Land Development (DLD) still placed it in class 3, a strange contradiction between different departments. Huai Hea was established as a local settlement 50 years ago, and most settlers came originally from the Sam Mun Mountains in Chiang Dao district of Chiang Mai and some from Myanmar, chosen for its fertile land for opium cultivation. It is the only surveyed village in Pang Ma Pha that has paddy rice, owned individually, while upland fields have no fixed ownership, yet none of the villagers have land titles. Villagers have 2-6 fields on average, ranging from 1-2 ha, with some land still in Myanmar. Huai Hea has even given three upland areas to a Karen woman that fled from a refugee camp, in spite of land scarcity. Since the inclusion of Huai Hea in the CLM concept 1994, farmers have reduced their number of plots which previously exceeded 10, and the fallow periods for upland rice have decreased from 7-8 years to 2-3 years, while lands in Myanmar will progressively be given up as land use intensifies and the Burmese Army is less tolerant towards illegal border crossings. Parallel to this the upland rice harvests have gone down from 60 tang per 1 tang of seed to 15-20 tang (1 tang = 20l container or 10 kg of milled rice), showing increasing problems of food security. Of a total area of 2,103 ha with an outer user boundary marked by villagers themselves, about 67% is demarcated as forest area, while about 33% or 693 ha are used for agricultural purposes (Figure 3).

When interviewed about the use of their model and the map, villagers pointed to the TG-HDP that provided it and also mentioned that it has not been updated, partly because they feel that they lack the confidence to do it themselves and partly because their boundaries are not recognized. The land conflict with Phapuak village to the west was mentioned, where Huai Hea lost some upland to the newly established Phapuak when it was officially registered in April 1995 (Dola 1995). Phapuak villagers originated in Huai Hea and migrated to form a new settlement, and at the time of village registration about 25% of Huai Hea area was given to the new village and thus lost. On top of that, the other boundaries were not recognized either and land has even been confiscated by RFD, in spite of contrary statements from TG-HDP staff (jantakad 1998,41).

Figure 3 Land use map of Huai Hea village

4.3         Bor Krai village (Pang Ma Pha) 

The Lahu Sheleh village of Bor Krai (class 2, potential for permanent settlement) has been inhabited for 20 years and was registered in 1996 as key village No. 11 (dola 1996). The village has a population of 160 and consists of 31 households. The villagers of Bor Krai migrated to the new location from the original village of Cho Bo to the north in 1978, and the main reason for the migration to Bor Krai was to find a new place to cultivate crops and to raise animals, as with the rapid population increase in Cho Bo the land resources had reached their limits. Farmers own 3-6 fields on average, of between 1-6 ha in size. Whereas previously fallow cycles lasted as long as 7-8 years, now they are reduced to 3 years. Upland rice harvests have gone down from 1 tang seeds yielding 40 tang to only 20 tang (1 tang = 20l container). Villagers report a lot of weed problems on upland fields, as the fires after shorter fallow periods are not hot enough to destroy weed seeds. Due to less fallow material accumulating, there is less burning material and fires are cooler. In 1998 the rice harvest failed and there is a chronic water shortage. Some villagers still have land in Cho Bo, but for official planning purposes this land is lost as it lies outside the boundary. There is no paddy cultivation, not because villagers do not want rice paddies, but because Bor Krai is at the northern tip of the Pai Wildlife Sanctuary and thus paddy cultivation is forbidden by RFD. The villagers have started some eco-tourism on a small scale for additional incomes such as hosting guests and taking them to the Fish Cave.

Land use data was compared to TG-HDP data (anonymous 1998,vol.2,29), and according to the TG-HDP, 37% of the total area is used for agriculture, compared to 43% from own calculations. Of that agricultural area, only an average of 12% is actually burned and cultivated every year, while the rest remains as fallow. If one compares that to the total village area, then only about 5% of the land is cultivated every year, a rather small amount. Official boundaries go beyond what the villagers demarcated themselves, and the topographic model cut off fields to the east with its straight line (Figure 4), so there is no clear demarcation. Under the persistent fear of land confiscation, a land use survey conducted by RFD in 1997 resulted in a figure of 179 ha of upland area used or nearly double the measured value of 92 ha, explained by farmers as a strategy of thereby holding on to at least some land as other areas would be taken away. In spite of these restrictions, the village has strict natural resource management rules (500 Baht/tree fine for felling and 500 Baht/animal for hunting in conservation forest), and displays forest conservation efforts according to TG-HDP guidelines that deserve government recognition.

4.4         Huai Tong village (Tambon Huai Poo Ling)

Huai Tong (class 1, permanent village) is an old Karen key village (No. 5) of over 100 years settlement and has grown from a population of 150 in 1964 (year of registration) to 462 people with 112 households. Farmers still practice rotational swiddening, but due to its location in a valley, paddy fields have become established a long time ago. Paddy rice is thus the most important source of livelihood, while upland rice supplements the diet. Other crops are taro, red beans, maize, cabbage and of increasing importance various fruit trees for subsistence as well as sale. Fallow cycles on swidden fields are decreasing from 10-15 years to 8-12 years with increasing population density. Villagers own 2-5 fields ranging from 0.3-4 ha, and almost all households have paddy land in individual ownership, though no one has received any land title from the government. Upland rice harvests are decreasing from 60 tang (20l container) per 1 tang seed to 30 tang only, and villagers have started to use chemical fertilizers to sustain their livelihood.

Figure 4: Land use map of Bor Krai village    


The village boundary was demarcated in 1996 with the arrival of the CLM programme of the TG-HDP, but the land use model is in a state of decay and the village map is also in a bad condition. The total village area is 1,988 ha, of which 1,345 ha or 67 % are forest, while 644 ha are used for agriculture (33%). Some farmers still have land in neighbouring Chiang Mai province to the east and will probably lose it once village boundaries are enforced rigorously. The mapped area on the model does not cover the whole village, and a map updating exercise was unsuccessful due to limited mapping skills, showing that the CLM approach requires further support from extension agencies. When interviewed on this issue, village leaders responded that they do not quite understand the CLM approach, since after they displayed their land use on the topographic model it was not recognised by RFD, although that was the initial promise. Since the village has been permanent for a long time and was also registered nearly 40 years ago, the fear of relocation was low, but several villagers had lost swidden areas to RFD for reforestation and expected this to happen again after the closure of the TG-HDP in 1998. 

The village boundary will become an issue in future, since it was redrawn when its former neighbouring satellite village Huai Poo Loei was registered as a key village (dola 1995). Here again the villagers’ own demarcation was ignored and 30% of the land is beyond the boundary (Figure 5). As in the case of Huai Hea and Bor Krai in Pang Ma Pha, DOLA officials drew the boundary without asking villagers and the resulting modified boundary was not given to the village. Village leaders did not yet perceive the possible consequences that undoubtedly also affect land use planning, though they did request a copy of the boundary modification document. Parallel to this, RFD has started to conduct a detailed survey of plot sizes and villagers fear they may lose land with the new policy of the Mae Hong Son Governor, who only allows for 2-year fallows on uplands to reduce the total cultivation area. Additionally, only 2 upland fields are permitted and RFD has confiscated tree breast diameters of more than 10 cm in fallow areas as permanent forest areas.

One strategy in response to the threat of losing land by villagers is to plant hedgerows between fallow areas in order to show to RFD officials that the land is being used. It seems almost ironic that farmers have to resort to such tactics to keep their land, but in this uncertain situation of an insecure land deal, that is the best villagers can do maintain their cultivation areas. In spite of this unresolved situation, Huai Tong has formulated village land use regulations under the influence of the TG-HDP:

4.5         Land use map aggregation at Tambon level (Huai Poo Ling)

When aggregated at Tambon level, it is interesting to note that the village of Pa Kaa lies outside the Tambon boundary (in neighbouring Pai district in fact), if the data provided by ONCB are correct. To date there exist no reliable maps from the Royal Survey Department indicating Tambon boundaries. But even more important is the fact that there are overlapping areas claimed by adjacent villages (marked in pink), which may lead to conflicting claims over its use, particularly since DOLA draws even other boundaries when registering villages, and in most cases this land lies in conservation forest areas (Figure 6).


Figure 5: Land use map of Huai Tong village


Figure 6: Land use map of Tambon Huai Poo Ling

The total upland area of 6,200 ha makes up some 17% of the whole Tambon area, or with perennial crops paddy fields and land used in the last three years amounts to 7,600 ha or 20% of the Tambon. The total mapped forest area amounts to 14,700 ha or 40% of the Tambon, but as only 23,800 ha of the Tambon have actually been mapped, the fact that 65% of it is conservation forest is more significant. This by far exceeds the target of 25% protected forests set by RFD nationwide. According to own calculations the area cultivated each year has increased from 100 ha (1.3%) in 1995 to 700 ha (9.2%) in 1997, a rather sharp increase that needs to be monitored. Aggregated data has a relatively high level of inaccuracy, but the most important priority for government agencies is the relation between conservation forest and upland area, and the figures show that the forest cover in Huai Poo Ling is very high, while only a small area is burned and cultivated every year.

5           DISCUSSION

5.1         Village level

The issue of local concerns has been achieved to the extent that the village as a whole agreed on the area demarcations within each village, which for planning purposes is a step forward from rough sketching without geographic references. This also applies to boundaries with neighbouring villages, with the exception of the western boundary of Huai Hea. As with fields outside the boundary, villagers have resigned to the fact these will eventually be lost. As for regional perspectives, villagers have displayed the willingness to set aside a large part as conservation forest in line with official reforestation interests. Villages also fulfil criteria as permanent settlements with elected village leaders. The inclusion of the boundary drawn by DOLA at village registration attracted a lot of attention, as none of the villagers had received documents with the demarcations. So having those included on the drawing confirmed their fear of losing land and made them wonder why the TG-HDP or any other agency had not considered this, since in future the government agencies will only recognise DOLA boundaries, not those of the villagers.

The major shortcomings are on the government side; first by RFD that refuses to recognise the land demarcations and continues to confiscate land, and second by DOLA that does not use village demarcations when registering villages, thus questioning the trust farmers placed in them as they participated in the CLM approach of the TG-HDP. The early breakdown of the Land Use Planning Teams (anonymous 1998,vol.1,33) indicates that planning in agreement with government representatives never really worked, as the policy dichotomy between forest protection and permanent agriculture was never resolved and there is as yet no coordinated planning for highlands.

This also applies to the access of hill tribes to decision-making power and public knowledge, as the ownership of data has shifted in favour of outside agencies. Mapping revealed the extent of land use, which has led to land confiscation by the Royal Forest Department and the provincial Governor. The issue of updating digitised maps is completely out of the control of villagers and requires an interest and cooperative approach by planning agencies for regular consultation. For villagers even updating models is difficult, as shown in the case of the satellite village Pa Charoen (Pang Ma Pha), which was left with an incomplete model after the closure of the TG-HDP (Figure 2). Here there is an important potential role for extension services from the Department of Land Development (DLD) to update information and displays, but this will only happen if the political will is there to carry on with the participatory planning process.                

5.2         Tambon level

The same local concerns apply at Tambon level with questions of whether it would not be better to stick to topographic models only. Here local concerns show a clear priority for outer village boundaries as in the example of Bor Krai (Figure 7), which is more difficult to display on a small printout of a Tambon map (Figure 6) but can be done on poster size. One reason why it is so important for villagers to demarcate outer user boundaries at Tambon level is related to the hope of recognised land rights or titles, which in the early days of CLM had been expressed individually (anonymous 1998, vol.1,46). Now that these villages are registered and village leaders are members of the Tambon Administrative Organisations (TAO), they reiterate their hope to obtain land rights at communal level. The idea is not entirely new to Thailand when looking back at the concept of Forest Villages in the 1970s (hafner and apichatvullop 1990,337) and undocumented land could be converted to communal land under the current World Bank Land Titling Project (rattanabirabongse et al. 1998,20), yet to date hill tribes have been excluded from that. 


Figure 7:   Bor Krai village on the Tambon model (village No. 11)

6           CONCLUSION

Even though the political framework is still missing, various organisations are working with participatory approaches and informal farmer networks are gaining more and more importance (jantakad and Carson 1998,6). The furthest steps have been taken by CARE with the establishment of Village Forest Conservation and Watershed Management Committees (anonymous 1997), in which government and village representatives are members and sign land use agreements that use digitised maps as baseline information. So far this is the only documented case where this has led to written documents, and CARE staff point to a very cooperative District Officer in Mae Chaem who goes as far as to sign such semi-official land use agreements. These have given highland farmers the necessary confidence and trust that their land use planning efforts are recognised by the government and should serve as a model to be followed with further refinements.

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