183rd Meeting – March 1999

Does participatory land-use planning have a chance with hilltribes?

By Oliver Puginier (Presentation of the PhD field research in Mae Hong Son at INTG, March 1999)

Contact: oliver.puginier@t-online.de



In the last decades, in the highlands of northern Thailand, natural resource conflicts and inconsistent policies have increasingly affected sustainable development. One of the major conflicts is exemplified by the promotion of forest protection vis-à-vis the interest of ethnic minorities in agricultural subsistence. To facilitate conflict resolution, highland development activities have shifted towards participatory approaches, such as the Community-based Land Use-planning and Local Watershed Management (CLM) approach developed by the Thai-German Highland Development Program (TG-HDP) in Mae Hong Son province.

 The TG-HDP was a multisectoral project that included infrastructure development, community building, drug abuse control, the promotion of sound agricultural practices and social forestry. To explore options for a combination of "traditional" top-down approaches in land-use planning, that primarily based on remote sensing tools, with bottom-up approaches using GIS techniques, the TG-HDP was accompanied by a research project funded by the Tropical Ecological Support Program (TÖB) of the German Agency for Development Cooperation (GTZ). The research project combined the CLM approach with geographic information systems (GIS). In this context, village land-use maps were digitized to help overcome planning inconsistencies with regard to land-use classification and village boundaries. The realization and outcome of this research work carried out from 1997 to 1999 are presented and the experiences with GIS in participatory land-use planning in northern Thailand are discussed. Furthermore, obstacles to participatory planning are illustrated as hilltribe farming systems seem incompatible with government development approaches. Not least, the need for the formulation of coordinated policies for highland development is emphasized.

1  Background

1.1 The farming systems of northern Thailand

Northern Thailand has experienced rapid changes in land use in recent years, driven by both internal and external forces. Key internal factors are population increases and expansion of commercial agriculture. Important external forces include government policies on nationalization (Thai identity), enforcement of forest and watershed conservation regulations, suppression of opium production, and improved infrastructure. The mountains of northern 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 meters), followed by a number of Tibeto-Burman mountain peoples moving south from China.

Historically, the forest farming systems in the highlands were based on shifting cultivation or swidden farming, distinguished by the duration of cultivation and fallow periods as follows (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 meters.

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 meters; 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 meters.

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 characterized as degraded (Seetisarn 1996, 17).

1.2 Population increase and deforestation

Hill tribes only account for 1.6 percent (or 1 million) of Thailand’s population, which has grown rapidly to 62 million (Table 1). At the same time, the country has experienced a drastic disappearance of forest cover in the 20th Century. It is estimated that at the turn of the century 75 percent of the land was forested (McKinnon 1997, 118), decreasing to 60 percent by 1938 and 53 percent by 1961 (RFD 1993, 9). The decline further continued to 26 percent by 1991, and pessimistic figures place it currently as low as 15 percent (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 in Thailand and Mae Hong Son


Population of Thailand

Population of Mae Hong Son



Hill tribes

Proportion hill tribes


Hill tribes








No record






















Area of Thailand 513,115 km2
Mae Hong Son hosts 13 percent of Thailand’s hill tribes.
a Source: Kunstadter et al. (1978, 27) and Young (1962, 5); b Source: Rerkasem and Rerkasem (1994, 6); c Source: ADB (2000, 6)



The most common criticism of hill tribes is that their swiddening systems cause deforestation and erosion, yet there have been few scientific studies carried out to verify that claim. It is therefore important to note that a correlation between forest loss and hill tribe population does not support such criticism (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 = 0.37) 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 other important sources of damage.

1.3 Stakeholders and development priorities

The controversies regarding the negative environmental impacts of shifting cultivation reflect the different perceptions of hill tribe farmers (as the dominant primary stakeholders who make a living from the highlands) and government agencies that have mandates to administer the highlands as protected reserve forests where no agriculture or settlements are permitted (Tangtham 1992, 5).

Highland development began in 1969 with the establishment of the Central Hill Tribe Committee under the Ministry of Interior (MOI), which initiated the “voluntary” relocation of tribal people to lowland areas (Chotichaipiboon, 1997: 98). Then came a focus on the elimination of opium cultivation in the 1970s under the control of the Third Army (Chandraprasert, 1997, 87). The 1980s saw the start 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 belonging to the Ministry of Agriculture, while the Ministry of Interior continued programmes through the Department of Public Welfare (DPW). Large-scale development initiatives soon necessitated planning, 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 emphases (Chotichaipiboon, 1997, 100). Later, the issue of forest conservation led the RFD to the first draft of a Community Forestry Act (CFA) in 1991 (Amornsanguansin, 1992, 43), but this has become intensely political with a growing dichotomy between policy enforcement on some groups such as hill tribes and poor lowland villages on the one hand, and favouritism towards business interests like the Forest Industry Organisation (FIO) on the other (Ganjanapan, 1998, 78). On the government side, after an initial focus on the elimination of opium cultivation from the 1970s to the 1990s, under the Office of Narcotics Control Board (ONCB), three divergent policies regarding forest settlement and farming have evolved:

1.    The restoration of forest cover to 25 percent conservation and 15 percent production forest by the Royal Forest Department (RFD) under the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives (Amornsanguansin 1992,5), to the point that even hill tribe resettlement by force was considered (Arbhabhirama et al. 1987, 80).

2.    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 villages with no official status to official key villages with recognized village leaders (Aguettant 1996, 58).

3.    The classification of highland communities according to permanent agricultural potential, carried out by the Department of Land Development (RTG 1997), though insufficiently coordinated with RFD regarding watershed classification and without the inclusion of hill tribe land classification.

Hill tribes, on the other hand, are primarily looking for food sufficiency and land security, without which they are reluctant to consider modifying their traditional farming systems towards permanent cultivation (Anonymous 1998, vol. 1, 51). Their priorities are often incompatible with government priorities, but since they are in a weak position from which to negotiate, hill tribes have gradually reduced the number of fields they cultivate in forest areas and shortened fallow periods in exchange for partial (if grudging) recognition of land-use rights. Parallel to this, they have begun to adopt agroforestry systems and plant cash crops to meet their livelihood needs. I have labelled this process a search for a “land deal”, in the sense that hill tribes must gradually reduce the forest areas for periodic cultivation to shorter fallow periods on lesser numbers of fields, and include agroforestry as well as cash crops. In exchange, these adaptations are officially recognized including permanent settlement, and the government provides respective extension support for agriculture and general infrastructure. Even within this framework, however, hill tribes are caught between contradictory development policies of the government. To help deal with such confusing and sometimes inequitable treatment, hill tribes have often sought support for their issues from the wide range of foreign-funded highland development programs that were started in the 1970s – which peaked with a total of 168 organizations, supported by 49 international donors (Ganjanapan 1997, 205).

The large number of donor-supported development initiatives had at least some influence on policy formulation, 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 (RFD 1993) that was never implemented due to a lack of effective participation of key stakeholders (Jantakad and Gilmour 1999, 98), a Community Forestry Act (not yet passed by Parliament), and the Tambon Administrative Organization Act in 1995 (Nelson 2000). The most recent policy is the Tambon Council (TC) and Tambon Administrative Organisation (TAO) Act (a Tambon is equivalent to a sub-district in Thailand) under the Ministry of Interior (MOI) and effective from March 1995 (Puntasen, 1997, 74). The aim is the propagation of democracy at the grass-roots level by organising villages into Tambons with elected village leaders and mandates for local government functions. This is supported by the current 8th National Economic and Social Development Plan (1997-2001) even states:


“Local people and community organizations 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 demonstrates the political nature of highland development in Thailand. The issues have thus become the focus of mediation and conflict resolution in order to overcome the apparent dichotomy between forest protection and agricultural production. The highlands of northern Thailand are thus a prime example of how conflicts can arise when the interests of a centralized government system (e.g., forest preservation, integration of ethnic minorities) differ from those of local people (e.g., priorities for food security obtained through traditional shifting cultivation) and when the government extends its control to remote areas where traditional shifting cultivation practices clash with centralized planning. Thus, the area presents an ideal case study for land-use planning.

2  Land-use planning, participation and GIS

2.1 The Community-based Land-use Planning and Local Watershed Management (CLM) approach of the Thai-German Highland Development Program (TG-HDP)

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 Organization (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”.


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.

·       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) approach developed and applied by the Thai-German Highland Development Program (TG-HDP) (Anonymous 1998). Implemented from 1981-1998, the TG-HDP was the longest running regional rural development project in northern Thailand. It made interventions in various areas, including infrastructure, community development, drug-abuse control, agriculture and social forestry. The CLM approach was introduced in 1990 and covered 30 villages in Pang Ma Pha district and Huai Poo Ling sub-district (or “Tambon” in Thai) by the end of the Thai-German project in 1998. CLM aimed at improving the use of land, water and forest, rehabilitating catchment areas and intensifying agricultural production on suitable land (Borsy and v. Eckert 1995, 3). Its related planning concept strongly relied on three-dimensional topographic models as a means to identifying and demarcating the following categories of land:

·       village and housing areas including home gardens,

·       arable land for annual crops and pasture areas,

·       arable land for perennial crops and agroforestry,

·       social and community forest land, and

·       watershed areas and conservation forests.

Furthermore, “outer user boundaries were demarcated beyond which no activities are permitted. These boundaries were to be used as village boundaries for the official registration of the village with the Department of Local Administration (DOLA). By including these areas on land-use maps (scale 1:8,000) and displaying the information on three-dimensional models made of cardboard or styrofoam, it was possible to measure areas and display land use to outsiders. In addition, the land-use maps and three-dimensional models could be used as a basis for discussion on increasing the size of conservation areas and, in this way, demonstrate to government authorities that villagers can manage and protect forests themselves. This approach is becoming more and more widespread in Asia (Rambaldi and Callosa-Tarr 2000). In the final phase of the project (1995-1998), the TG-HDP focused on updating the land-use models and aggregating land-use information at Tambon level.

2.2 The digitization of village land use maps – Exploring new ways of participatory land-use planning

Despite the wide range of participatory mapping methods, it is often difficult to produce information that can be standardized or geo-referenced for planning purposes, or even in a way that allows area measurements. Thus, it is difficult to combine such maps with remote sensing tools. In order to go beyond demarcation of land-use types and to carry the CLM approach up from village level to higher planning, the TG-HDP was complemented by a research project funded by the Tropical Ecological Support Program (TÖB) of the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ). This research project was to:

·       examine possibilities to enter the data from village maps into a geographic information system (GIS);

·       reveal reasons for land-use conflicts in the highlands of northern Thailand;

·       describe and quantify land use types in selected villages;

·       examine the contribution of different stakeholders for natural resource management and protection strategies to improve land-use patterns; and

·       analyze the current process of decentralization and resulting policy requirements for participatory natural resource management at village and sub-district level.


There are several challenges when combining participatory approaches and GIS (Abbot et al. 1998, 30):

·       Scaling up to show local concerns as well as broad regional or national perspectives, so that local priorities can be integrated into regional plans.

·       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.

·       A land-use model or GIS turns local knowledge into public knowledge; once out of local control, such information 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 challenges, and building on the CLM approach of the now closed TG-HDP, it was important to produce:

·       durable and easily transportable maps recognized by all parties,

·       aggregated information at sub-district level for regional planning, and

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

The use of GIS may help to overcome the lack of a common map base for the assessment and management of natural resources and village locations. The issue of data management vis-à-vis the influence of local political interests is crucial. It is expected that improved data management may help resolve conflicts between villagers and government agencies, accelerate the issuance of land titles, and assist in determining sustainable forms of agriculture. Yet at the same time, there is a real risk that the revelation of land use to authorities can lead to the confiscation of land.

Under the TÖB-funded research, digitized land-use maps were produced using the following procedure: Hand-drawn land-use maps were collected in all the ten CLM target villages of Tambon Huai Poo Ling and in three villages in Tambon Pang Ma Pha. The village maps were digitized using a hand digitizer into the GIS programme ArcInfo® and then converted into maps using the map-drawing programme ArcView®. Contour lines were obtained from the Remote Sensing Center of Chiang Mai University (CMU) to give a three-dimensional perspective, with 20-meter intervals for the village maps and 100-meter intervals at sub-district level. The location of 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 digitized form and overlain with the remaining data.

The different land categories were then color coded, using the same colors 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, neighboring villages often had overlapping outer user boundaries (marked in pink on the map), which were significant in the case of land disputes and official village registration.

Once the maps had been digitized 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. Digitized printouts were also distributed to other agencies for use in discussing land-use issues at network or district meetings. 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 and to the International Center for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF) office in Chiang Mai that collects this data for all of northern Thailand.

As the activities were only carried out within a limited research framework, it is now up to the stakeholders in the planning process to decide on the future application of the methodology and the further use and adaptation of the GIS-based land-use maps.

3  Mapping results – Selected case studies

3.1 Pang Ma Pha district (Nam Lang)

Pang Ma Pha has experienced a strong population increase between 1983 and 1998, from 6,000 to now over 16,000 inhabitants (in terms of population density, an increase from 10 persons/km² to 27 persons/km²). As anticipated with such a population increase, there were significant changes in land use, as shown by Tansiri et al. (1995) using satellite images (Table 2).

Table 2: Land use change in Pang Ma Pha district

Land use







Urban land










Swidden fields





Bush fallow










Natural forest





Bamboo forest





Secondary forest





Forest plantations





Rocky land










Source: Tansiri et al. 1995


The most interesting aspect was the decrease in natural forest by 17 percent, from 77 percent in 1983 to 60 percent of the area in 1994. Bamboo forests increased from 1 percent to 13 percent during the same period, largely on bush fallow of abandoned arable land. The area of secondary forest has increased significantly, largely due to conversion of primary forest but partly due to tree planting activities for watershed rehabilitation. The loss of over 5,000 hectares of natural forest is remarkable and is likely to continue as agricultural cultivation expands. These data reflect overall changes, but land use was further examined at village levels in Tambon Pang Ma Pha.

3.2 Huai Hea village (Pang Ma Pha)

The Lahu Sheleh village of Huai Hea (class 3, no potential for permanence according to DLD) 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 in terms of the official village status. 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. Since the inclusion of Huai Hea in the CLM concept in 1994, farmers have reduced the number of their plots (which previously exceeded ten), and the fallow periods for upland rice have decreased from 7-8 years to 2-3 years. Lands in Myanmar are progressively being given up as land use intensifies and the Burmese Army has become less tolerant towards illegal border crossings. Of a total area of 2,103 hectares with an outer user boundary marked by villagers themselves, about 67 percent is demarcated as forest area, while about 33 percent or 693 hectares are used for agricultural purposes.

When interviewed about the use of their model and the map, villagers acknowledged the support of the TG-HDP that had provided it. They mentioned, however, that they were not able to update them, partly because they lacked the confidence to do it themselves and partly because their boundaries are not clearly recognized. The land conflict with Phapuak village to the west was mentioned in particular, where Huai Hea lost some land to the newly established Phapuak village when it was officially registered in April 1995 (DOLA 1995). Phapuak villagers originated in Huai Hea and migrated to form a new settlement. At the time of village registration, about 25% of Huai Hea area was given to the new village. Other boundaries are also in dispute and land has even been confiscated by RFD, in spite of contrary statements earlier made by TG-HDP staff (Jantakad 1998, 41).

The members of the Tambon Administrative Organisation (TAO) that has been in existence since 1997 do not yet normally use maps for meetings, partly because of their limited mapping skills and more importantly, because the issue of unclear boundaries has not been resolved by the TAO. The fear of losing land persists now that the TG-HDP has left the area and villagers have to deal with authorities directly. In summary, Huai Hea has come a long way to modify its land use, adapt to soil and water conservation, and regulate resource management by formulating regulations on land use. As such, it is a pity that the efforts are still not recognized by government agencies.

3.3 Bor Krai village (Pang Ma Pha)

The Lahu Sheleh village of Bor Krai (class 2, potential for permanent settlement according to DLD) 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 their current location from their original village of Cho Bo to the north in 1978. Initially, Bor Krai was a satellite village of Cho Bo. It gained full status when it was registered. At the time of registration, some land was taken away from Cho Bo and given to Bor Krai, a situation similar to that of Huai Hea, yet from the perspective of the new village. Some villagers of Bor Krai still have land in Cho Bo, but for official planning purposes this land is lost as it lies outside the village boundary. There are no paddy fields in the village since Bor Krai is located at the northern tip of the Pai Wildlife Sanctuary. Paddy cultivation is not permitted in the sanctuary. Official boundaries go beyond what the villagers demarcated themselves, and the topographic model cuts off fields to the east with its straight line, and official boundaries go beyond what the villagers demarcated themselves.

A land-use survey conducted by RFD in 1997 resulted in an estimate of 179 hectares of upland area used or nearly double the measured area of 92 hectares. This was explained by farmers as a strategy to hold on to at least some land as other areas would be taken away. In spite of these challenges, the village has strict natural resource management rules (500 Baht/tree fine for felling and 500 Baht/animal for hunting in the conservation forest), and forest conservation efforts according to TG-HDP guidelines.

In contrast to Huai Hea, it was relatively easy for Bor Krai to agree on a joint boundary with Cho Bo as its village of origin. This is due to the leaders of the neighboring Lahu Sheleh villages of Luk Kao Lam, Bor Krai and Cho Bo, who took their own initiative under the influence of the CLM approach in 1996 to form a group of forest product collectors with regulations mutually agreed by all parties (Jantakad and Carson 1998, 6). This initially informal network expanded as other villages wanted to join it, thus broadening its mandate to deal with land-use conflicts, forest encroachment in watershed areas, animal raising and territorial boundaries. By 1998, more than 20 villages of all hill tribes had joined the network and a network committee was formed headed by the village leader of Cho Bo. The network further expanded to include problem areas like natural resource management, drug addiction, conservation of hill tribe culture and education and it made an impact on the newly forming Tambon Administrative Organisations (TAOs) in Pang Ma Pha, to the extent that the network was integrated as a sub-committee in the management of natural resources and the environment.

TAOs are still fairly new and are in the process of establishing themselves, but for Pang Ma Pha a first 5-year plan was formulated for 1997-2001, with annual plans from 1998 onwards. Issues included in these plans are insufficient irrigation for agriculture, water shortage, declining soil fertility, forest destruction, insufficient timber and particularly the absence of land titles affecting all 11 registered villages in Tambon Pang Ma Pha. One important remaining difference between the Hill tribe Network and TAOs is that the Network covers member villages from all four Tambon of Pang Ma Pha district, while TAOs only operate within administrative Tambon boundaries, and in the case of micro-watershed issues natural features may be more significant than administrative divisions.

3.4 Huai Tong village (Tambon Huai Poo Ling)

Huai Tong (class 1, permanent village according to DLD) is an old Karen key village (No. 5), with over 100 years of settlement. It 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 were established a long time ago. The village boundary was demarcated in 1996 with the arrival of the CLM program of the TG-HDP, but the land-use model is in a state of decay and the village map is also in bad condition. The total village area is 1,988 hectares, of which 1,345 hectares (67 percent) are forest, while 644 hectares (33 percent) are used for agriculture. Some farmers still have land in neighboring 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 fully understand the CLM approach, since after they displayed their land use on the topographic model it was not recognized by RFD, despite promises to the contrary. Since the village has been permanent for a long time and was also registered nearly 40 years ago, the fear of relocation is low, but several villagers have lost swidden areas to RFD for reforestation and such confiscations of land were expected to increase after the closure of the TG-HDP in 1998.

The village boundary will become an issue in the future, since it was redrawn when its former neighboring satellite village, Huai Poo Loei, was registered as a key village (DOLA 1995). Here again, the villagers’ own demarcation was ignored and 30 percent of the land is beyond the official boundary. As in the case of Huai Hea and Bor Krai in Pang Ma Pha, DOLA officials drew the boundary without consulting villagers. Details of the resulting modified boundary were not provided to the village (although they have requested a copy of the boundary modification document). Village leaders have not yet fully perceived the possible consequences of the boundary modification that will undoubtedly also affect land-use planning.

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 two upland fields are permitted and RFD has confiscated trees above 10 cm diameter in fallow areas by declaring them 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 ironic that farmers have to resort to such tactics to keep their land, but in this insecure and uncertain situation, that is the best villagers can do to 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 as follows:

·       No wood cutting is permitted in the conservation forest (fine 1,000 Baht).

·       No farming is permitted in the conservation forest (fine 1,000 Baht).

·       No chainsaws are allowed and no logging can be conducted for commercial sale (fine 5,000 Baht).

·       No burning is allowed in the forest (fine 500-1,000 Baht).

·       No sale of agricultural areas to outsiders is permitted.

·       Permission for woodcutting must be obtained from the village committee.

3.5 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 neighboring Pai district, in fact), if the data provided by ONCB are correct. To date, there are no reliable maps from the Royal Survey Department indicating Tambon boundaries. But even more importantly, there are overlapping areas claimed by adjacent villages, which may lead to conflicts, particularly since DOLA draws yet a different set of boundaries when registering villages, and in most cases this land lies in conservation forest areas.

The total upland area of 6,200 hectares makes up some 17 percent of the whole Tambon area. Perennial crops, paddy fields and land used in the last three years total 7,600 hectares or 20 percent of the Tambon. About 65 percent of the mapped area (14,700 of 23,800 hectares) of the Tambon is forest. This by far exceeds the target of 25 percent protected forests set by the RFD nationwide. According to villagers’ own calculations, the area cultivated each year has increased from 100 hectares (1.3 percent) in 1995 to 700 hectares (9.2 percent) in 1997, a rather sharp increase that needs to be monitored. Aggregated data are relatively inaccurate, but the most important priority for government agencies is the relation between conservation forest and upland area. 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. Prior to the closure of the TG-HDP in September 1998, the Tambon model was completed and left for future use and updating. As population densities increase, it can be expected that more land will be used for permanent agriculture.

4  Discussion

The combination of topographic models with digitized maps led to several unanswered and controversial questions. Who updates land-use maps? To what extent is this a participatory process? To what extent does the digitization of land-use maps facilitate land confiscation for reforestation? What policy changes are required to make use of GIS in participatory land-use planning in a constructive manner? With regards to the upscaling of land-use information, is it useful to differentiate between village and Tambon level?

4.1 Village level

The issue of addressing local concerns by GIS maps has been achieved to the extent that each village as a whole agreed on the area demarcations within each village. For planning purposes, this is a step forward from rough sketching without geographic references. This also applies to boundaries with neighboring villages, with the exception of the western boundary of Huai Hea. With regard to fields outside the boundary, villagers have resigned themselves to the likelihood that these will eventually be lost. As for regional perspectives, villagers have displayed a willingness to set aside large areas of conservation forest in line with official reforestation interests.

Villages also fulfill criteria as permanent settlements with elected village leaders. The inclusion of the boundaries drawn by DOLA at the time of village registration attracted considerable attention, as none of the villagers had previously received documents showing the demarcations. Thus, having such demarcations included on the maps increased their fears of losing land and made them wonder why the TG-HDP and other organizations had not considered this, since in the future the government agencies will only recognize DOLA boundaries, not those of the villagers. Linked to this is the fact that the population will grow and new villages will be formed, so the process of taking land from existing villages to allocate it to new settlements will continue. This may cause tensions as in the case of Huai Hea, or it may happen on agreement as in the case of Bor Krai. Whatever the case, it would be important to have a standard procedure that is transparent to affected villagers. To date, such a procedure does not exist, which leaves room for manipulation.

There are major shortcomings on the part of government agencies. First, is the fact that RFD refuses to recognize the villagers’ land demarcations and continues to confiscate land. Second, is the fact that DOLA does not use village demarcations when registering villages, thus eroding any potential trust that farmers might place 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 refers to one of the two key conditions FAO states for planning to be useful, namely the political will to put plans into effect. As long as developed plans can be overturned, there is no real basis for effective planning. In other words, sustainable planning will not materialize as long as existing land tenure issues remain unsolved. This also applies to the access of hill tribes to decision-making power and public knowledge, as the ownership of data has shifted in favor of outside agencies. Mapping revealed the extent of land use, which has led to land confiscation by RFD and the provincial Governor, as in the case of Huai Tong village.

The updating of digitized 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. 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 exists to carry on with the participatory planning process.

4.2 Tambon level

Similar concerns apply at Tambon level, with questions on 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, which are more difficult to display on a small printout of a Tambon map, but can be done on poster size. One reason why it is so important for villagers to demarcate outer use boundaries at Tambon level is related to the hope of recognized 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 Organization (TAO), they reiterate their hope to obtain land rights at communal level. The idea is not entirely new, as similar approaches were taken under the concept of Forest Villages in the 1970s (Hafner and Apichatvullop 1990, 337) and undocumented land can 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 exercise.

Under the current process of decentralization, the TAO act was a big step forward to include registered hill-tribe villages in the Thai administration, and the Second Master Plan for Highland Development supports that. However, as long as the Royal Forest Department (RFD) and the Department of Land Development (DLD) are not represented in TAOs, nor in the District Hill Tribe Committee, planning is very difficult without agreed goals and approaches among all stakeholders. It is very difficult to obtain the commitment from farmers for planning if two key agencies are absent in decision-making bodies. The absence of these key agencies at Tambon and district level is inconsistent with the aims of the 8th NESDP that calls for participation of local communities, and this once again reveals the highly political nature of forest management (Ganjanapan, 1998, 73).

One potential way to deal with these 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 decentralization. An element of this reform at grass-roots level has been the introduction of Technology Transfer Centers (TTC) in 1998, with 82 TTCs established nationwide by the Department of Agricultural Extension (DOAE) with the aim of covering all Tambons in the next few years (GTZ 2001, 14), so the Tambon of Huai Poo Ling and Pang Ma Pha will eventually be included. There are plans to link new TTCs with TAOs, of which all registered villages are members of, and TAOs will become the major future channel for the transmission of funds and resources, though the details of responsibilities are still being developed. For the time being, topographic models are more suitable for planning at Tambon level and easier to update. However, should TTCs be properly equipped in the future and highland policies are harmonized, digitized maps will gain importance.

5  Conclusion

Land-use planning and natural resource management have come a long way in the highlands of Thailand. After the withdrawal of most bilateral highland development programs, the future lies in the hands of the stakeholders themselves, though with increasing support by NGOs. The participatory process initiated by the TG-HDP has influenced and supported the targeted villages to move away from shifting cultivation towards permanent agriculture. For the hill tribe farmers this meant a total change in livelihood practices, including the integration into Thai administration. When conducting land-use planning, the most common form of data display is still land-use maps, though the use of three-dimensional topographic models is more transparent to villagers than two-dimensional maps. However, villagers with more mapping skills favored the more detailed maps in poster format over Tambon models with crude land categories. This insight only came as data was transferred to Tambon models and overlapping areas or the omission of paddy fields due to small sizes was noticed.

The appropriateness of working with GIS in an environment in which primary stakeholders have little possibilities to influence the use of data or modifications is a difficult one, with reference to the experiences of other GTZ projects in Asia (GTZ, 1996, 52) and the participatory aspect as an apparent “oxymoron” (Abbot et al., 1998, 27). There are still technical difficulties with the use of GIS in the documentation of land use, particularly with a lack of processing facilities for updating in Mae Hong Son province, but in Chiang Mai this could be supported by the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF), which can provide information to all involved agencies.

With the closure of the TG-HDP there is no longer any agency supporting and monitoring the land-use planning process. The same applies for the production of digitized maps. In this light, the developmental impact of the project appears to be unsustainable. On the other hand, a number of unresolved issues came to light that revealed the need for the Thai government to address technical issues and policy matters to overcome the policy obstacles to sustainable land-use planning in the highlands of northern Thailand.

Even though the political framework is still missing, various organizations are working with participatory approaches. Informal farmer networks, such as the Pang Ma Pha Hill Tribe Network, are gaining more and more importance (Jantakad and Carson 1998, 6). The TG-HDP has thus helped to create awareness and placed villages on maps, so villagers may play an increasing role in planning the use of natural resources in the future. Due to a lack of institutional support, planning based on GIS is unlikely to continue in the near future in the former project area of the TG-HDP. However, the integration of participatory approaches with GIS appears to be successful in other areas of northern Thailand. 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 sign land-use agreements based on digitized maps. So far, this is the only documented case where the process has led to written documents. CARE staff point to a very cooperative District Officer in Mae Chaem, who goes as far as to sign semi-official land-use agreements, as the key to success in this area. Such documents have given highland farmers the necessary confidence and trust that their land-use planning efforts are recognized by the government. Such approaches offer positive encouragement and models for further refinement in other locations.


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