Autor: Amanda Suutari
- Aportaciones editoriales: Andrew Mittelman, Jerry Burris, Gerry Marten, Regina Gregory
- Esta historia detallada de un Punto de Inflexión Ecológica incluye una fotogalería
La comercialización agrícola impulsada por el gobierno forzaba a los agricultores a entrar en una espiral descendiente. Los crecientes gastos por fertilizantes y pesticidas químicos, la destrucción de la fertilidad natural de los suelos, y escasez de agua debido a la deforestación, endeudaron a la mayoría de familias rurales. Esta situación nunca antes vivida resultó en una desesperación generalizada. Pero en 1988 un proyecto de desarrollo ayudó a los agricultores a examinar con ojo crítico las causas de sus aprietos y surgió una comprensión compartida de la situación que había resultado en su problemática aparentemente irreversible. Con bases en este nuevo entendimiento, los agricultores comenzaron a trazar una estrategia para recuperar su ambiente, su economía y sus comunidades – una estrategia que eventualmente permitió a comunidades recuperar el control de sus vidas y revertir décadas de degradación ambiental, económica y social. La diversificación de la agricultura y de la economía a través de la agrosilvicultura, el procesamiento propio de sus productos agrícolas, microempresas y la gestión comunitaria de bosques permitieron a los aldeanos recuperar el control de sus vidas a través de la gestión sustentable de recursos a nivel comunitario. Los sistemas de gestión se basaron en técnicas tradicionales para optimizar el uso sustentable y la conservación de recursos locales, tanto naturales como humanos. Agricultores previamente desanimados y desesperados se vieron jubilosos ante su propia habilidad de regenerar sus vidas, sus comunidades y sus recursos.
En los años sesenta, Tailandia estaba lista para salir de su economía tercermundista basada en la agricultura y llegar a ser una nación moderna, industrializada y próspera. El gobierno echó a andar un modelo Occidental de crecimiento con el desarrollo dirigido a la exportación como el elemento central. La política era utilizar los bosques y la producción agrícola como fuentes para que el ingreso por intercambio extranjero generara inversión en un creciente sector de manufactura. Y si el ingreso interno bruto es tu patrón y medida, el planteamiento era un éxito rotundo. Pero para el campesino, a pequeña escala, Thanawm Chuwaingan y millones como él, la historia era completamente diferente.
Thanawm emigró en 1954 del empobrecido altiplano Khorat en el Noreste de Tailandia a la aldea de Khao Din en la provincia de Nakhon Sawan, más o menos a 225 kilómetros al norte de Bangkok, para hacer una reclamación en una zona forestal recién abierta. De acuerdo a las palabras de Thanawm, “Era fácil encontrar comida. Había muchas plantas y verduras comestibles que crecían de manera silvestre cerca de nuestras casas. Era fácil pescar en los arroyos. También había muchos animales silvestres, tales como jabalíes, venados, tigres y elefantes.”
La vida era fácil contando con tanta abundancia y un espíritu de cooperación en la aldea. Sin embargo las cosas empezaron a cambiar en los años sesenta y setenta. El gobierno quería que los campesinos se modernizaran y que cultivaran productos que generaran dinero tales como arroz, maíz, yute y tapioca para exportarlos. Se talaron los bosques para vender la madera y ampliar los terrenos agrícolas. El gobierno concedió préstamos para adquirir insumos tales como semilla híbrida, fertilizantes químicos, pesticidas y equipo agrícola.
Sin embargo los campesinos, que nunca antes habían tenido tanto dinero en sus bolsillos, también usaron los préstamos para comprar radios, motocicletas y otros tipos de mercancías modernas. Posterior al flujo inicial de dinero rápido, los precios de las cosechas comenzaron a bajar debido a que muchos campesinos estaban cultivando el mismo producto. Los campesinos empezaron a endeudarse seriamente.
Para tratar de ponerse al corriente con sus adeudos los campesinos talaron lo que quedaba de los bosques para expandir sus campos ya que lo que tenían ya no era suficiente para subsistir. En palabra de Thanawm, “Por ese tiempo, prácticamente ya no quedaban árboles en las laderas. El clima se volvió cada vez más caluroso y seco.” El suelo, que había sido fértil durante años, se erosionó y se endureció progresivamente con el uso continuo de los fertilizantes químicos. El agua de lluvia escapaba libremente. El producto de las cosechas disminuyó.
En relativamente pocos años, Thanawm y su familia habían pasado de la abundancia y prosperidad Edénicas a la ruina ambiental y a una dura existencia tipificada por el hambre, la pobreza y la desintegración social.
La gente tenía que buscar trabajo en las ciudades durante la temporada de sequías para pagar sus deudas. Las familias se separaban. La migración temporal a grande escala en busca de trabajos urbanos condujo a la desintegración de las comunidades. Las aldeas se poblaron cada vez más por niños y ancianos. La delincuencia juvenil, de la cual antes no se sabía, apareció a medida que las comunidades se separaban rápidamente de sus normas sociales tradicionales.
“A diferencia del pasado cuando la comunidad había estado muy unida, y la gente en verdad se preocupaba por los demás, todos sólo resultaron preocupados por sus propios campos y sus propios problemas familiares. Antes, si alguien tenía un problema, otros estaban prestos a ofrecer su ayuda. Sin embargo, posteriormente, nuestras comunidades empezaron a desbaratarse. Por primera vez en nuestra existencia, empezamos a tener problemas psicológicos y sociales. Había poca confianza y menos cooperación.”
En resumen, la aldea se encontraba en lo que parecía ser un deslizamiento ecológico y social. Sin embargo afortunadamente la historia no termina allí. Thanawm y sus paisanos llevaron a cabo algunos cambios claves que apuntaron a su aldea y a su sistema de apoyo ambiental en una dirección positiva. Ellos crearon un punto de inflexión ecológica, una combinación de tecnología ambiental sensata y la organización social para ponerla en práctica. Esta palanca revirtió el deterioro, restauró la salud ecológica y forjó una sociedad más fuerte y más sustentable.
Todo comenzó en 1986, cuando un equipo salido del grupo de ayuda Save the Children fue enviado a la aldea de Khao Din por el gobierno Tailandés. En ese tiempo, el distrito se había convertido en uno de los más pobres del país. En vez de simplemente distribuir la ayuda de los donantes, lo cual había sido práctica común bajo el programa gubernamental de modernización, el equipo de Save the Children despertó la conciencia de los aldeanos en cuanto al verdadero origen de sus predicamentos, y después los ayudó a diseñar sus propias soluciones.
Al principio los aldeanos estaban sospechosos. La confianza se fue desarrollando poco a poco, por medio de largas y en ocasiones arduas pláticas, durante las cuales los miembros del grupo de ayuda le hacían preguntas a los aldeanos que les permitían repasar los pasos que los habían llevado a encontrarse en aprietos. Esto dio como resultado sorprendentes puntos de entendimiento.
Finalmente, los aldeanos reconocieron que ellos mismos eran los primeramente responsables en la causa de sus problemas al tomar las decisiones que habían tomado de cómo usar y administrar sus recursos locales. Al recordar cómo eran la tierra y los recursos naturales entonces cuando llegaron, la gente repetía: “Nunca pensamos que esto pudiera pasar. Nunca nos imaginamos que este lugar de abundancia pudiera convertirse en un desierto. Dios mío, ¿qué hemos hecho?”
Esta toma de conciencia colectiva fue el primer paso en el proceso. Movió a los aldeanos a considerar qué podían hacer para cambiar la situación, basándose en su recién adquirido entendimiento del problema y sus causas.
El segundo paso llegó cuando los aldeanos y el equipo del proyecto formularon una estrategia ecológicamente viable para su comunidad. Empezó con la toma de conciencia de que no tenía sentido “poner todos los huevos en una sola canasta”, como ya había sido el caso con los sistemas de monocultivo comercial de altos insumos. Diseñaron sistemas diversificados de agroforestería en los cuales los árboles y los cultivos se intercalaban en el mismo campo, a semejanza en muchas maneras a la estructura del bosque natural. También decidieron restaurar sus bosques dañados con protección y administración de la comunidad local.
La agroforestería no era nueva para los campesinos locales. Sus sistemas de subsistencia tradicionales ya ampliamente abandonados habían incorporado muchos de los mismos elementos. Por lo general implica un estanque o canal usados todo el año como fuente de agua para la irrigación de la plantación, junto con peces y plantas acuáticas comestibles. Existe una amplia variedad de siembras alimenticias como chiles, calabaza, frijoles, y otras verduras, hierbas como el cilantro, zacate limón, galangal, albahaca y menta, frutas como los mangos, fruta de Jack, limón, longan, plátanos, y papayas. Los árboles proporcionan diversas frutas, semillas, madera combustible y materiales de construcción. Todo reunido proporciona una dieta saludable y un ingreso suplementario.
La agroforestería redujo drásticamente el costo de los alimentos domésticos, así como los costos de los insumos agrícolas, porque “la naturaleza hizo mucho del trabajo.” Restauró simultáneamente algo de la estabilidad ecológica a la tierra que los bosques habían mantenido por miles de años. La seguridad de contar con alimento todo el año se incrementó también drásticamente. Si alguno de los cultivos fallaba, algún otro sobreviviría exitosamente.
Al principio, solo algunos que podían intentar algo diferente fueron capaces de separar alguna parte de su tierra y energía para tal aventura. Sin embargo, lo que empezó en tan sólo ocho acres de parcelas de demostración creció año con año a medida que más aldeanos adoptaban planes similares en sus propias tierras.
Ya han pasado más de diez años desde que “Save the Children” terminó su proyecto en Khao Din, hoy en día una próspera comunidad de 2,500 habitantes. Veinticinco aldeas en la provincia de Nakhon Sawan ya siguen el ejemplo de Khao Din, dedicándose a una variedad de formas diseñadas localmente de agroforestería y agricultura sustentable en tierras que se extienden por miles de acres. El recrear los procesos ecológicos naturales en los ranchos ha reestablecido los procesos de reciclaje similares a los de los ecosistemas naturales. La erosión del suelo y la degradación debido al uso excesivo de productos químicos han sido revertidas.
Los bosques naturales, ampliamente devastados por el uso indebido, se están regenerando en un área aun más grande. Los bosques restaurados están reparando las cuencas dañadas. Han resurgido los arroyos, junto con una variedad de animales que se creían extintos localmente. Un área que no hace mucho tiempo parecía un paisaje tomado del desierto es hoy en día un sitio adecuado para el ecoturismo. El ingreso adicional proviene de los champiñones y los vegetales del bosque. La migración a Bangkok ha disminuido, y las tendencias que perjudican a la sociedad, ocasionadas por la migración urbana y el irrestricto materialismo, se encuentra ahora bajo control.
Thanawm lo resumió así, “La mayor parte de lo que sucedió, en términos de cambio, fue el cambio de la manera de pensar de la gente. Como comunidad, estamos aprendiendo juntos, compartiendo el conocimiento los unos con los otros. La gente ya no piensa que estamos en problemas, y que no podemos hacer nada al respecto.”
“Ahora sabemos que considerando cuidadosamente las cosas y compartiendo mucho del esfuerzo, podemos resolver nuestros problemas, y arreglar lo que se haya roto. Esto les ha proporcionado a nuestras comunidades un tremendo impulso. Y también es algo que de verdad nos ha permitido ejercer una influencia en otras personas, cuyos problemas les son apabullantes, de la misma manera en que lo fueron para nosotros.”
“Aun cuando no tenemos mucho dinero, somos felices. Tenemos amigos que nos visitan y tenemos suficiente comida para ellos.”
In the 1960s, with encouragement and financial support from the World Bank, the Thai government launched a Western growth model with export-led development as the centerpiece. To generate foreign exchange for investing in the rapid ramping up of manufacturing capacity, natural resources – – pristine forests covering over 50% of the kingdom, fisheries and agriculture were re-oriented from a balance of subsistence and cash production, toward industrial scale export catering to growing overseas markets. After three decades, the economy, with growth rates at 10% per year, was one of the fastest-growing in the world. Forest cover, much of it unspoiled watersheds upon which the nation’s agriculture had been highly dependent, was reduced by half.
The rural population bore high costs because of these policies. In 1965, a “concession system” was meant to share the proceeds from sale of the nation’s forests to foreign buyers so that investment in both modern infrastructure and rural poverty alleviation could be financed. In reality, only the logging companies and the Forestry Department which had control over them benefited, and the anticipated trickle down was just that – a mere trickle compared to actual need. This system, reinforced by institutionalized corruption at various levels of government, resulted in rampant commercial and illegal logging of virgin forests. The rates of deforestation were the highest in Asia. Forest cover declined from 72% of total land in 1938 to 53% in 1961, and down to 29% in 1985. Today, estimates of the remaining area of intact forests are 15% or less.
The Forest Reserve Act and the Forest Act in 1932 had given the government rights to land over which few rural poor had official tenure. This was to become more important in following decades when the Forestry Department embarked on schemes to declare all areas Natural Forest Reserves which, years earlier, had been covered by trees. Eleven million people who had farmed this land for generations were suddenly labeled “forest encroachers”. In the midst of serious resistance, some of it violent, villagers inhabiting these areas were evicted. The vacated land was cleared to make way for commercial eucalyptus plantations. Production on nearby farmlands was seriously impacted as the water-thirsty non-native species drew down water tables and deposited phyto-chemicals from its potent leaf oil onto farmers’ fields. In 1991 alone, some 4,000 families were displaced from what previously had been diverse community forests which served as “rural supermarkets”, public grazing grounds, and ancestral farms.
Meanwhile, in the south, coastal fishing villagers were being squeezed out of their traditional livelihoods which included a mix of fishing and farming, because they too lacked formal title to their lands. Wealthy raconteurs from Bangkok colluded with local officials to have these untitled lands ceded to them for commercial shrimp farming, tourist resort development, and charcoal production from the ecologically important mangrove forests that had long provided vital nurseries for fish and a host of other aquatic species. (This opportunistic exploitation of Thailand’s traditionally managed and rich southern resource systems paved the way for the current serious social unrest in the south of Thailand.) [See Thai mangrove in-depth story]
The relationship between government agencies and rural people was (and still is) often adversarial. Without security of tenure, and outsiders grabbing local resources with impunity, people had little incentive to consider the long term. A free-for-all ensued. Local natural resource assets – forests, grazing and crop lands, fisheries, were all becoming open-access systems. A “Tragedy of the Commons” was underway.
The Negative Tip
Nakhon Sawan Province is part of the region known as “the nation’s rice bowl.” One of Thailand’s 76 provinces, it is located in the northern Central Plains and adjacent to the nation’s most extensive remaining natural forest. The Tenassarim Range which, from the western side of Nakhon Sawan, continues across into Burma, is mainland Southeast Asia’s largest remaining intact expanse of natural forest.
Nakhon Sawan Province is divided into 15 districts, which are split into sub-districts (or tambons). This project took place in three tambons of Phai Sali District. Among the 26 villages participating in the initiatives described below, Khao Din Village, population 2,420, has seen many changes in its relatively short history.
Sixty percent of Khao Din’s residents were originally from the Khorat Plateau, an impoverished region in the northeast of the country. Five or six decades ago, population pressures and deteriorating resources forced many farmers in Thailand’s drought prone and impoverished northeast to seek a better life by homesteading in recently opened forest lands. As pioneers on logged over forest concessions, they found excellent (but relatively shallow and vulnerable) soils, built up over millions of years as a result of natural decomposition and recycling processes in the forest. And, compared to the relatively barren lands of the northeast, even these logged over forests were still sufficiently plentiful to provide the newcomers with a wide assortment of useable products that traditionally sustain Southeast Asian rural populations during the monsoon dry season, and during emergencies in the wake of crop failure.
For resident Thanawm Chuwaingan, the trip (which today takes three hours by bus) took five days. A boy of five at the time, Thanawm, his family, and forty or fifty other families traveled by oxcart, the common mode of transportation for poor rural people at that time.
When they arrived in 1954 in what is now Khao Din, they found dense jungle and seemingly infinite resources – -trees, topsoil, fish, and animals including wild boar, tigers and elephants. The newcomers began clearing land for crop production, cut trees for house construction and firewood. For cash, they worked as day laborers for the timber concession companies logging in nearby forests.
The government and its World Bank partners viewed these migrants as potential resources for national economic development. Combined in their millions, they could produce a significant volume of cash crops (maize, jute and cassava) to supply expanding domestic and international markets. An Agricultural Credit Bank was established to provide loans for hybrid seed, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and farm equipment.
But the farmers, who had never had so much money in their pockets before, also used it to purchase radios, motorcycles and other modern merchandise. Neighbors rushed to keep up with the times and the buying spree began. Then, the massive flush of cash crop production led to crop price declines. Soil fertility declined precipitously as did crop yields. Unable to pay on their loans, farmers were left indebted. Opportunistic informal money lenders then moved in to loan farmers the cash they needed to pay off debts to the Agricultural Bank which they needed to do in order to continue to qualify for these relatively low interest loans in the subsequent production year. New to the idea of credit, the inexperienced farmers borrowed from local loan sharks at 10 percent interest per month, and becoming inextricably indebted.
What had originally been considered a “promised land” rapidly deteriorated into a nightmare. Water sources were drying up. Emergency food supplies from forests were depleted, fish were poisoned by toxic agro-chemicals, wildlife went virtually extinct. And lands were being foreclosed due to failure to pay off loans.
At the same time, commercial and illegal logging operations were opening up new lands to accommodate landless families and a growing population. The national policy was to utilize forests as resources for generating foreign exchange revenue so that government could invest in a growing manufacturing sector. Opening up new lands also enabled the rapidly increasing population to be provided with land to farm, while producing export crops, further increasing government revenues for reinvesting in infrastructure. (The first 5-year National Economic Development Plan containing all of these elements was strongly promoted by the World Bank, which provided preferential loans to support the process.)
Meanwhile, farmers needed to earn more money to cover increasing agricultural input expenses and service their debts to both the National Bank for Agriculture and informal money lenders. Farmers’ expansion into remaining forest areas which had been left over following commercial logging operations was encouraged as a result of land degradation due to “green revolution” agricultural management practices. Extensive monoculture of cash crops from fields on which all remaining trees were removed (to maximize crop exposure to sunlight as a further effort to increase production), was complemented by increasing application of chemical fertilizers to replace the loss of organic matter and natural soil fertility. Soil erosion increased, along with crop vulnerability to dry spells, since the capacity of hardened soils, virtually bereft of organic matter, to retain moisture was extremely poor. At the advice of agricultural extension agents, many of whom were also on the payroll as agents for commercial fertilizer companies, farmers struggled to replace depleted soil fertility by applying more and more chemicals. Production costs continued to increase, while the economic and crop production environments were becoming more unreliable. Falling crop yields, increased crop failure due to both climate changes and increasing pestilence in the vulnerable monocultures, combined with declining commodity prices. Increasingly, farmers were unable to meet production thresholds in order to pay off their debts and make a profit. The magic bullet approach to rural development and poverty alleviation had backfired.
Deforestation by logging companies had created a “get-it-while-you-can” attitude among villagers towards the patches of forest that remained. Community cooperation was being replaced by competitive individualism. The remaining few forests also fell victim to the Tragedy of the Commons, in which state control of local resources alienates communities from the natural resources that, in prior generations, they respected and stewarded as the basic natural capital on which their families’ lives depended. In this wild-west free-for-all, with crop production falling and debts increasing year by year, farmers took advantage of what seemed a last-ditch option: clear the remaining forests to increase family land holdings.
Within a few decades, Khao Din’s rich ecosystem had deteriorated beyond recognition. One farmer said, “There was so much here before. It seemed to all of us simply impossible that it could vanish”. But it did. The soil became barren and eroded. Near total deforestation led to water shortages, and rainfall became unreliable, leading to increasingly frequent crop failures. When the rains did come, storms of unprecedented intensity often struck. And rather than infiltrating to subsurface aquifers as when forests are intact, rapid runoff of rainwater from deforested hardpan soils caused flooding and landslides, damaging homes and infrastructure. Disruption of the ecological balance between pests and predators led to unprecedented outbreaks. The new hybridized crop varieties bred for production rather than resilience were particularly vulnerable.
In an effort to ward off economic disaster, the able-bodied began abandoning their families and communities for day labor on urban construction sites, first for short periods, and then for longer ones. This increased the need to hire outside labor (yet another production expense), or continue to borrow money to mechanize farms and make up for the labor shortfall. Families were fragmenting, traditional communities disintegrating. Environment, economy and society were in a downward spiral, one which villagers considered beyond their power to control, let alone reverse.
Farmers in Nakhon Sawan, as elsewhere throughout the region and in developing countries worldwide, had experienced a variation on a familiar theme where the multiple forces of “development” had alienated people from their environment, its resources, the land, and from one another. The environmental deterioration to which they had contributed had eroded their livelihoods, society and culture. Having originally migrated to an environment with which they were unfamiliar, and for which their traditional knowledge was not particularly well-suited, they were ill-equipped to make appropriate resource management decisions. Moreover, the swell of enthusiasm over a widely advertised opportunity to become modern and economically better-off was contagious, and led to inflated expectations, and a license to over-exploit resources which, compared to what they had been used to, seemed infinite.
The shift throughout rural Thailand from traditional self-reliant subsistence strategies to a cash economy resulted in:
- mechanization of farming enabling a more extensive use of land rather than maintaining a significant portion under forest cover.
- reduced dependence on animals and labor in favor of machines with a resulting decline in locally produced manure/natural fertilizers.
- more dependence on agricultural chemicals contributing to degradation in soil quality, chemical contamination and destruction of aquatic resources by toxic chemicals.
- aggravated deterioration of water and soil already wrought by deforestation.
- variable profits and increased incidence of economic losses due to price fluctuations in a market which they depended on, yet did not understand and had no control over.
- rising debts and poverty.
- increasing out-migration with the attendant weakening of families who had members living in the cities.
- a breakdown in village society due to out-migration in search of wage labor, and family fragmentation which often left only the old and children behind.
- decreased resilience of the entire rural system in the face of unpredictable and more frequent droughts, floods, market demand fluctuations and price declines.
The deterioration and eventual near-destruction of the environment left people more helpless than ever. Previously, if crops failed, emergency foods could be found from natural sources – forests, streams, wetlands, and so on. These sources were now gone. Meanwhile, the traditional social security system where families experiencing hardship or emergencies could depend on help from their neighbors, had been replaced by a cash-and-carry system in which everyone was expected to fend for themselves.
With the entire social fabric torn asunder, more competition for fewer resources, and absence of members of nearly every family seeking cash from menial urban jobs for at least part of the year, sometimes only one poor monsoon was all that was needed to send a family into a tailspin toward dissolution. Mental illness, once nearly unheard of in rural Thailand, was becoming epidemic.
The Positive Tip
In 1986, a team of about ten people from Save the Children US had been sent to Phai Sali by the Royal Thai Government, since the sub-district had been identified as one of the nation’s hundred poorest. After becoming established, the link between environmental deterioration, livelihood and social demise began to become apparent. Save the Children deployed a sustainable community development and natural resource management specialist to work with the team, and with local people, to examine how things had deteriorated to their current state, and what could be done to reverse the trends.
A project was designed through collaboration by local people, the project team and government. Dutch International Development Assistance provided the funds required to support its implementation. The project was designed to concurrently address the complex of interrelated problems with the objective of establishing alternative low-input sustainable agriculture systems to replace dependence on cash crop monoculture, to enable income generation from a range of alternative sources, to improve water supply and sanitation, and to begin to mobilize local people, based on their understanding of the links between environment and livelihood, to restore the area’s damaged ecosystems Together, the integrated mix of interventions aimed to replace local indebtedness and community fragmentation with a resilient, environmentally sustainable, and self-reliant socioeconomic system. The villagers decided to name the project, and the groups established in each community to develop it, the “Life and Nature Revitalization Project” (krongkan peua fuen fuu chiwit leh thammachat).
Prior to this, Save the Children’s approach was essentially donor-driven, and did not emphasize empowering villagers or giving them the organizational tools they required to sustain a long-term success, even after the organization and its projects were completed. The new team established to support this project, however, shared a grassroots vision which was broader and more far-reaching. Given the limited funding period and the fact that the project would only be working in the area for a limited period of time, the team realized that in order to match their vision of success, they would need to create something lasting that could be carried on by villagers themselves after the project ended.
The team’s model had two phases. Phase one focused on developing and carrying out the projects with villagers that would meet their and Save the Children’s primary goals. The second phase aimed to consolidate the results of the first phase, removing villagers’ dependence on outside resources by building up their ability to run their own programs, and creating a replicable model which could be disseminated to other districts.
From Awareness to Action
In Khao Din village, work began by bringing villagers together in a unique process which allowed them to probe the underlying causes of their impoverishment. This led to some powerful revelations that resulted in their taking personal responsibility for their problems, and a quest to develop solutions based upon their new understanding of their problems’ causes. Interestingly, the process was particularly appreciated as it parallels the Buddhist teachings on how to alleviate suffering – first, accept that one has a problem, second, understand the causes, third, recognize that this is the path to self-liberation, and last, the conviction that solving one’s problems is definitely possible by following these simple steps.
The concerted and sincere involvement in this process of introspection leading to understanding, realization, and commitment to take action, is the “tipping point” that brought participants to arrive at collective insights regarding their shared situation, providing the impetus for communal action.
Facilitated discussions subtly nudged villagers toward this point of epiphany. A series of guided inquiry sessions was conducted in which facilitators posed a systematic set of questions to villagers. Their own answers re-traced decisions and actions which led them from a rich set of resources with the promise to provide sufficient livelihoods and self-reliant communities, to their current multi-faceted dilemma and demise.
As a former member of the project team recalls:
We initiated this process of ‘soul searching,’ where working together with us the facilitators, discouraged community members began to examine in detail what had happened over the last forty to fifty years or so. What they discovered was that, in addition to the logging companies and government-promoted cash crop monoculture schemes, it was they who were largely responsible for their own current problems. They were responsible for destruction of the soil and erosion of its productive potential through application of chemicals which only exacerbated the problem while destroying aquatic resources. They were responsible for their increasing dependence on purchased inputs and inflated materialistic expectations and desires which led to indebtedness. Combined with the removal of the last remaining forest remnants, they were also responsible for destroying supplemental and emergency sources of food and a host of other ‘free’ resources from nature, while depleting water resources. This created a sense of desperation, and the need to leave their families and communities to work in the city to make ends meet which resulted in the breakdown in community and its traditional modes of social security and cooperation. Remembering what the land and local natural resources were like when they arrived, they kept saying, ‘We never thought this would happen! We couldn’t imagine this place would become a desert!’ And this was all within living memory! They were saying, ‘My god, what have we done?’
This process was a milestone. It was amazing. People were lighting up like light bulbs. It was as though they had come to some kind of enlightenment. Doing things in this way, asking in order to elicit local knowledge from individuals who were perfectly capable of thinking for themselves, rather than emasculating them by providing them with information ‘which they were too ignorant to think of themselves’ instilled self-confidence and restored a sense of pride and self-esteem. The approach was diametrically different than the more conventional one that, even today, tends to continue to predominate in development circles. That is, to come in as experts, telling people, ‘Hey, this is the way it is, you really messed up. Now we are going to provide you with the knowledge and methods you need to have to solve your problems (because obviously, you are too incompetent to be able to figure this out for yourselves!)’.
Getting people to work through their shared predicaments by themselves provided a sense of ownership in the conclusions which cannot be created by treating people like children who, while admittedly ‘uneducated’ in a formal sense, possess a wealth of knowledge about their own situations – generally more knowledge than any outsider could possibly have without having been a resident of the area for many years. This was then, the first time they were able – as a community – to recognize that they were all in the same boat together. On the contrary – – and this was in fact a significant part of the problem – – in recent years, people had become used to considering themselves to be alone and isolated, and to expect that no one was going to help them to solve their problems but themselves.
Suddenly, even from the outset, the value of being a community began again to be apparent. Of course, separately as individuals, or families, people may have had a sense of what was going on. But the pressures were so intense as to auger against the systematic examination required to draw a picture of how things had developed, or become unraveled, and to re-evaluate whether there might be some way to ‘stop the sky from falling’. Things had become this bad. It was like someone suffering from extreme depression. They are generally not in a position to find the ‘space’ required to figure out what happened, what is happening, and what they need to do about it. Being on one’s own doesn’t help. However, being with others experiencing the same kind of torment can actually even amplify one’s feeling of helplessness.
Here, we had helped to bring about a kind of collective realization. And the result was a groundswell of enthusiasm. The excitement was palpable.
Initial brainstorming and discussions, which continued over the course of months, were followed by more systematic categorizing and prioritizing of potentially successful improvement strategies. Simple cost-benefit analyses were conducted by the communities themselves. In other words, the question was “how much bang are we going to get for the buck?” Once the “cornucopia” of alternatives was trimmed down to something really doable, a systematic grouping of related subject matter provided the basis for developing several sets of training curricula which farmers identified as being necessary to enhance their own capacity for successful implementation.
Today, there are several main sections including integrated low-input sustainable agriculture and agroforestry, sustainable community-based forest resource management, natural resource rehabilitation and conservation, establishment and management of village savings and loan associations, village organization and group leadership skills, establishing small-scale village enterprises for self-support and social security including community rice and cattle banks. These curricula have been provided by farmers, for farmers, government and non-government organization staff, totaling in the thousands. Those who have been trained have gone on to support the establishment of similar projects in their home areas.
Integrated Farming (Agroforestry)
Farmers and SC staff began to explore the potential of a farming system whose initial objective was to re-establish food security. They began to experiment with agroforestry, where a mix of trees and annual crops would provide sustained harvest throughout the year while contributing to restoring ecological integrity, hydrology and other ecosystem services, helping to reverse some of the water, soil and economic damage they were dealing with.
Known by various names such as “farm forestry” or “integrated farming”, this ancient practice still continues in many parts of the world, most famously as “home gardens” on the island of Java in Indonesia. Since the 1970s, the concept has been promoted in the development community for its potential to simultaneously restore environments, family farms, local knowledge, and food security, all of which are being threatened by the industrialization of agriculture. Agroforestry is a dynamic process which includes a wide range of systems that integrate multiple products such as crops, livestock, fish, trees, shrubs and forests by diversifying production, and “letting nature do the work” where possible. The per-unit production of the land can also be increased by simultaneously including trees that provide various goods such as fruit, nuts, fuelwood and building materials, and services such as erosion control, shade and windbreaks.
The best examples of agroforestry can:
- create and even enrich biodiversity.
- make use of unfarmed areas or forest mosaics that support or expand wildlife habitat.
- reduce or reverse the conversion of virgin land to agriculture/aquaculture/industrial forestry by improving the productivity of the land.
- minimize pollution by reducing dependence on agro-chemicals.
- boost self-sufficiency in the face of increased corporate presence in agriculture.
- integrate trees, shrubs and grasses into the farms that mimic nature.
- mimic or enhance ecological functions.
- enhance soil and water quality.
The model began as a small-scale experiment, where farmers who could afford to take the risk of experimenting with the new alternatives were selected by their peers in each participating village. Each began creating a demonstration system – several per village – – for evaluation by others who, while interested, were less prepared to take the risk of possible failure.
They decided to start slowly and on a small scale in order to minimize risks in the beginning while establishing systems that could be improved and expanded based on lessons learned from experience. Project staff hoped that modest, incremental successes would encourage other farmers to join in.
I visited the integrated farm of Thanawm Chuwaingan, which Thanawm had started three years previously on about one and one-half acres of land. The periphery is planted with fruit trees. In the middle of the land is a narrow fish pond with an “island” on which vegetables are growing, with the farmland surrounding the pond comprised of plots for vegetables, medicinal and culinary herbs and spices. The pond is built to provide water for the farm, but the shape is long, narrow and deep to conserve precious farmland and minimize evaporation losses. A wide range of crops is being cultivated amongst which are various kinds of chilies, pumpkin, green beans, and other vegetables, culinary herbs including cilantro, lemon grass, galangal, basil and mint, fruits including mangos, jackfruit, lime, longan, bananas, papayas, a fruit called makin which is used in making curries, and neem(Azadiracthta indica – a multipurpose tree which can be eaten as a vegetable, pruned for fuelwood, cut into lumber for termite resistant construction, and processed as a biological pesticide). Other than the neem and fruit trees, Thanawm doesn’t have any other kinds of trees for fodder or windbreaks because neighboring farmers would complain (about shade or leaf litter). He spends about three hours per day on this farm, which is adjacent to his paddy fields.
It cost Thanawm about 20,000 baht (about $600) to start his integrated farm. The high initial investment explains in part why even the farmers who can afford to transition are resistant to doing so. They may not trust that it will work, or are too unwilling to let go of the promise of cash (even if they do not grasp the absurdity of going deeper into debt because of frequent failure of crop sales to meet input costs, or of growing food to sell so they can buy food to eat). Others stick to cash crops because they are saddled with debts, or because they think they can make a lot of money without considering the corresponding increase in costs. Still others have invested a lot in their farms and are reluctant to let go of the time, energy and money they have put into their land (“sunk-cost investments”).
While integrated farms need a high initial investment, mainly because of pond or canal excavation to provide the crucial year-round water source, the costs go down as time passes because costs of purchasing food for consumption and buying chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides are significantly reduced. Thanawm doesn’t use chemicals on this farm nor on his rice. He uses green manure and compost. He covers all the soil in mulch (dry plant leaves and rice stems). He has some problems with insects but he says they are not significant. He uses a tractor on his rice farm and gets cow manure from his friends in the village, as he doesn’t raise any cattle himself.
In the fish pond, Thanawm collects native crabs and vegetables (edible morning glory and aquatic mimosa), and cultivates fish including Nile tilapia and Chinese grass carp. He buys the fingerlings from a government office in Nakhon Sawan and harvests them with a hand-held net. He can catch about ten kilograms of fish in five minutes. Thanawm sells his surplus fish, fruit and vegetables in the village and says that earlier, he used to have to go out to sell them, but more and more buyers come to him nowadays. He doesn’t like to sell all his vegetables, because he also wants to share some with his friends. The price of lemongrass, for example, is 5 baht for a few stems, but if someone wants some, they can ask him and he will give it to them. Papaya is 5 baht per kilo, which is a good price (he can get about 10 baht per papaya).
The development of pilot demonstration systems began with about thirty farmers from six villages, with Phai Sali District Center as the base for project staff. The network was comprised of the initial group of demonstration farmers, and about 10-15 interested farmers per village who were able to monitor progress and benefit from the experience of the pioneer group of demonstrators that they had originally helped to select based on a shared opinion that “they were the most likely to be able to establish successful demonstrations”. Monthly participatory monitoring and evaluation meetings were rotated around to each of the participating villages and demonstration farms, enabling network members to see what was being done by each of the demonstration farmers, examine what was and wasn’t working, and share information regarding effective management practices.
The process was highly participatory, encouraging all involved to play an active role, and to share their knowledge and experience with other group members. Gradually, farmers developed faith in their own knowledge and expertise, counteracting years of languishing under a cloud of failure, with consequent impacts on farmers’ self-esteem and confidence. Newly learned techniques were built upon local knowledge of the land and local conditions. When the changes became visible on the landscape, and as initial small successes began to emerge, an increasing number of farmers were motivated to try for themselves. The team expanded to working with a gradually increasing number of villages and farmers. The most successful farmers volunteered their time to serve as extension assistants for others.
This process of expansion is continuing until today, more than 10 years after the formal termination of project support and funding through Save the Children. Farmers who adopted the practice of integrated sustainable agriculture/agroforestry increased household food security, with the wide diversity of crops contributing both to the nutritional value of farm production, as well as an effective fail-safe mechanism wherein some crops were always successful, even if one or some of them failed. Savings and loan associations both collected interest, and provided it back to members. The amount of funds available for supporting new adopters of the techniques expanded from 1 million baht (25,000 dollars) in 1996 at the end of the project, to 10 million baht at present. Only rarely did the original borrowers require additional time for payback above the original 3 years allotted, or apply for new loans. They were able to use proceeds from their own farms for purposes of expansion, which has occurred in nearly all cases. Moreover, lessons learned from the initial experimentation site have been applied to increasingly wider areas of the farming system. In Thanawm’s case, for example, his original experimentation/demonstration site was an organic agroforestry/aquaculture plot. Today, he has applied what he has learned from managing this plot to his rice fields as well.
Soil erosion and degradation due to chemical applications on these farms has been reversed. Villagers have access to local products from people they know personally, and the trend toward urban migration which was destroying family and village social fabric has been reduced significantly.
Based on their assessment of the causes of people’s poverty and related problems in Phai Sali, at the same time the integrated farming system demonstration plots, cottage industries and savings and loan groups began to be developed, farmers also decided to begin protecting and restoring damaged forests.
Community forestry management activities included planting multipurpose tree seedlings on public lands, and establishing community regulations aimed at protecting degraded natural forest areas from destructive impacts caused by forest fires and over-exploitation. Protected areas were established by village decree. Community forest fire protection and prohibiting cutting of live trees allowed natural forests to regenerate. Native multipurpose trees were planted to enrich degraded forest areas, particularly in conjunction with temple-supported merit-making activities associated with traditional rainy season religious activities at Buddhist temples. Available public lands were similarly planted to a wide assortment of trees.
Buddhism calls for a respect for nature and the Buddha himself counseled his devotees regarding the life relevant lessons that could be learned from studying the way that nature works. A network of area Buddhist monks joined the project’s effort to restore environmental integrity to damaged forests. In the end, as many as half of the seedlings planted to enrich degraded forest areas did not survive, (though the survival rate on public lands was 80 percent or higher). In retrospect, overall, Thanawm and his neighbors, now accomplished foresters in their own respect, believe that protecting forests to enable natural regeneration is a far more efficient method of natural forest restoration.
To restore integrity to damaged forests, the areas were divided into zones by local communities. Each zone was associated with a different set of regulations. There were areas established as strictly off-limits for use, and others in which harvesting of non-timber products was allowed in specified quantities and seasons. These regulations were designed to ensure that forest resources and watershed areas would increase over time. While a ban was placed on tree cutting, villagers could collect dead wood to use at home for cooking. The poorest (often landless) families were allotted rights to produce and sell charcoal and to collect and sell bamboo shoots, mushrooms and medicinal herbs, while at first, others were permitted to use only enough to satisfy their families’ requirements. Local community forests were linked up to establish a joint management operation of micro-watersheds, and on a larger scale, of community forests throughout the sub-district.
Initially, seven to twelve volunteers per village were recruited to take turns watching to make sure people did not break the rules, for example, by cutting trees or overharvesting. Signs were posted, and membership cards were provided to all families. While nearby communities which used to use these forests objected to being prohibited from entry, community forest committee officers attended their village meetings to explain what was going on. Eventually, they accepted the new reality, and were encouraged to establish their own community forests.
When a community forest is created and rules set up governing its use, the results of natural forest regeneration create a striking visual impact within a year. The fact that the success of people’s efforts becomes widely visible provides further encouragement for their continuation, and for other villages to take similar actions. Villagers also soon saw the financial benefits from protecting the forest through the harvesting of non-timber forest products (NTFPs). They now derive income from several NTFPs such as pakwan and inun, leafy vegetables which can fetch good prices in the market. They also collect and sell mushrooms. Based on records now kept by forest guards who, in the case of some villages, are now paid a daily rate, annual sales of forest products from the Khao Din Community Forest alone are more than 600,000 baht (or nearly 20,000 US dollars). This is in addition to the value of the produce being used for family consumption.
The effectiveness of community action to ward off external threats was attested to for all to witness when the watershed conservation network identified a local military installation as responsible for illegal forest cutting. Because of the excellent relationship with the Regional Forest Office (based in Nakhon Sawan) established since the start of the project, the Forest Department assisted villagers to sanction the army against any further exploitation of Phai Sali’s now regenerating, community protected areas. At a public meeting which was nationally televised, the head of the Regional Forestry Office commended the association for its efforts to restore local forests, admitting, in response to the suggestion of the Provincial Governor, that villagers’ efforts to protect and restore Phai Sali’s forests had been more successful than those of the Forest Department itself!
Phai Sali’s rehabilitated forests have become a site for environmental education of local children. Primary school students come to the forest to learn about forest ecology, and about local species of trees, plants and animals. I saw an area that was marked in red so they could return to the same area and track changes in the size of trees and biodiversity of a given transect.
The forest rehabilitation model has been extremely successful, and has now grown to include nearly all of the sub-districts in Phai Sali, with six forests managed by over 100 villages. With forest regeneration a national priority, Phai Sali has become a showcase and learning site for communities throughout Nakhon Sawan Province. Even some animals, thought to have been long extinct, have now noticeably returned. An area which, not long ago, had resembled a desert landscape once described by the project’s coordinator as “phu khaaw hua ran” or bald mountains, is now a site for weekend waterfall outings and ecotourism.
The most highly valued result of the project was not monetary, however, but the revival of community cooperation among villagers. This was stressed repeatedly by all the people interviewed. It is important to note the political context in which this was happening. In 1992, following popular overthrow of a government installed by military coup d’etat, the movement for popular democracy was on the upswing. A new constitution affording local people a host of rights, including responsibility for sustainable management of local natural resources, was being drafted. In this way, “the time was ripe” for a renewed sense of engagement among rural areas in community development and community-based resource management.
This project was both a result of and a stimulus for a broader rural democratization movement around the country. There was more opportunity for people from the village networks to get elected to the sub-council districts, which gave them access to the central government and budget in a way that was not possible before. From interviews with villagers and former Save the Children project staff, the government has become more cooperative and supportive of the promotion of agroforestry and community-based natural resource management around the country. Yet there is still a long way to go.
Feedback Analysis of the Thailand Community Agroforestry Story
Autor: Gerry Marten
An EcoTipping Point is a “lever” that turns environmental decline around to restoration and sustainability. It is eco-technology, in the very broadest sense of the word, combined with the social organization to put it into practice.
Not just any eco-technology will do. What makes it right for a particular situation? First of all, EcoTipping Points are catalytic. They set in motion a cascade of far-reaching changes, but it takes more than that. And here we come to the crux of the matter: It’s all about feedback loops. If environmental decline is driven by vicious cycles, the decline will be turned around only if the vicious cycles are themselves turned around. This may not be easy. The cycles may be very powerful. But it’s the only way to switch to a course of restoration under these circumstances.
Once the vicious cycles are turned around, the very same feedback loops can work just as powerfully to bring about restoration and health. And they spin off new virtuous cycles of “success-breeds-success” that accelerate the process and lock in the gains. Through all of this, nature is doing a substantial amount of the work, and normal social and economic processes are doing a lot too.
The Negative Tip
It was a time when farmers from Northeast Thailand were moving into this relatively uninhabited region, seeking a better life. Commercial logging concessions opened up new land for farming, accommodating landless families and a growing population. The process was accelerated by expanding domestic and foreign markets for timber, rice, maize, and cassava, accompanied by government policies that encouraged agricultural exports in order to increase government revenues.
Nakhon Sawan seemed a land of opportunity, but soon the landscape and the community were caught in a downward spiral that threatened to close off the prospects for a better life the settlers had sought. It happened because of a chain of events initially set in motion by expanding markets for timber and cash crops (see diagram below):
- Expanding agricultural markets encouraged a shift from subsistence polyculture to monocultures of the most profitable cash crops.
- Monoculture encouraged mechanization and a diminishing role for traditional draft animals (which provided manure).
- Cash cropping encouraged multiple cropping (i.e., more than one crop a year), meaning more time devoted to farm work and less time to contribute to the community support system.
- Chemical fertilizer use was increased to achieve higher yields and compensate for a diminished supply of animal manure. Chemical pesticide use increased because monocultures generally have more severe pest problems than polycultures.
- Farm land fertility declined due to intensive use, soil erosion, and chemical burden in the soil.
- Family food expenses increased as cash cropping provided less food for home consumption.
- Debt increased due to expenses for chemical fertilizers, pesticides, mechanical tillage, and a generally perceived need for greater material consumption, along with increasing family expenses for food, medicine, and other essential commodities.
- Farmers expanded the amount of land they were farming to earn more money to cover increasing expenses for agricultural inputs and service their debts. Debt also increased the need for income from commercial logging and stimulated overexploitation of forest products.
- Deforestation increased soil erosion and reduced the hydrological integrity of the watershed, reducing infiltration of rainwater to subsurface aquifers. Water shortages threatened the viability of human settlements while reducing agricultural production and the quantity and diversity of forest products for sale or home consumption.
- A less reliable water supply and more floods from a deteriorating watershed, greater dependence on food purchases for family consumption, and deterioration of the community support system eroded food security, financial security, and resilience to stresses such as downturns in farm income due to bad weather or market fluctuations.
- Debt forced able-bodied men (and later women) to migrate to cities, at first seasonally and later year-round, seeking work to supplement family incomes. This eroded community solidarity and traditional support systems, while increasing the cost of farming as it became necessary to mechanize further or hire labor from outside the family.
- Community fragmentation and impoverishment increased usury and debt, along with dysfunctional social behavior such as thievery.
The result was an interconnected system of mutually reinforcing vicious cycles that drove the landscape and the community into progressively greater decline.
The Positive Tip
The positive tipping point was the introduction of agroforestry and establishment of a community-managed forest, accompanied by a process of community dialogue and problem solving that enabled successful implementation.
Agroforestry offered the following benefits:
- More income and opportunity for debt reduction if the agroforestry was commercially successful.
- “Weeds” around tree crops protected the soil from erosion and helped maintain soil fertility.
- Diversity of agroforestry provided both cash crops and food for home consumption.
- Less mechanization and a greater role for draft animals and their manure reduced the need for chemical fertilizer.
- Less chemical fertilizers and pesticides reduced input costs.
- Lower labor inputs associated with agroforestry allowed time to contribute to the community support system.
- The diversity of agroforestry was more resilient to weather and market fluctuations.
Maintaining a protection forest as an integral part of the landscape provided:
- A healthy watershed for reliable water supply, protection from soil erosion, and flood prevention.
- A more secure supply of forest products for cash and home consumption.
Reversal of vicious cycles in the negative tip transformed them into virtuous cycles that fostered and sustained a healthier and more productive landscape and an economically and socially healthier community.
Thanawm Chuwaingan, chair of Association of village groups (translated by Saksith Muenkul):
Like many residents of Khao Din village, I am from a farming family which migrated here from the Khorat Plateau in the Northeast. We came here 51 years ago. Initially, others from our old village came here first and advised us to join them. At that time [nobody had] cars, so we made the journey in carts pulled by cattle. The trip took five or six days. At first, there were about 150 of us here in this village. In those days, it was easy to find food. There were many edible plants and vegetables growing wild near our houses. The fish in the streams were so easy to catch, we could boil water and go and catch some immediately to put in the pot. We could have fresh fish any time we wanted.
There were also wild animals, like boars, deer, tigers, elephants. Life was more simple. We had no toilets. We went into the forests. We kept our animals, our cattle and water buffalo, under our houses [which were raised on stilts]. There were no roads between houses, just small, winding paths through the forest.
At first, we cooperated together and helped each other a lot. But many things changed, especially starting from the sixties and seventies. The government wanted us to modernize: to build toilets, expand our farms into recently cut forests, and to clear more forests to grow cash crops. They discouraged us from keeping our cows or water buffalo under our houses because they said it wasn’t sanitary. Before the seventies, we were mainly growing food for our own families, but after that we started growing crops to sell. So we were making money, but then we needed money to pay for farming equipment, or for higher wages for farm labor, and chemicals. We cleared more forest because we wanted more land for cultivation. People began to go into debt. For example, one year we’d plant maize, there’d be no rain and the crop would fail. People would have to repay money they borrowed, even though they’d lost their crops and received no income from them. If they couldn’t pay it back that year, there’d be more pressure to pay it back the next year with higher interest. This was how people’s debts kept growing.
When Save the Children staff first came here, we thought they were Communists! [Thai governments, whether elected or installed by military coup d’etats, frequently labeled dissidents, NGO and development workers ‘communists’ because their approach was very different from the government’s.] Then we started to trust them, and began discussing our problems and how to solve them. We began talking about protecting the environment, about a new model of agriculture, and building community groups.
What were some of the problems your village was having before this project began?
There were many problems. There were no trees. It was very hot and dry. We had social problems. Our society was ‘broken’. Everyone only worried about their own fields and their own families. They needed money to pay their debts. This was a source of considerable anxiety for many. If there was a village meeting to discuss common issues, no one wanted to come. People were cutting down trees and clearing more land for new fields wherever they could find it. There was no trust or cooperation between villagers. People were migrating to Bangkok.
How is this different from now?
There’s less migration to Bangkok now. There are more trees. You can especially see them in large groves adjacent to the roads you drove in on. These areas used to be nearly bare. Now, if someone is 10 meters inside, you can’t see them. The level of technical knowledge and skills, awareness, and local decision-making ability have continued to improve since the Save the Children team left this project. Environmental awareness has changed with regard to forest protection. Before (when Jumbo was there) three villages were involved in a single community forest, but now six sub-districts are involved in six forests. Capacity among the group leaders has changed dramatically.
Most of all is the change in peoples’ thinking. These things are happening:
We are learning together as a community, sharing knowledge with each other and also influencing people from outside this area. We have made networks and associations. We are also learning from the outside and the larger network. We are also building our capacity and increasing our technical knowledge–the how to’s – and sharing them also through training programs which we now provide for others.
We also have connections with the academic community, with universities and also some corporate funds (for example, the Petroleum Authority of Thailand which supports a national environmental regeneration program), and the government (particularly, the Forest Department). We have also attracted attention of visitors from other provinces and even other countries including Sri Lanka, Laos, and Bhutan. People from every continent have visited us, under the auspices of United Nations supported study tours.
Even though we don’t have much money, I’m happy. We have many friends who come to visit, and we have enough food for them. We don’t have to buy very much of anything.
Choo Sittichap, a member of the original farmer’s network:
About starting agroforestry, it depended on the farmer who had an interest in trying it out. It was very difficult to change farmers’ attitudes about changing from monocrops to integrated farming. Maybe only 10% were open to the idea at the beginning. The challenge was first for people to understand the problem, the next was learning how to solve the problem, and then it was about selecting the people to demonstrate the new approaches which we all had a hand in designing.
The first year had a poor monsoon. In the second, there was a serious problem with pests. So there was a lot of interest at that time, because people were really suffering. In the years that the crops were bad, the demonstration farms also suffered. But not as much as the farmers who were only depending on rice or upland cash crops, because the demonstration farmers had planted a much wider diversity of crops. They had many choices. They had fruit trees, mushrooms, vegetables, and various ways to get enough to eat, and money to use on essentials. Even with government supported community rice banks in which farmers deposited some of their harvest each year, if they were unable to pay back, it was just another reason for increasing a farmer’s debt. So we developed our own community-run rice banks. And people who were in dire straits could borrow interest free, with longer term pay back arrangements because we were more lenient and understanding with our neighbors. We started a community rice mill so that people would not have to lose a portion of their produce to the miller. We sold the chaff and the bran, and were able to support the mill in that way, while local people also volunteered their time. The rice mill has grown and now has the most modern machinery, and a storage shed large enough so that members can keep their produce their rather than having to pay rent on the space, or sell all of the portion they have for sale immediately after harvest, when prices are lowest.
The government’s attitude has been also been changing. At first, they were only pressuring farmers to grow monocultures (cash crops), but now they have begun to encourage them to do integrated farming and agroforestry as well!
At first, there were only 30 demonstration farmers in 6 villages, but now 25 villages are in our network. In Khao Din village, 27 families are involved, but seven are doing it seriously by which I mean, they have applied integrated natural farming approaches over their entire farms, rather than on just a portion of them.
There were big changes in this area. It was as though people were waking up. The soil quality has improved. In the past, when we had problems with water, we didn’t know how to resolve them. Now, when we have water problems, we try to find ways to solve them. But some people who aren’t interested in starting agroforestry would say they didn’t have money or land to start it, but in my idea, it’s a conflict in their minds. Anybody can do it if they want to. Young people go away to Bangkok to find work, but we want them to stay in the village.
Nowadays, a farmer is more certain to be looked after in his old age by his integrated farm, compared to by his children.
Are there any differences between the families which are doing it and those which are not?
It’s very different. Families who are doing it don’t borrow money as much as those who practice conventional farming. Agroforestry farmers have food security, enough food for their families. Also, now we’re trying to learn more about marketing, how to sell our produce in the village and in local markets. At first, I would go out to the village to sell my produce, but now they come to me.
A lot of conventional farmers think they can make more money if they increase the amount of land they have under cultivation. But if they increase the land, they also have to increase the costs. But they don’t think about that. And they think ‘I can get this, and then I can get that,’ but then some years, the crops fail. And that’s when they go into debt.
I know if we don’t change our farming methods, the future will get worse, so we want to go back to the traditional way of feeding our families first. At first, when we started to work, I wasn’t sure whether it would be successful or not. But now, I’m sure that this model is necessary for our family. For example, in the past, before we practiced integrated agriculture and agroforestry, if we wanted to eat bananas, we had to go to the market to buy them. I thought, ‘why are we buying bananas? We have land.’
Now, because I am old, I want to pass on these experiences to the new generation.
Andrew Mittelman, one of the original SC (Save the Children) representatives on the project:
On the ‘guided inquiry’ process which led to an awakening in the community to their shared problems:
We’d take the people who were more or less the active spokespeople in the design process – the ‘natural or traditional leaders’ around to other communities, have them listen in on what other people were thinking, and ask them to provide their feedback and recommendations. It wasn’t as they were strangers, for whatever reason, I’m still not really clear why, but people know each other over a fairly large geographical area. A sub-district may be 18 villages spread over 400 square kilometers. So here they were taking part in this process and wanted to get involved. We said from the outset, ‘look, you make the design, we’ll provide you with input that will enable you to experiment to see whether or not it works.’ People were encouraged by the fact that they could come up with their own ideas as to how to extricate themselves from a fairly significant predicament. This was one of 100 sub-districts nationwide ranked among the poorest in the country. It was a mess. The place was so heavily deforested because of commercial logging, illegal logging, and conversion of any remaining forest areas to upland cash crop fields. Once the resources were taken out of peoples’ hands, anything that was left was considered [by locals] to be ‘fair game’ and ‘better get it while you can,’ something you find happening elsewhere in Asia through the nationalization and state ownership of forests.
They had moved to Phai Sali from a very drought-stricken area of the country. And during this time of forest logging concessions, previously uninhabitable malaria-infested lands were open as potential cultivable land. Villagers were given rights to ‘homestead’ this land, in order to bring it into production and serve as an outlet for impoverished rural populations where existing land areas, divided up over generations of heirs, was no longer sufficient to produce a reasonable livelihood. So the new in-migrants cleared the land of any remaining scattered trees, or opened areas where forest fragments still remained, in order to establish their farms. We asked them [the villagers] what problems they had when they first arrived, and they’d say, ‘oh, the trees were so big it would take days just to cut one down’, or ‘we’d be worried our kids would go outside to play in the high grass and be eaten by a tiger!’ So these were the kinds of problems they were having! This shows how much things changed from conditions like that to being one of the 100 poorest and severely deforested sub-districts in the country.
So we embarked on this process of ‘soul searching,’ where together with us facilitating, we began to look at what had happened over the last fifty years or so. And what they discovered, through this guided inquiry, was that they were largely responsible for their creating their own current predicaments–the erosion of the land, the water problems, the debts, the urban migration, the breakdown in community cooperation. And when remembering what the land was like when they arrived they kept saying, ‘We never thought this would happen! We couldn’t imagine this place would become a desert!’ And this was all within living memory! They were saying, ‘My god, what have we done?!!’
This process was a milestone. It was amazing. People were lighting up like lightbulbs. It was as though they had reached a kind of enlightenment. It was completely different from one of us going in there and telling them what was wrong. The process of getting them to work it through themselves was the first time they were able–as a community–to awaken to a common predicament. Maybe separately as individuals, or families, people had a sense of what was going on. Some of the men might have been thinking, ‘oh, no, because of this, I’ve got to go to Bangkok again. I don’t want to leave my family here, but what choice do I have given the circumstances…?’ But it was not a collective realization. People just felt they had to deal with their problems on their own, and there was no other way out.
So we started thinking, ‘What does it take, what do they need, what kind of knowledge do they need?’ This wasn’t done by us again, it was an ‘inquirical’ process. We sat down, we asked the people and talked with them. And they then started to come up with answers. Leading them through this process, we concluded by asking, ‘So – what can we do about it?’ While some of the answers were far-fetched, we allowed a wide-open process of public brainstorming to proceed naturally, ending up with a long list of different knowledge, skills, and attitudes people felt would be required to forge a turnaround. We then had the group ‘sift’ through the list, in order to consider the comparative costs and benefits of their proposed problem solving approaches, their likely results, and the success potential of the various alternatives they had identified. And then we said, ‘Well, look, suppose we were to select from a number of these, the ones which most people feel are the most appropriate and potentially valuable for initial investments. Which ones should we choose to try first?’ And after selecting the ones which people felt were the optimal approaches, we asked, ‘What would you need to know that you do not know already, to help ensure the success of these initiatives?’ And this ‘required know-how’ roster was formulated into sets of training curricula and training methodologies, again, based on people’s response to the question, ‘How would you suggest that people be enabled to learn these things?’ In many cases, according to the villagers, the best way to learn would be to ‘visit someone who is already doing it successfully, and ask how it’s been done.’
The ones who were most actively involved in these discussions naturally stood out amongst their respective groups as the local ‘movers and shakers’. Eventually, these people became grassroots activists in their own right, and having served as the movers and shakers for initiating a virtual revolution in the way in which people were pursuing their livelihoods, were eventually selected as local community leaders. By the time we left, there were about five or six separate curricula which these leaders were able to deliver to local people, and other groups who, like themselves, are desperately seeking solutions to similar sets of problems.
People appreciated the fact that, unlike most of their peers elsewhere in rural Thailand, they had the privilege to have an outside assistance agency, Save the Children, equipped to support them, not just to awaken regarding the nature of their predicament, but to support you in any way you conclude will help you to ‘recover what it is you feel should be recovered within your communities’. It was the beginning of a grassroots democratization process. And while the government has considered the wisdom of proceeding in this way as the basis for rural revitalization, unfortunately, the establishment of Subdistrict Administrative Organizations has been politicized, and the Councils now suffer from many of the same maladies as other government agencies. Today, again (as of June 2007), this issue is being rekindled through intensive and ongoing discussions regarding the need for a real grassroots advisory council, to provide the kinds of mechanisms for local participation which the Subdistrict Administrative Organizations have failed to deliver.
The manner in which the project was implemented, giving authority to local people to analyze their situation, and to make their own decisions about how best to address their problems, also led to a re-evaluation of the appropriate social obligations for local political leadership. Village heads and their deputies, some of which were women, were involved in, or at the least, kept well informed of what was going on. And many of the people who were involved started to realize, that, ‘for the stuff that we really want to do, we aren’t getting any support from our leaders – – in fact, I don’t know what they’re doing to help us solve our problems!’ It is generally well known amongst rural residents, despite their feeling of powerlessness to change the situation, that local leaders are sort of invested with special rights to pilfer a significant portion of local development funds.
So the ‘conscientization’ that was taking place actually set the roots for a sort of political revolution, and as things were in a dynamic state of change in Thailand at the time, following the military coup d’etat and the people’s movement which succeeded in unseating the military dictatorship. The time for such changes was auspicious. At the national level, it led to the drafting of a new Constitution in which the vision for rural democratization was established, as mentioned, under auspices of a new decision making and management body which was intended to enable genuine representation of grassroots concerns – the Tambon of Subdistrict Administrative Organizations.
People were being trained. And of course it wasn’t only a one-shot training, it was classroom, field-oriented, hands-on, it’s what might be called nowadays in the current development vocabulary ‘action learning through farmer field schools‘. And then people would go back and they’d take what they had learned and begin trying it on their farms.
The folks who were trainers and part of the core group of grassroots ‘animators’, took responsibility for providing support in certain geographic areas. On the other hand, while stationing project staff to a particular locale had its benefits in terms of enabling strong personal relationships to develop, as with most projects, certain staff had specific skills, and were equipped with their own particular strengths which might include, for example, how to grow fruit crops or organic rice, to set up a community savings and loan association, to assist local people to develop leadership skills, and so on. And so, while we were counseling groups in specific geographic areas, we’d also deploy the specialist skills we had on board, depending on the specific needs emerging throughout the project area. Based on the results being achieved, the team developed confidence in its ability to conduct a complex project with adroitness. And as it turns out, there were a lot of groups and organizations that wanted this kind of knowledge. People began asking us to facilitate field trips for their staff and farmer leaders, to ‘tell us what you’re doing, and how you do it?’ We became the leaders of the newly established national agroforestry network, and led field trips for no fewer than 10 projects in Thailand, and representatives of a host of projects from elsewhere in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
We started out at 12 villages, and expanded to 26. It took five years to get to a situation where nine of those had achieved truly outstanding and visibly notable results. Our main developmental asset was people. We were cultivating a growing network of capable and articulate local people. And it paid off. These people – the villagers themselves – have been honored by being appointed to a national cabinet advisory committee on sustainable rural development, have won awards for outstanding grassroots leadership, and continue to be in demand as trainers for other villages and projects seeking to do similar things throughout Thailand and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.
While our objective was to assist with the solution of local poverty problems, it turned out to be necessary to begin working with people who are not among the poorest of the poor, but were somewhat better off and therefore able to risk experimenting with new and unfamiliar farming approaches. Projects like this could fail if only the well-off were to serve as demonstrators, since the poorer rank and file could reject their examples as inappropriate for them and only accessible to the rich. We also tried to find people whose farms resembled the difficult conditions that most farmers had to deal with, rather than the relatively ‘well-resourced farms’, for similar reasons. Interestingly, in a couple of cases, the village group members who were charged with selecting the most appropriate people to serve as pioneer demonstrators (based on criteria that they had also helped to identify), chose a couple of well-off people because these people were known as ‘rural benefactors’ who would help them all once the project really began to expand. The visual impacts of the initial development efforts were dramatic, and other people became curious.
As extension agents, once the demonstration farmers were selected, we’d travel around like Johnny Appleseed, going to assist the development of the demo systems with seeds in our pockets, and seedlings in our backpacks. Working hands-on with the farmer, swinging the hoe along with him and his family, we’d say, ‘Look, you’ve got some bare land here, why not make use of it,’ and give them a handful of seeds or some saplings. In this way, we probably accelerated the critical development of ‘visible’ impact about twofold, and this is important because, for farmers, seeing is believing. No amount of talk about how wonderful a certain innovation might be can compare to being able to demonstrate it for people to see for themselves. And this is particularly true when the farmer him or herself, can explain exactly what has been done, why, and how, in the local language. There is no disputing the results, and considerable confidence that, if one tries it oneself with advice from a mentor who has already succeeded before, there is a stronger guarantee that one will succeed.
On the democratization process in Thailand:
Most people now agree that what is known as ‘community-based management’ is really a parallel term for rural democratization. The issue of community management of local natural resources has begun to focus more explicitly on natural resource governance. The question is ‘who controls the resource system?’ Who has the right to make the decisions which determine how the system is managed: how it can be used, by whom, when, and how not. The issue of how it may come under community management provides the impetus for communities to begin cooperating to take their own decisions. And that in itself can be a threatening proposition for governments that, as both a consequence and demonstration of their power and authority, need to control the decisions. So what happened in Nakhon Sawan was, that this newly emerging leadership that was much more reflective of the aspirations of the community, began to get elected as local officials. Prior to that, local officials were more likely to be powerful (including money lenders) with a certain amount of charisma, and traditional respect in a kind of reformed feudal governance system. Often they were people whom rank-and-file villagers also depend on for emergency loans, albeit at usurious interest rates, in a kind of patron-client system. In many cases, however, in the context of a corruption riddled government system, local leaders were also legitimized gangsters raking off surplus benefits, as a percentage of government development contracts. The web of local officialdom are the local power brokers, with decision making discretion for what gets done with the annual local development budget largely vested in them. Through amassing of wealth and the ability to remain protected under a corrupt system, they were generally able to do what they wanted to do, call the shots, to choose what, when, why, how, where. Their displacement, during the course of the project, by local grassroots leaders who actually represented their constituents’ interests, opinions and aspirations, therefore, represented a significant unraveling of the local system of power and influence. Fortunately for us, there was nobody killed or harassed for challenging the existing power structures. In other parts of the country, when this same sort of process began, where real grassroots local representatives became popular and began to have political influence…there are quite a few instances where they were murdered! And not only were they killed, but the instigators, the facilitators from one organization or another, the ones who encouraged people to begin saying ‘Look, we should take control of our own resources, we can’t let people keep coming in from the outside, decimating our access to livelihood and the integrity of the environmental resources on which we depend for our lives and livelihoods’ – they were also killed! In Nakhon Sawan, elected officers of the Life and Nature Revitalization Association started to get elected to the Subdistrict Administrative Organizations, to the point where they were the majority. This began at around the same time as the new ‘people’s’ Constitution replaced the one put in place by the military government (as that one was declared invalid once the coup leaders were displaced by a popular uprising.) Enshrined in the new Constitution were various articles that said the Subdistrict Administrative Organizations would take charge of the local development process, natural resources would be the domain of the subdistricts and local people would have the right to determine how they should be sustainably managing their resources.
When this started happening, the government, realizing it was losing power (as the prior officials also served as canvassers for one or another national political party), began to re-interpret the legislation by creating organic laws that tended to emasculate the actual spirit of the initial articles or pronouncements which devolved power to the people. It is not hard to find similar examples of this kind of pendulum-like dialectic, in which governments are pressured to respond to the will of the people, and having done so, retrench their authority through the re-interpretation of the spirit of the new law.
So not only did these guys in Nakhon Sawan become the leaders of their subdistrict councils, they now have a direct line all the way through the government apparatus to be able to say, ‘This is what we want. We’re going to use the budget this way.’ They can go off to the communities and say, ‘Look, what do you guys want to do? We can support you.’ So it isn’t, you know, tarmac a road to the middle of nowhere, pocket 50% of the budget and do a half-assed job so it falls apart in a couple of years so you have to re-invest in repairs, from which you again take your cut. It’s actually responding to the needs of the local people, and using government tax revenues (that came from the population) to respond to people’s self-identified needs.
It didn’t stop there. They weren’t satisfied. They said, ‘This is a grassroots revolution! What about our neighbors in the next subdistricts? They should be doing this as well.’ So they started going around and conducting the same kinds of ‘conscientizing’ dialogues that Save the Children originally facilitated in their villages, in this place and that place.
Excerpt from an email sent from Andy to Gerry Marten in February 2005:
The tipping point story you are looking for is in the hearts, minds and on the ground in Phai Sali District Nakhon Sawan Province, Thailand, and parts further afield which have been deeply affected by the experience there, and by the enthusiasm to extend the good things that have come out of that experience among those who helped to create it. Namely, the villagers. We were just the catalysts who arrived with some ‘ideas whose time had come’.
Saksith “Jumbo” Muenkul, one of the original SC (Save the Children)representatives on the project:
When we arrived there [in Khao Din], it was like a desert. There was no water for drinking, let alone irrigation! This is an upland area, so the water runs off easily, particularly given the removal of forests and loss of absorbent topsoil. To give you an idea of what was left of mountainside forests, villages and crops were often damaged when rocks from barren slopes washed downhill during rainstorms. We noticed the debts of the farmers, and how they were still dependent on Save the Children. On this basis, we started thinking about how to improve their agricultural production systems and environment. We knew that a healthy environment is required to produce healthy crops. After we started working, and carrying out the initial problem analysis and planning discussions in Phai Sali, we got together with a network of NGOs, and brought farmers together to talk about the problems. After about a year of this, the NGOs and the farmers they’d been working with decided to establish an NGO network focusing on integrated farming, agro – and community forestry. Because of our experience, our Save the Children team was asked to be the convenor of the organization, which eventually evolved into a national alternative agriculture and natural resource management network.
Initially, popular understanding of the concept of community forestry meant that farmers (who were blamed for causing deforestation) should take responsibility for rehabilitating damaged lands by planting trees. It didn’t matter what kind of trees, and in many cases, they turned out to be mainly eucalyptus, which ended up causing problems because they are themselves so resource hungry. The Forest Department wanted to control the meaning of community forestry, and how it is practiced. This situation continues up until today. Otherwise, in many cases, even for well-meaning NGOs or projects, community forestry just meant putting up a sign and nothing else – ‘So-and-So Community Forest’. There was no management plan, or if there was, it was created by outsiders and had no local following. And there was, in fact, no community. In other words, the local organization which is essential as the basis for mounting community forestry efforts was overlooked. These efforts failed, if they can even be considered to ever have been started. Sometimes other villagers would even steal the sign! So it wasn’t properly understood or implemented.
The approach of the government and many big agencies [towards development] lacks an appreciation of the crucial role of the participation of villagers. Even if it is mentioned, it is really poorly understood. Some say, for example, ‘Raise your hands if you agree to do this or that’ and when people do so, usually out of respect shown traditionally to outsiders, they do so only to be respectful, but not because they agree. And then the ones who asked the question say, ‘See, excellent participation!’ But in reality, there is little respect for the local people, their ideas, or their rights to participate in or play the key role in decisions that are going to affect their lives. People are considered insufficiently knowledgeable to make such decisions compared to the outside experts. It’s very [condescending]. And it doesn’t work.
Our approach was so different from what these villagers were used to. When we came to the villages, we’d sit down with them and talk very casually together about their lives. Usually, outsiders – government officials – were very formal in contrast. They’d stand up in front of the room and expect everyone to listen to them and to show them the respect they considered was their right as phu yai, or ‘big men’. People thought we must be communists at first, because our style was like that of the communist activists that had gone to rural areas to arouse the people decades earlier.
On village savings groups:
Savings groups are good because they help people to learn to work together, to think of others’ interests and not just their own. They demonstrate how community interest and personal interests actually intersect. In this way, cooperating has personal benefits and community-wide benefits alike. It also teaches people how to manage money, something they never really learned to do well. In the past, because the rural economy was largely non-monetary, when people had a bit of money, it wasn’t so important, and they were inclined to use it as quickly as they obtained it, for things that we might consider frivolous, like buying relatively expensive food and drinks to entertain their friends. This was a reciprocal arrangement, and created a good feeling in rural society in Thailand. But nowadays, things have changed, and the economy in rural areas is more and more cash-based. So in order to manage their affairs appropriately given the changes in the current reality of rural life, it is important that villagers learn how to manage their finances wisely. Savings groups have helped people appreciate the value of money, to be more frugal, to understand the importance of savings, and to re-instill a sense of community responsibility.
On constraints to achieving success:
In order to achieve success, in fact, it required that some of us actually struggle with the organization for which we were working, Save the Children. There were long and sometimes difficult discussions concerning the difference between being charitable, and enabling people to stand on their own two feet. Self-reliance is important in terms of sustainability of results, and the implications of this for the ways in which projects are designed and implemented. Sometimes, nowadays, there is a distinction made between project hardware and project software. The hardware is the stuff you can see – the results. For example, a rice mill, a water canal, an improved road. And these are the kinds of results based on which the success of a project is often solely judged. At first, the manager of Save the Children placed greater emphasis on the product, compared to the process. There was less emphasis on capacity-building, local organization and leadership development, networking, and so on – the ‘software’ kinds of developments. There was less confidence that these issues were equally important, and that without them, the results of hardware development would not be sustainable, there’d be no local ownership, that infrastructure would deteriorate, and that in the end, because we knew we wouldn’t be there forever, the actual results of what we were doing could turn out to be minimal and temporary.
On the importance of efforts to establish a sustainable local organization to continue work after a project is ended:
[In order for] the association and the people here to continue to work after our project was completed, we had to provide support for them to develop the skills to be able to carry on with the work, independent of outside assistance. We stopped work in 1994 when Save the Children’s project came to a close. But I continued to work here on and off with the purpose of ensuring that the local association was actually able to stand on its own feet. In ’95 and ’96, I continued to be able to come around on a regular basis, not with Save the Children, but with another organization that was interested to see the results of our efforts continue to flourish. They appreciated that the ‘software’ had not yet been sufficiently established to ensure this. So I served as an advisor to the association, providing them with the skills they required to manage their own organization.
I was really happy to work here in the past. I hope they will continue to work by themselves. In the past in my vision, I wanted to see them [working] like this. We wanted to help the people to help themselves. And now they have demonstrated that they can do it. They are even getting more [opportunities for] funding now.
On how to provide effective training for farmers:
The best training is when farmers can train other farmers, and is less effective when outside experts provide it. This is because of the simple reason that farmers trust other farmers, compared to outsiders who seem less experienced in the ins-and-outs of farming, who ‘speak a different language’ and come from a very different cultural background. But in the recent past, it wasn’t like this. Farmers didn’t trust each other because everyone was experiencing the same kinds of problems and no one could demonstrate that they had a viable way out. But once farmers were able to show something that was really working, and their example was indisputable because others could see it with their own eyes, farmers began to have a restored faith in one another, and this in itself was critical, since it is only under unusual circumstances that farmers have the benefit of working with a project. Who can they depend upon, if not themselves. And what better source of advice, than from a ‘journeyman’ who has already succeeded in making the alternatives work, and can explain not only how to do it, but what problems to expect, and how either to ensure that such problems do not occur, or how to solve them if they do.
We had a good team….everyone understood the concept, had the same ideas, and learned how to work. We always used to say, ‘Work hard, and have a good time’. While it may sound trite, this is an important point. You can’t make progress trudging along without noticeable results, leading everyone to doubt whether what one is doing is right or not. If you’ve got a good plan, however, understand the end result and the methods for establishing it, this builds an esprit d’ corps which encourages everyone to work hard, and take pride in the results that their contributions are helping to bring about. The more you realize that you are actually succeeding at something which many others have found nearly impossible (to wit, efforts to solve global poverty and environmental problems), the more you want to work to make it happen.
What do we mean by “success”:
For this group and this project, I think it is clear that there was a certain degree, perhaps a considerable degree of success. The project and group, in fact, have gotten awards from many organizations. But the main thing is that people’s lives have changed for the better. They are no longer desperate, and the once nearly devastated environment has clearly made a turnaround. Now, there are forests and waterfalls on what not long ago more resembled desert mountains.
But it is important to appreciate nowadays that success at small project sites is insufficient to bring about the kinds of massive changes required to make a turnaround required to restore integrity to rural societies and environments on the scale required. So success must also be judged based on whether what has been achieved at a project site can be and will be replicated elsewhere. This project got the attention of the people in the provincial government, and even up to the national level and internationally. The people here, though uneducated in the formal sense of the word, are now trusted and valued because they are able to share experiences and methods which are relevant for formulating national policies on rural poverty alleviation and environmental rehabilitation. The government has asked them to do this, and they are being listened to in some degree at least. For example, one time when one of the community forest guards realized that it was people from the local military base which were encroaching on and stealing the trees and products which had regenerated as a result of their own efforts, the Governor of Nakhon Sawan Province and Head of the Regional Forestry Office sided with the villagers. The villagers triumphed over the military If it is accepted that providing a sense of understanding of the importance of sustainable natural resource management for sustainable rural economic development can provide a basis for rural communities to take responsibility for managing their resources wisely, enabling them with rights to do so could contribute to poverty alleviation and natural resource conservation. The villagers of Phai Sali have managed to regain that right.
Many people in this area (or even outside) know, trust and respect Thanawm (head of the association). He has many positions in this area (advisor to the governor in Nakhon Sawan), and their association is head of a larger network of agroforestry members from other provinces. The association is now more aware of the importance of trying to influence and give information to the government, and offer training, instead of just focusing on the local region. They (networks and groups) have also gained the trust and acceptance of the local people.
What should we call it?
We don’t have to worry about whether the farms are ‘agroforestry’ or ‘integrated farming’ or not. Names are not important. What’s important is if they work to provide a reliable income in a manner which continually improves the quality of the farming environment.
On product and process:
At first Andy and I had problems working together, because I always thought the capacity must come before any technical work, and that takes time. Andy was in more of a hurry to see results. While he didn’t dispute my premise that process is as important as product, I think he was willing to compromise and realize that everything had its time, and that the process of evolution was what was important. He believed that only by demonstrating that what we were discussing was doable in reality, not just merely speculation, would we be able to achieve what we needed to in the limited time allotted for the project. Because of this, he would say, for example, ‘We have to plant these trees this month because this is the season they should be planted!’ and I would say, ‘We need to build up their capacity first,’ and he’d reply, ‘But if we wait for that, it’s too late! The rainy season will have passed and no planting will have taken place. Then next year, the results we need to show to encourage more people to come on board will not have been set in place’. So we had these kinds of arguments. But slowly, we began to learn from each other and see that both process and product were equally important.
A problem for facilitators of sustainable development:
The problem with my kind of work is, I’m working to make myself [redundant]! I’m working to help rural people become self-reliant so they don’t need me anymore. So I’m always working myself towards unemployment!
Interviews with former Save the Children workers Andrew Mittelman, Saksith Muenkul, and several farmers actively involved with ongoing work in Phai Sali.
Mittelman, Andrew. 1991. Mobilizing community action for forest rehabilitation: Local organizations in sustainable forestry development. In Local Organizations in Sustainable Forest Management, edited by Cor Veer and Jim Chamberlain. FAO – RAP, Bangkok.
Mittelman, Andrew. 1993. The role of NGOs in agro – and community forestry development: Facilitating community participation in farm and village forestry. In JICA/RFD 1993, Regional Training Course on Community Forestry Development. Japan International Cooperation Agency and Royal Forest Department, Bangkok.
Mittelman, Andrew. 1994. Facilitating Farmer Involvement in Rural Environmental Rehabilitation. Invited paper presented to the annual CUSO-VSO country conference, Nakhon Pathom, Thailand.
Mittelman, Andrew. 2002. Teak Planting by Smallholders in Nakhon Sawan, Thailand.
Unasylva No. 201-Teak: An International Journal of Forestry and Forest Industries. Volume 51. (Found on FAO Corporate Document Repository).
Mittelman, Andrew, Songphol Kamnerdratana, and Saksith Muenkul. 1992. The roles of private rural development organizations in agro – and community forestry development. Presented to the National Workshop on Agro – and Community Forestry Support for Villages in Designated Forest Reserves. Royal Forest Department and Regional Community Forestry Training Center, Bangkok. (Thai).
Mittelman, Andrew and Saksith Muenkul. 1993. Farmer-centered training to support local initiative for agroforestry development and natural resource conservation. In APAN 1994, Proceedings of a regional expert consultation on Agroforestry and Community Forestry Curriculum Development in the Asia-Pacific. Asia Pacific Agroforestry Network, Bogor, Indonesia.
Mittelman, Andrew and Vichien Srelukwa. 1992. Organizing a farmer-to-farmer extension program for transition to sustainable land management. In APAN 1992, Farmer-to-farmer Adaptive Agroforestry Research, Report of an Expert Consultation held at Cebu, the Philippines. Asia-Pacific Agroforestry Network, Bogor, Indonesia.
Mittelman, Andrew and Vichien Srelukwa. 1992. Catalyzing potential for farm and community forestry by integrating agro – / environmental rehabilitation objectives. In The Roles of NGOs in Promoting On-farm Tree Growing Technologies. Winrock International, Bangkok, Thailand and Arlington, Virginia.
Mittelman, Andrew, Vichien Srelukwa, Songphol Kamnerdratana, and Saksith Muenkul. 1993. Integrated Community Resource Management for Protected Area Support. In Buffer Zone Management, Proceedings of a National Consultation on Buffer Zone Development, edited by Henry Woods. Regional Community Forestry Training Center, Bangkok.
Srelukwa, Vichien and Andrew Mittelman. 1993. Save the Children’s experience supporting agro – and community forestry in Thailand: Recommendations for improving implementation through collaboration. In RFD/APAN 1993, National Agroforestry Consultation and Program Planning. Royal Forest Department/Asia Pacific Agroforestry Network, Bangkok & Bogor, Indonesia. (Thai and English)