UNDP helps conserve land in Thai villages

29 Jul 2009

Video: Karen Tribe Land Rights

Whit Poom’s family has been growing rice for 50 years on his farm in the Karen hill tribe village of Maesapaetai in Thailand’s northern Mae Hong Son province. While crop rotating once served as a way to keep farms big and healthy, the clearing away of precious forest cover has led to even bigger problems, including erosion and an increased risk of flash flooding.

“We used to have a bigger rice farm but now it has become smaller because of land erosion,” Whit said.

So the Government of Thailand adopted new land use policies that restrict access to forests for conservation purposes. Local residents can’t farm without permission. If they do, they risk fines or arrest. The new policies have caused confusion among the Karen and other northern hill tribes; often, local residents and the Government disagree on land ownership and use.

A UNDP-supported project that is constructing three dimensional models of hill tribe villages and their surrounding areas is changing that. Thanks to the project, rivers, mountains, forests and farming areas are now clearly marked, along with areas where land use and ownership must be clarified. Models have already been made of Maesapaetai and Huai Fan, with more villages to be completed in the coming months.

Nitisak Toniti, the model maker, says the project is an easy way for villagers to visualize what land belongs to whom.

“It interests everyone, even young children,” Nitisak said “Elderly people can easily understand their actual locations.”

UNDP project manager Suranee Phusuwan says the project brings many benefits to the communities involved.

“Villagers are rightly proud of where they live,” she said. “This tool not only makes communities more connected, but it also helps in the vital areas of agricultural planning, irrigation, forest fire prevention and flood mitigation.”

The three dimensional modeling is part of a wider programme of work being undertaken by UNDP in partnership with the Mae Hong Son Governor’s office that is promoting fair and equal treatment of hill tribes.