In Thailand, as in other parts of the world, escalating conflicts and heated debates on water rights, watershed protection and forest conservation are on the rise. The World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and the ASB Partnership for the Tropical Forest Margins in Thailand have worked with communities and partners to develop scientific tools for better-informed public debate and negotiations.
Research by ASB-Thailand is focused in mountainous northern Thailand. Key characteristics found across this region include:
- Watershed headlands with forest cover but high rates of deforestation
- Populations with high growth rates and poverty levels
- Subsistence agriculture, often based on shifting cultivation systems under growing stress, sometimes including narcotics production
- Focus of increasing national and international concern about environmental issues, including water, biodiversity and climate change
The Mae Chaem watershed in Chiang Mai Province was selected as the benchmark research site by the multi-institutional ASB-Thailand National Consortium. This 'meso-scale' watershed serves as the main focus for research efforts. The Mae Chaem river sub-basin is an upper tributary of the Chao Phraya river system. This sub-basin covers nearly 4,000 square kilometres, making up about 15% of the area of the Upper Ping river basin and contributing about 17% of the Upper Ping's total flow.
ASB's secondary focus has been on one ridge of the Mae Taeng watershed, where the Sam Mun Highland Development Project was able to facilitate significant change in local land use patterns between 1987 and 1994.
The ASB research programme in northern Thailand seeks to understand causes of land use change in the region and help develop technologies and policies that can improve land use management. Major components of this approach have included:
- Characterizing the Montane Mainland Southeast Asia (MMSEA) ecoregion
- Establishing a partnership framework and benchmark research sites
- Identifying forest policy concerns and characterizing land use change in upper tributary watersheds
- Building on experience with agroforestry modification, adaptation and innovation
- Establishing the ASB-Thailand research framework
The results of these work are published in Alternatives to Slash-and-Burn in Thailand: Summary Report and Synthesis of Phase II (PDF)