In the vast Northeastern region of Thailand, bounded by the borders of Laos and Cambodia, lies the comer province of Ubon Ratchathani. Seventy-five kilometers northwest of the provincial capital, situated near the town of Hua Taphan and the Lam Se Bai tributary of the great Mekong River, a socio-ecological experiment is underway. Actively protected by twelve surrounding villages, a large, 4,000-hectare (24,000 rai; 6 rai = 1 hectare) tract of dry dipterocarp, evergreen, and bamboo riverine forest named Dong Yai (big forest in Thai) testifies to an exciting evolution in Thailand's forest management history (see Figure 3). Improved communication channels and cooperation among local village groups, Kasetsart University researchers, and the RFD are supporting an emerging success story in community-led forest protection, management, and benefit-sharing.



Historically isolated from the Kingdom's capital of Bangkok, the Northeast is the country's largest, poorest, and most populous region. With one-third of Thailand's entire population, the Northeast has experienced annual population growth rates far exceeding the national average of 2.6 percent, as well as significant interprovincial and interregional migration flows since the middle of the century. The per capita income in this region is only 40 percent of the national average (FN 7), while agricultural productivity remains low and vulnerable due to poor soils and inadequate rainfall.

Since the late 1950s, widespread conversion of upland forest lands to rainfed cash crops such as kenaf, cassava, rice, and com has contributed to the sequential process of deforestation, soil erosion, desiccation and floods, and declines in crop yields. Forest degradation in the region peaked in the 1970s, when the average annual deforestation rates in the Northeast watersheds exceeded 10 percent (see Figure 1). Only when the limits on available forest for conversion to arable cropland were approached did the deforestation rate decline to 7 percent, leaving by 1991 a mere 13 percent forest cover in the entire Northeast (FN 8). Meanwhile, shortages of wood and non-timber forest products have worsened in the region, exacerbated by the highest consumption rates of fuelwood per capita in the country (e.g., Dong Yai = 4.85 cubic meters per household). Furthermore, the villages in the Northeast have historically strong socioeconomic dependencies on a broad range of other forest products, including edible and medicinal plants. Within the context of this marginalized environment, the villagers of Dong Yai are focusing their energies on sustaining their most valued resource, the surrounding regenerating forests.

Figure 3:

Dong Yai Community Managed Forest


The twelve forest village communities, or mubans, of Dong Yai are each comprised of 100-120 households. The subdistrict headquarters is located at Srang To Noi and encompasses a total of 1,300 households, or 7,500 people. Dong Yai's twelve villages are substantially poorer than the average in Thailand, earning about 17,800 baht ($740) per household annually. The major local occupation is lowland paddy farming, supplemented with vegetable cultivation and livestock rearing. Due to unfavorable agroclimatic factors, including scant and un-predictable rainfall, poor, sandy loam soils, and high erosion rates (in part due to deforestation over the past two decades), the Dong Yai area, like the Northeast region as a whole, has suffered from droughts and relatively low crop productivity. While 96 percent of the farmers in Dong Yai are landowners with holdings of an average 20 rai (3 hectares), rainfed paddy yields are low, producing only one-third to one-half of the national average (FN 9).

In part due to the vagaries of the agricultural system, in-migration to Ubon Ratchathani Province has been minimal. This differs from the more general trends through the last half century of consistent migrant flows through many of the region's provinces, such as Udonthani in the North and Loei and Chaiyaphum in the West. Dong Yai's settlement stability is illustrated by its composition: 96 percent of the population is local.


Forest History

Village elder Punja Tanomchat recalls that Dong Yai was first settled over 150 years ago. His recollection is confirmed by the living history of the village's oldest planted lamut (Manilkara kauki), or plum tree. The area's original settlers migrated from Muang Samsip District, 20 kilometers southeast of Dong Yai. The forest had been periodically cleared by villagers for agriculture during the past 100 years, subjected informally to use as an open access resource with few controls or regulations. In the 1960s and 1970s, the RFD began logging on a 30-year rotation several of the 10 designated compartments of Dong Yai's "multiple use" forest. Concurrently, 28 years ago, 50 percent of Dong Yai's upland forest was cleared for kenaf cultivation by the 12 resident villages. Each family cleared communally designated plots of 4-5 rai. Today, despite increasing land-use pressures in the area, these former kenaf fields have converted back to vigorous and healthy forest, protected and managed by Dong Yai's village families. The intricacies of this human-ecological process of forest regeneration in the face of resource scarcity offer lessons of wider relevance concerning land-use suitability, natural forest regeneration, and incentives and social structures for community management.

Clockwise from upper left: Dong Yai's regenerating dry dipterocarp forest; one of Dong Yai's elder collectors of Shorea obusta gum; mother tree with good seed stock, left standing by farmer in former kenaf fields, facilitates natural regeneration of Dong Yai's forest; Khun Prom Chaito, an avid gatherer of forest product.

The confluence of several factors provided a favorable opportunity for the natural regeneration of Dong Yai's dry dipterocarp forest. In 1964, when farmers cleared the forest for kenaf cultivation, they typically left coppice stumps and large "mother" trees standing in the fields. Only two years after the forest conversion to kenaf, the regional price of the crop plummeted. The farming families made the economic decision to abandon their kenaf cultivation in favor of more attractive alternatives. Most of the kenaf lands were geographically situated at a slight topographical elevation on undulating uplands characterized by poor lateritic soils and limited water supplies. Since the farmers were already engaged in farming their lowland paddy fields, it became practical to abandon the marginal upland crops and concentrate on expanding and improving the more lucrative lowland paddy and vegetable fields (see Figure 4). Due to relatively low human and livestock population pressures in the area at that time, additional lowlands for paddy cultivation were available to the farmers. Hence, the kenaf fields were given a respite from further exploitation pressure. Despite occasional outbreaks of fire, the hearty coppice stumps that had remained intact in the fields began producing vigorous shoots.

Bangkok medicinal market: traditional herbal remedy for high blood pressure is prepared from twelve wood and non-timber forest products from North and Northeast Thailand.

The golden apple (Aegle marelos) is an important forest product, high in vitamin C and widely used as a medicine throughout Thailand and Asia

The outcome of rapid coppice regeneration was graphically de scribed by the current Tambon Council leader, or kamnan, who recalled as a young boy that 1,000 pole-size trees per rai (6,000 saplings per hectare) had sprouted by the third year after the kenaf was abandoned. This coppicing process was supplemented with the successful although slower system of seedling propagation derived from the mother trees.

In 1989 the RFD decided to revoke the logging compartments in Dong Yai and to maintain the tract as reserve forest. Legally, reserve forest falls under the tenurial and management jurisdiction of the RFD. The designation curtails villagers' rights to certain benefits or authority to make decisions regarding forest use. However, in this case the RFD regional officers encouraged the villagers to cooperate with the protection objectives of the reserve forest -- with the Support of the Tambon Council, the general village committees informally requested each village family to assume responsibility for forest protection of small patches.

Figure 4:

As the land began to regenerate rapidly under protection, wood and non-timber forest products flourished. The Dong Yai villagers grew acutely aware of the increasing value of their forest resource. They also came to understand the periodic threats from forest fires. Frequently, villagers from neighboring districts that lacked forests would travel to Dong Yai and set fires in order to more easily collect burned, fallen wood and graze their cattle on newly germinated grasses. During the rainy season, villagers from afar would travel up to sixty kilometers to collect the many varieties of mushrooms in the Dong Yai forest. Over time, outside threats of fires and excessive exploitation mounted. In badly degraded areas adjacent to Dong Yai, scarcities of water, timber, fuelwood, and non-timber forest products grew starkly evident to Dong Yai residents and placed even greater pressure on the Dong Yai forest.

In the late 1980s, the kamnan called an important tambon meeting to further raise community awareness and discuss the increasing problems of forest overexploitation. Ultimately, the threats of uncontrolled access, as well as the opportunity to change the situation, proved the decisive factors in motivating the Dong Yai communities to adopt a more organized, proactive role in forest protection and management. Realizing the potential of the community as an ally, in 1989 a sympathetic regional forest officer named Nares, together with several forestry professors from Kasetsart University, began working with the community and offered a training course in forest protection and management to Dong Yai's village leaders, or puyaibans. The technical course covered fire prevention and control, silvicultural practices, and boundary demarcation-the result of which informally designated Dong Yai the "Conservation Forest for the Community of Tambon Srang To Noi." This cooperative intervention by the RFD proved strategic, laying the foundation for improved relationships between the communities and forest agency, as well as the RFD and Kasetsart research faculty. The newly trained puyaibans enthusiastically returned to their villages to transfer their new skills and learning to members of the community. Further encouraged by the leadership of the Tambon Council, in 1992 each of the twelve mubans formed a "Forest Protector Group," or Pookitugpaa. Each village elected ten representatives to meet twice monthly and assume the primary role of forest protection and management decision-making. Initiating an informal system of watching, each village was responsible for protection of the geographical area that had originally been designated as its households' kenaf fields. The transfer of training skills and reorientation by the puyaibans helped to further solidify the groups' organizational capacity and operational field strategies. As the Pookitugpaa became recognized by the RFD and acknowledged with rights and responsibilities, a protection and usufruct-sharing agreement between parties was signed. Although not legally sanctioned, this agreement instilled greater confidence and gave legitimacy to the community.


Evolving a Community Management System

While the institutional arrangements in Dong Yai still remain un-official due to the lack of a formal national policy which recognizes community forest rights, the socio-ecological system is relatively stabilized. The ongoing process of community participation, solidarity, and empowerment in the management partnership of Dong Yai's forest underscores the significance of "unwritten policy" when translated to practical action. The working relationship among the RFD (at the national, regional, and local level), university researchers, and resident villagers is coordinated by a local Tambon Council, which serves as a key mechanism for communication and consensus among the village groups. The institutional structure developed for collaborative management heavily depends upon the successful role played by the Tambon Council as liaison between the regional forestry office and Dong Yai's village groups (see Figure 5).

Figure 5:

Dong Yai Community Forest: Institution Structure for Collaborative Management

Patrolling by the twelve Forest Protector Groups is conducted by 2-3 villagers daily on a rotating basis during the dry season. The geographic patrol area is specific for each muban, covering about 2,000-3,000 rai (333-500 ha.) per village. Collection of non-timber forest products remains open to all, including outsiders who still travel long distances to collect dried wood and seasonal mushrooms. As the number of collectors continues to increase and mushroom supplies diminish to unsustainable levels of production, some Dong Yai residents express skepticism over the open access policy afforded to outside "free-riders." Nonetheless, while the declining supply of mushrooms is cited as the most frequent major complaint by Dong Yai residents, open collection of non-timber forest products is permitted for now. Conflicts occur very infrequently. In the future, in order to satisfy local demand as a first priority, it may be that the Forest Protector Groups will need to decide on stricter regulations to limit numbers of outside mushroom collectors and quantities extracted.

In contrast to the uncontrolled collection of non-timber forest products, and as a response to the growing pressures of timber extraction for house construction, the communities' prescribed regulations for tree-cutting are more Stringent. Certain species are prohibited from all cutting, including the highly valued yang (Dipterocarpus alatus) and teak. Harvesting of other tree species by villagers is allowed on a fee basis but only for domestic purposes. A permit for the desired tree must first be approved by the "owner" or steward of the kenaf field in which the tree sits and subsequently by the Tambon Council. Each tree is priced by the council based on quality and size. The fee is then contributed to either the "owner" or (if located on communal lands) to the general village development fund. On average, a village in Dong Yai limits the annual harvest to one hundred or fewer trees, with a general maximum limit of two large trees per family. The Tambon Council maintains a record of all transactions. To help prevent timber violations by speculators, a rule has been issued which allows the sale of only one new house per family every twenty-five years.

The community groups' forest protection rules entail a graduated strategy of enforcement. On the first violation, a verbal warning is issued; second, a fine of 500 baht per tree is imposed. Finally, the repeat offender is turned over to the RFD. To date, cooperation has been encouraging, and only warnings have been issued. On average, one or two significant conflicts arise each year. Recently a group of twenty outsiders invaded the forest with pushcarts to gather wood. The puyaiban was immediately informed by the patrol members and approached the outsiders to explain that the forest was under Dong Yai community protection and regulation. While he decided to allow the group to depart with their collected materials, he also warned them that next time they would be reported to the authorities and punished. As a line of first defense, such social persuasion or peer pressure generally works quite effectively in Dong Yai.

Although the community system of organized tree-harvesting is officially illegal in reserve forest areas, in Dong Yai the regional RFD recognizes the Tambon Council and villagers as key allies in co-management. Hence, RFD supports the mubans' self-devised rules of twinning use and conservation. Much of the forest land in the vicinity has been registered by farmers under the STK program, which can theoretically allow conversion to private ownership. It is doubtful, however, that private entitlements will be granted to these farmers due to the land's legal status and current value as regenerating reserve forest.

According to the kamnan, the most persistent threat to the Dong Yai forest continues to be fires, many of which are induced by collectors. He notes the rapid improvement in useful forest products and tree height and girth when the forest is successfully protected from fire. During the peak of the dry season in March and April, small fires may break out several times every day. The community employs multiple control techniques: cutting weeds for fire breaks, raking away leaf litter, announcing outbreaks over the village loudspeaker, spraying with crude water extinguishers and sand, and beating fires out with sticks and palm fronds. In the majority of cases, while the fire destroys understory layers and inhibits coppice regeneration, it often stimulates mushroom growth and tends not to damage the larger forest trees.

In terms of future needs and directions, the kamnan advocates further material and logistical support for fire-fighting. Additionally, for the past year the Forest Protector Groups have been nominally supported by funds from the provincial government, with a small budget of 2,000 baht ($80) per month for each group, divided into honoraria of 200 baht for each of the ten group members. This contribution has served as a symbolic incentive which acknowledges the importance of the protection work being carried out by the members. The kamnan is concerned over the insecurity of future funds, but when questioned whether he feels members would continue their tasks on a purely voluntary basis, he is convinced that they would.

The villagers' top management priority at this point in the evolving program is to enhance the forest's productivity by enrichment underplanting with the popular sweet bamboo (Dendrocalamus asper). This shade-tolerant bamboo species is especially favored in the region for eating as well as construction purposes. The domestic and foreign markets for both products are expanding. RFD research indicates that one family can manage five rai of sweet bamboo cultivation without any additional labor inputs. There is a strong need to identify more local income-generation opportunities in the forest through such small-scale cottage industries as sweet bamboo cultivation. As a prerequisite, training for shoot processing, basket-making, and other non-timber forest product processing would be required. Another recommendation for village income-generation involves cultivation in the natural forest of high-value ornamental plants such as orchids, although current regional markets and linkages are inadequate. Unfortunately, without the legal backing of a supportive policy on community forest rights and usufruct tenure, enrichment planting in the reserve forest of Dong Yai remains an insecure venture -- and hence a disincentive-in the minds of the villagers. To date, this may be the major reason why experimentation by the community with desired understory and associated species has not yet been initiated.

In an attempt to multiply the success of Dong Yai, over the past several years the kamnan has spoken with neighboring villagers about leaving a portion of their fields fallow and following the community protection model of Dong Yai to allow secondary succession of the natural forest. However, he has not been very successful. One of the reasons underscores the importance of land suitability and even slight variations in topography. Few of the neighboring villages possess elevated laterite tracts such as Dong Yai; while these are marginal for cash crops, they are ideal for natural forest regeneration. Currently it remains economical for other villages to continue to cultivate their lowland fields in agricultural crops. With no alternatives for production as the villagers wait for a forest to regenerate, the opportunity costs are too high. These farmers are forced to cultivate every tract of available land to ensure their daily survival.


Ecology and Economy

Dong Yai is characterized by three distinct natural forest types: the dominant dry dipterocarp, covering about 75 percent; the dry evergreen forest (10 percent); and the riverine bamboo forest (5 percent). Recent research in the dry dipterocarp forest identified an average of sixty-one different tree species on a 10-rai plot (1.7 ha). Some of the dominant species in this ecotype include Dipterocarpus intricatus, tuberculatus, alatus, and obtusifolius; Shorea obtusa; Xylia and Canarium kerrii; Dialium cochinchinense; Anisoptera obionga; and Sindora siamensis. The preponderance of coppicing species in this forest type, comprising a significant 72 percent of the total (forty-four of the sixty-one species), indicates its high potential for natural regeneration if given adequate initial protection from biotic interference, including frequent fire.

In the dry evergreen forest, a transitional zone of higher rainfall and slightly lower elevation than the dry dipterocarp, the major species include Peltophorum dasyrachis; Eugenia cumini, Shorea talura, Cratoxylon spp.; Castanopsis armata; Pterocarpus macrocarpus; Anisoptera oblonga; Dendrocalamus strictus; Canarium kerrii; Polyosma arguta; Morinda corea; Mangifera indica; and Ficus spp. Some 25 percent of the species of the dry dipterocarp overlap with the less species-diverse but denser (i.e., basal area and stem frequency) dry evergreen forest.

The villagers of Dong Yai, however, share a perspective which values the forest ecosystem far beyond its standing stock of trees. Recent research is exposing the high degrees of dependency of Dong Yai communities upon edible non-timber forest products (see case study, p. 20). Supplemented by rice and crops from small, individual homegardens, which typically produce 15-20 fruits and a similar variety of vegetables, the forest serves as a primary supermarket to the majority of resident families. Excluding rice, about 80 percent of the average Dong Yai household diet is derived from the forest. Families purchase very few foodstuffs in the marketplace, particularly during the biologically productive rainy season. Quantitative annual estimates in 1992 of food product extractions in Dong Yai include 260,000 kilograms of edible plants, 104,458 kilograms of mushroorns, and 17,676 kilograms of bamboo shoots (FN 10). "Community interviews and field investigations have so far identified over fifty edible leafy plants, thirty mushroom species (ten with current commercial market value), eight tuber varieties, fifteen fruits, and over twenty-five different edible fauna (e.g., squirrels, birds, ant eggs, lizards, snakes, fish, turtles, beetles, locusts, and moths). Based on discussions with community informants, a seasonal calendar and transect of products by micro-ecological niche illustrate the seasonality of the forest production system and its impressive, multi-tiered floral and faunal diversity (see Figures 6 and 7).

Mushrooms are among the highest value and most important foods from Dong Yai. Every household is involved in mushroom collection for subsistence use, and the majority also for their sale. Studies of mushroom gathering and marketing indicate that each family can collect an average of one kilogram daily for fifteen days each month through the four months of abundance during the rainy season. On average, 70 percent is utilized for domestic consumption and 30 percent is sold at an average price of 25 baht per kilogram (see Figure 8). Over a four-month period a family can earn 450 baht ($18) in the mushroom market. If the household opted to market its entire mushroom collection, provided the regional market could expand to absorb the increased supply, the four-month collection activity would generate 1,500 baht ($60) -- a significant percentage of an annual Dong Yai household income. Perhaps most important, from a nutritional standpoint, the daily diet of the families of Dong Yai benefits for over one-third of the year from a renewable, high-protein forest food which they would not otherwise purchase given their low incomes.

Khun Prom Chaito: A Forest Product Gatherer

After capturing them with a net, Khun Prom Chaito skins, minces, and bakes her two favorite forest lizards, yaa and kapom, to provide a nutritious, high-protein meal for her family during the dry scarcisty months of March and April. Alternately, Prom Chaito prepares another recipe in which the lizards are skinned and mixed salad with mun saeng tuber, a common tree-climber which is chopped, boiled with salt, and combined with coconut milk and sugar.

Prom Chaito is a typical daily gatherer of Dong Yai's diverse flora and fauna, especially lizards, mushrooms, fruits (e.g., makok, samor, and tamarind), leaves, bamboo shoots, ant eggs, night and water beetles, bullfrogs, and tubers. Her forest frays often result in the provision of two or three different dishes at each meal. In addition, she usually sells locally a portion (10-20 percent) of her variable collection to generate a small but steady household income. Prom Chaito estimates that in the course of the four-month rainy season she catches 800 frogs and sells 10 percent of them, earning 300-400 baht ($12-16) in the season. She explains that water beetles, a tasty concoction if fried and then crushed in chili sauce, command a high price of 7 bath each in the Bangkok market, compared to only 2 bath locally. She feels that it would be a worthwhile strategy to develop a reliable market channel to Bangkok.

As she shreds the young leaves and shoots of pak gadon and pak mek (Kalia arborea) trees to mix into her green papaya salad, Prom Chaito explains that she and her husband migrated to Dong Yai from Sakon Nakhon. As a result, they did not "inherit" any particular forest patch to protect in Dong Yai. Nor was there any chance of "encroaching" on a tract due to the effective system of protection by community members. When rules for firewood cutting and extraction were tightened by community consensus in 1987, Prom Chaito adapted. Hoping to increase her fuelwood self-sufficiency, she voluntarily planted eucalyptus saplings, obtained from the RFD, on the bunds of her paddy fields.

Prom Chaito's knowledge and orientation toward collection and processing of a vast range of seasonal forest products exemplify reality for the majority of families living in Dong Yai. Strong dependencies on the forest for food and other valuable wood and non-timber products permeate daily lives and mold livelihood strategies. Prevalent among rural inhabitants throughout much of Thailand, this heavy reliance on the forest provides a powerful incentive for forest communities to establish locally relevant management systems which ensure them sustainable benefit flows from the forest.


Figure 6

Seasonal Calendar of Forest Products in Dong Yai

When asked what benefits she obtains from the Dong Yai forest, sixty-year old Prom Chomchai smiles and reports three: rainfall, food, and gum. Producer of the most valued of the forest's gums, the Shorea obtusa is one of the dominant canopy trees in the dry dipterocarp forest. While a variety of resins and gums can be extracted from a host of other tree species, the villagers most highly prize the Shorea's gum exudate for use in caulking, boats, bamboo basket-making, and general repairs. Traditional preparation and application of the gum also depends upon another tree, the Dipterocarpus alatus, which yields an oil called vane that is mixed with the crushed gum to lend pliability. The yang oil is extracted by excision and burning, a process which is frequently harmful to the tree if not collected and monitored with care. As a substitute for yang oil, seventy-five-year-old informant Rupsai explains that villagers today may use more readily available diesel oil, which offers similar quality to yang but costs 5 baht less at 7 baht per kilogram.

Figure 7

Sources of forest Products in Dry Dipterocarp Forest

The gum collection season in Dong Yai begins in November and lasts six months, extending through part of the dry season. The seasonality of the product is significant, as steady gum flows during the dry season (March and April) can help compensate communities for the much lower availability of other economic and subsistence non-timber forest products in this period (see Figure 6).

In the communities of Dong Yai, the task of gum collection tends to rest with the older people, assisted by younger children who are not attending school. Nearly every family in Prom Chomchai's village is involved in the activity, about half for domestic consumption and the other half for commercial sale. Prom Chomchai herself ventures daily into the forest at 6:00 A.M. with the family's two cattle, her four grand- children, and a bamboo gum stick. The job of collection is time-consuming and often demands up to eight hours a day in the forest. Prom Chomchai explains that fortunately for herself and other collectors in neighboring villages, because the forest is so accessible, she can return home at mid-day for a break before resuming activities in the afternoon.

Figure 8

Mushroom Marketing Channels in Dong Yai

Numerous gum collection techniques are employed. The simplest involves collecting the fallen, hardened resin at the base of the tree. Other methods require incising the upper trunk of the Shorea using a bamboo stick with a sharpened tip, or enlisting children to climb the trees to collect from natural or man-made wounds. While the gum collection activity is labor-intensive, two factors lower its opportunity costs. First, the work is typically combined with the duty of grazing the household's livestock in the forest. Second, the majority of gum collectors are older, retired men and women who can no longer work in the fields or participate in other off-farm employment. Hence, the activity offers employment to the elder sector of the population, keeping them productively engaged while also generating a substantial supplement to the household income.

On average, a typical family unit of collectors can gather two kilograms of gum daily. However, during the high season productivity can flourish, and an enthusiastic male collector might gather up to ten kilograms per day. In Prom Chomchai's village, an agent visits every other day to purchase the unprocessed gum from the collectors. Prom Chomchai earns 7 baht per kilogram. The gum is further sold to a local retailer at a profit margin of 2 baht per kilogram. In a six-day week, Prom Chomchai can earn a steady income of 84 baht -- or 336 baht ($14) every month. In terms of comparative value, only a few other non-timber forest products, such as mushrooms, offer a higher local market price per kilogram. However, Prom Chomchai points out important differences between these two forest products. Mushrooms are generally abundant only during and just after the rainy season, a period when a maximum number of other edible plants and non-timber forest products are also available. Gum, in contrast, can provide cash benefits during more crucial times of scarcity in the dry season. Even more significant in Dong Yai's case is the current resource supply and demand situation. Prom Chomchai claims that even during the peak rainy season, the availability of forest mushrooms has been steadily declining. With a subtle touch of disapproval, she describes how many villagers from far away, sometimes up to fifty kilometers, travel to Dong Yai to collect the coveted mushrooms. On the other hand, the supply of gum does not appear to be suffering from the same pattern of over-exploitation and decline, perhaps because of its requisite labor demands. Whether the gap in the supply and demand of mushrooms can be closed over the coming years will largely depend on the community's management response to a growing access control problem. Because the heavy socioeconomic reliance of Dong Yai communities on valuable forest products will clearly persist into the future, a closely managed balance between conservation and extractive activities must be achieved among users.



Exemplary leadership and coordination from the Tambon Council, combined with cooperation among the regional RFD field staff, Kasetsart researchers, and village elders, have coalesced to inspire a voluntary spirit of communal concern and initiative among Dong Yai's villagers. After almost thirty years of regeneration, most of the former kenaf fields are covered with 30-45-foot tall, biologically diverse dipterocarp forest. The Dong Yai forest tract is well protected against fire and illegal timber harvesting by twelve highly motivated Forest Protector Groups, who share a strong stake in sustainable production and benefit-sharing. Based on the Dong Yai experience, degraded forests in Northeast Thailand which still retain some amount of remaining rootstock seem to be capable of rapid natural regeneration. Even more important, forest-dependent communities are often competent and eager to play a role as local protectors and co-managers.

Among the perceived benefits of the Dong Yai forest to the villagers that protect it, sixty-two-year old Punja Tanamcha notes increased rainfall and fewer droughts, mushrooms and plenty of food, timber and fuelwood, and community pride in the forest. A renewed sense of confidence, empowerment, and self-reliance in forest management underlies the community's pride. At the same time, the emerging, newly oriented role of forestry officials toward the community protection groups is described by the kamnan as "educational and supportive."

The forest management situation in Dong Yai is unique in certain aspects and representative in others. Thirty years ago, regional market prices and specific agroclimatic factors led Dong Yai farmers to abandon their kenaf fields for more economical lowland cultivation. The field fallow and forest regeneration process which followed was facilitated by other specific factors: the reserve forest designation of Dong Yai; an agency logging ban in the area; a united and supportive Tambon Council, which inspired organized cooperation by Dong Yai community groups; an open-minded approach and concerted effort on the part of the local RFD staff to unofficially share responsibilities and benefits with the communities; the involvement of committed Kasetsart University researchers in helping to better understand the socio-ecological context and needs of Dong Yai villagers; and the joint effort by RFD and Kasetsart professionals to provide technical training, management assistance, and moral support to the communities. One of the most important lessons of Dong Yai is the proven capacity of villagers to organize, cooperate among themselves in protection, and collaborate as allies with the RFD to devise a sound forest management system which can sustainably ensure benefits of environmental products and services to the local population.

While case-specific details have been presented here, much of the learning from Dong Yai's success is being confirmed more generally as similar patterns emerge across a wide range of cultural and ecological contexts throughout South and Southeast Asia. Given the proper attitudes, a supportive climate, and flexible operational approaches to forest communities as co-equal, joint-management partners-including the assurance of authority in decision-making and rights to forest benefits-many rural communities will respond positively as forest protectors and managers. In particular, communities with historically strong economic and cultural ties to the forest embody a wealth of indigenous knowledge concerning the forest's dynamic ecology and biodiversity. Their high forest dependencies are a compelling motivation to reverse forest degradation, enhance biomass productivity, and ensure sustainable benefits by means of controls on access and harvesting practices.

Even while Thailand's national forest policy does not yet provide official support to such communities as Dong Yai, grass-roots initiatives have forged ahead. New relationships have developed as local forestry staff, diagnostic researchers, and concerned communities unite as collaborators and allies in the common cause of participatory forest management. This pattern of activism by local communities, asserting responsibility for their forest resources in the face of scarcity and threats from outsiders, is now widespread through Asia. When enough grass- roots success stories of community participation such as Dong Yai have been documented, communicated, and advocated at the highest political levels, the Thai government will come under increasing pressure to respond with supportive legislation. This will help further facilitate and legitimize the local empowerment processes which are necessary to ensure organizational sustainability. In turn, those thousands of community systems of natural forest management already underway in Thailand will be strengthened, while new communities will be encouraged to develop their own, locally adapted institutional strategies to stabilize and regenerate their forest lands.

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