By PRATCH RUJIVANAROM
TEACHING YOUNGSTERS to cherish nature was an essential element in the efficient forest-conservation efforts that helped save Saraburi’s last limestone mountain from being turned into cement powder.
“The future of our forests lies in the hands of youth,” said Sarit Jitnok, a teacher at Wat Khao Phra Phutthabat Noi School in Kaeng Khoi district.
Sarit led the drive to conserve the Khao Phra Phutthabat Noi communal forest, which he did in part by raising awareness among local |kids.
Interviewed by The Nation for International Day of Forests, commemorated today, Sarit shared the remarkable story behind the success of the forest’s rescue. It entailed ordinary citizens fending off the limestone-mining industry.
Saraburi is rich in natural resources and biodiversity. Its forested limestone hills are home to many rare animals and species not found anywhere else in the world. But that limestone makes the province a major target for Thailand’s powerful cement industry.
“We are very proud that our community can save our forested mountain from mining activities and preserve at least a piece of the karst ecosystems’ rich biodiversity for our children,” Sarit said.
“The young generations are key to our conservation efforts, as they will inherit this. So we are teaching our children about nature and developing awareness about preserving pristine forests at home.”
He said the site has been turned into a communal forest, and rules have been set up for the community to follow to sustainably harvest resources.
Sarit, who initiated the Khao Phra Phutthabat Noi forest-conservation effort two decades ago, took it upon himself to develop special subjects on the forests, conserving them and managing them, to teach high-school students at Wat Khao Phra Phutthabat Noi School.
“We are teaching the students three subjects – forest ecosystems, communal forest management and eco-tourism guide training,” he |said.
“With these subjects, the students have become more aware of the significance of local natural resources and are now equipped with the necessary skills required for sustainably using forest resources and conserving them,” Sarit said.
After teaching these subjects for 12 years his efforts have borne fruit, as many of his students are actively engaged in forest management and conservation. He said they are also helping spread the message of conservation among other locals.
However, he said, saving Khao Phra Phutthabat Noi was not easy. Though the community guarded their local mountain from exploitation for 20 years, some cement companies and influential state officials worked hard to get the mountain’s communal forest status abolished, so they could have access to the limestone reserves. “We were successful in conserving the forest because local people here know the important role the forest plays in their livelihoods, so they treasure and protect the forest,” he said.
“Since the community has developed a sense of common ownership, we have the strength to protect our forest from limestone mining.”
Sarit said the Khao Phra Phutthabat Noi communal forest can only be protected if people’s will remains strong and they are able to pass this on to the future generations.
“We are satisfied with our work, but realise more is needed,” he said. “I hope our work will inspire conservation efforts elsewhere, because the world is in need of healthy forest ecosystems more than ever.”
The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed March 21 as the International Day of Forests and this year’s theme for the day is “Forests and Education”.