AMID SEVERE DROUGHT in the North that threatens to have an impact in Bangkok, blame is again being attributed to the loss of forests. Extensive tree-clearing is also credited for the haze of smoke that chokes the North around this time of year.
Now Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Payao, Nan, Lamphun, Lampang and Tak have recruited academics, civic organisations and the private sector for a campaign called “Khon Thai Rak Huang Haen Pa”. The aim is to make people more conscientious about preserving forests. A roving exhibition has been mounted and the songs-for-life band Carabao will play a series of concerts.
“If we planted marijuana everywhere we’d sure have green forests,” quipped Yuenyong “Ad” Ophakul, frontman of Carabao, as they rocked into the song “Kancha” – a hymn to the intoxicating weed – during the kick-off show in Chiang Mai last week.
“It’s the responsibility of all Thai people to help preserve our forests,” he explained of his role in the campaign. “I’m an artist who can help encourage people to be more aware of the problem. I’ve always urged people through my music to take care of the environment. The song ‘Huang Haen Pa’ is about how important the forests are.
“I’ve been writing songs about the environment ever since ‘Cheewit Samphan’ for Green Isaan Project in 1987. But our country still faces the same problem of people cutting down trees. We used to live in harmony with the forest, but now it’s terrible – everyone wants an iPhone, so they sell off our wild animals and kill the elephants in Kaeng Krachan National Park.”
Carabao’s Chiang Mai concert ranged through more than 20 stirring songs, including “Look Kaew”, “Nang Ngam Too Krajok”, “Made in Thailand”, “Wicha Prae”, “Khon Nang Niew” and “Waniphok”.
Meanwhile seminars held at Chiang Mai City Hall and in Mae Chaem district addressed irresponsible agricultural practices in the northern highlands. Supoj Richaem, head of Tha Pha subdistrict in Mae Chaem, acknowledged that the district is plagued by illegal logging and the clearing of forests using fire.
“The haze is the result of slash-and-burn agriculture," he said, through the problem has lessened because of new methods in clearing cornstalks from fields. As is common elsewhere in Thailand, growing corn is the primary source of income in Mae Chaem. The push now is to get the farmers using the remnants of the crop as cattle feed rather than burning them off.
Protests over the resulting haze when it got bad again in 2013 prompted the village council of Ban Doi San Kiang in Mae Chaem to brainstorm for solutions. Boundary fences were erected around forests – and are monitored – to keep out illegal loggers. And corn growers are encouraged to switch to other crops, said acting headman Wiroj Mokmai, to be supported by new water sources established with the help of Maejo University and the CP Group.
Dr Somkiat Chaipiboon of Maejo explained that the villages of Ban Doi San Kiang, Ban Mae Pan and Ban Mai Poo Loei now serve as models for how communities can live in harmony with forests.
“The challenge was modifying the villagers’ behaviour,” he said. “The several projects we set up responded to their specific needs, taking into account the fact that growing corn has long been their chief occupation and it brings them income year-round. They were able to find other occupations, such as growing other vegetables and fruit like longan, and they can earn money from the compost produced as well.”
Associate Professor Poon Thiengburanathum of Chiang Mai University confirmed that corn is a major industrial crop in Mae Chaem, but while farmers there have been convinced to shift to alternate crops, he cautioned, there’s no guarantee the same will occur elsewhere. A similar “marketing strategy” has to be applied around the country.
Thaweesak Khantharat, a strategist with the government’s Department of National Parks, said he’d visited Ban Pang Ung in Mae Chaem “and most of the villagers were growing cabbages rather than corn, and they tasted very good because of the climate and water there”. It could become a tourist attraction, he suggested. “We need to agree that Thailand needs 40 per cent more forest and that all Thais must help achieve that goal.”
Apaichon Vacharasin, a vice president at CP Group, concurred, particularly on the need for marketing mechanisms to boost public awareness. He praised Dr Somkiat for applying His Majesty the King’s “Pid Thong Lang Phra” initiative in Mae Chaem and letting the villagers make up their own minds about their future.
“As for tourism, I think Mae Chaem should be better managed, because it’s becoming a slum, like Pai district and Wang Namkhiew in Korat,” Apaichon said. “It isn’t beautiful and nature is being destroyed. And keep in mind that, if Mae Chaem were to draw more than 30,000 tourists a year, prices would go up. Supoj must use marketing techniques, and CP will help take the forest back.”