Deforestation, Environment, and Sustainable Development: A Comparative Analysis

By Dhirendra K. Vajpeyi | Go to book overview
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Chapter 7
Deforestation in Thailand:
The Battle in Politics and Science

Timothy Forsyth

Thailand has experienced one of the highest rates of deforestation in Asia. Between 1976 and 1989 the country lost 28 percent of its forest cover, at a rate of 3.15 percent per year (Allen and Barnes 1985; Cropper, Griffiths, and Mani 1999). Commonly, deforestation is blamed on logging and agricultural expansion, particularly in Thailand's poorer northern and northeastern provinces. Yet road construction, urban growth, and industrialization throughout Thai- land have increased both the demand for logs and the accessibility of forests.

The growth in deforestation has been matched by an increase in public concern about destruction of the environment. Environmentalism in Thailand has long been associated with processes of democratization (Hirsch and War- ren 1998). Local protests against destructive uses of resources provided one of the few means available to the population to protest against governments that remained military or nonelected until 1988. Public activism reached a peak in 1988, when Thailand elected its first democratic government, and environmental pressure led to the cancellation of the proposed Nam Choan dam in the rainforests of western Thailand. This environmental victory was quickly followed by an enhanced campaign to ban all logging. The logging ban eventually came in 1989, after a flash flood in a deforested area in the south swept logs onto villages, killing 400. By the end of the 1980s defores- tation seemed to be the greatest environmental threat and most powerful popular political force in Thailand.

But more than ten years later there are important questions about both the political influence and environmental significance of deforestation. In politi- cal terms, questions have been raised about the effectiveness of the logging


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