Where Science Meets Communities: Developing Forest Restoration Approaches for Northern Thailand

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Stephen Elliott
Sutthathorn Chairuangsri
Dia Shannon
Phuttida Nippanon
Ratthaphon Amphon


This paper contrasts lessons learned from two forest restoration research projects in Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, near Chiang Mai City, northern Thailand, which combined science with community needs. Collaborating with the Hmong community of Ban Mae Sa Mai (BMSM) in the upper Mae Sa Valley, Chiang Mai University’s Forest Restoration Research Unit (FORRU-CMU) established plots from 1997 to 2013 to test the framework species method. The project developed successful restoration techniques and gained insights into the factors that influence villagers’ participation in forest restoration. Biodiversity recovery and carbon accumulation exceeded expectations. Villagers appreciated improved water security and a better relationship with the park authority. Recently, however, tree chopping and a breakdown in fire-prevention measures (perhaps symptoms of “project fatigue”) have threatened the sustainability of the plot system. Since 2015, the nearby Thai community of Ban Pong Khrai (BPK) has also embraced the framework species method, to restore the watershed above their village. FORRU-CMU provided technical support to LEAF (Lowering Emissions from Asia’s Forests) to establish a model payments-forecosystem-services (PES) agreement between the community and Tipco Food PCL, whose Aura Water bottling plant depends on the integrity of the watershed to maintain water purity. Remarkably, the BPK villagers opted to forego payments for their labour in favour of funding a community nursery, to sell tree seedlings to the project in subsequent years. This project benefited from the support of a high profile multi-national project as well as the maturity of restoration techniques and community engagement protocols, previously developed by FORRU-CMU. These projects demonstrate the importance of a sound scientific basis for forest restoration projects, long-term institutional support and appropriate funding mechanisms, to achieve sustainability.

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