Hilltribe dwellers in Mae Chaem district have been given
instruction in looking after natural resources and the effects of chemicals
on the environment. Excellence for Life Foundation director Wichian
Sompornchokchai, in collaboration with United Nations, ran a seminar on the
subjects on April 27 at Ban Mae Sa Water Sources Control, Tambon Mae Najorn
in Chiang Mai’s Mae Chaem district.
Robert Freeland (left) speaking on the environment. At right is interpreter
Sitthisak Chamnarn-arsa, Mae Chaem Senior Assistant
District Officer, chaired the sessions and Dr Robert Freeland, an academic
and environmentalist, spoke on natural resources and world environment.
About 200 members from local administration organizations, village chiefs
and headmen and residents attended.
hill tribesmen attended the seminar.
Sitthisak explained the reason behind the increase in the
“slash and burn problem” in the forests of Mae Chaem district was that
companies were sending agents into the field to encourage local farmers to
plant corn by guaranteeing the price. “Therefore, more and more people are
turning their backs on the cultivation of cabbages, carrots and potatoes in
favor of corn,” he said.
Sitthisak added that the decreased water level in the Mae
Chaem River this year was the result of deforestation by tradesmen and
investors from other areas with the collaboration of the local people. Trees
cut down were sold off or processed for furniture and exported to Chiang Mai
There were more forest fires now than in the past, not
only because of negligence by the officials in preventing them, but because
fires were being set deliberately. However, the district had identified a
group of “influential people” who were behind the deforestation. Further
investigations would be carried out with a view to prosecuting them, in line
with government’s policy, Sitthisak said.
Dr Freeland said he had worked in the environmental field
for more than 25 years, conducting research and lecturing in over 150
countries in Asian, Europe and America. He understood well that “natural
resources and the environment really are important”.
He continued, “Water, wind and forest are connected in
the same system and cannot be separated. Thus everyone - whether individual
residents, communities or officials from local administration organizations
- must pay close attention to them.”
The drought and increase in temperatures occurring in
villages could be explained by environmental destruction over the last 10-20
years. “If nature and environment continue to be neglected, with no
attempt to conserve, our descendants will be left in much desperation in the
future,” he said
To solve the water management problem, the government had
to promulgate laws and enforce them. Consumers such as industrial factories
or entertainment outlets (hotels and massage parlors) should pay higher
water tariffs than households.
The agricultural sector also used vast quantities of
water. Studies should e be conducted to find out what types of plants were
most conducive to the prevailing climate, so that they would need less
However, the side effects on the environment caused by
farmers using chemical substances could be decreased by encouraging them to
plant one type of crop and guaranteeing them a market after harvest.
“It’s the government that must control and manage the amount of
insecticides imported. Problems must be traced back to the root in order to
solve it. Ministry authorities must call for discussion with the insecticide
manufacturing companies, and not simply place the responsibility on the
agriculturists,” Dr Freeland added.