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“Protect the environment, or our descendents will suffer in the future”

“Protect the environment, or our descendents will suffer in the future”

UN sponsored seminar for hill tribe forest dwellers

Saksit Meesubkwang

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.

Dr. Robert Freeland (left) speaking on the environment. At right is interpreter Somsak Morichart.

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.

Many 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 city.

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 irrigation.

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.