Livelihood Strategies and Environmental Management Practices in Northern Thailand National Park Communities : A dissertation presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Natural Resource Management at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
In Northern Thailand, the establishment of national parks is at the forefront of efforts to achieve biodiversity conservation and environmental management while providing socio-economic benefits to society. However, national parks regulations and development interventions have created both opportunities and constraints for the Indigenous hill tribe communities living within the national parks. These communities have, out of necessity, adapted and developed their livelihood strategies and environmental management practices to maintain their socio-economic welfare and ecological sustainability.
This study employed Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) as a mixed qualitative research strategy to investigate the livelihood strategies and environmental management practices in Doi Suthep-Pui, Doi Inthanon, and Ob Luang National Parks in Northern Thailand. The main research methods used were interviews, observation, and document analysis to support data that gained from the PRA methods. The aim of this study is to gain insight into the livelihood strategies and environmental management practices of six Indigenous hill tribe communities living in the parks. Interviews were conducted with villagers, national park officials, academics, and representatives from non-government organisations and tourism agencies. The interview data was also analysed to investigate how co-management initiatives and livelihood development projects by national parks officials and external organisations influence Indigenous communities’ livelihood strategies.
It was found that the livelihood strategies of the Indigenous hill tribe communities encompass a diverse combination of activities related to their social and ecological relationships in order to ensure sustained socio-economic well-being. Communities engage in sustainable agricultural practices, community-based natural resource management activities and community-based ecotourism enterprises as their significant livelihood strategies. However, while there has been some consultation, co-management, and collaborative policy-making between government and local communities, further improvement of transparency, consistency and accountability is needed. It is argued that greater community empowerment and participation in natural resource management decisions is crucial to enhance both sustainable livelihoods and environmental conservation efforts within Northern Thailand’s national parks.