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close this bookAgricultural Expansion and Pioneer Settlements in the Humid Tropics (UNU, 1988, 305 pages)
close this folder2. Spontaneous and planned settlement in south-east Asia
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentThailand
View the documentClearing and settlement in the highland-lowland transition zone of northern Thailand
View the documentMalaysia
View the documentThe Philippines
View the documentIndonesia
View the documentConclusion: government-sponsored versus spontaneous settlement
View the documentReferences


When close examination of satellite photographs in Thailand revealed that 57 per cent of the forest cover of the national territory still existing in 1961 had shrunk to a mere 37 per cent in 1974, the Thai forestry administration issued an alert that created much concern. A recent paper by Boonchana Klankamsorn (1981) recorded a loss of 9.9 per cent of the forests per year between 1973 and 1978 and thus a remaining forest cover of only 25 per cent! This is, however, only one of the signals of the importance of balancing the opening of new settlement regions with a policy for the equally important protection-or even improvement and afforestation at appropriate places-of the national forest wealth.

FIG. 1. The rapid progress of clearing new agricultural land and deforestation in south-east Thailand.

The areas of the detailed case studies discussed in the papers by Scholz and by Napat Sirisambhand, chaps. 3 and 4 below-the Khorat escarpment-Km 79 area and the Chon Buri hinterland-are in this region (based on the 1: 250,000 topographical maps for 1950-1955, and on air photos [for 1966] and satellite map data [for 1972 and 1976] of the Royal Thai Forestry Department) (Map by L. Dreher)

TABLE 1. Percentages of the area covered by forest of three provinces in eastern Thailand

  1973 1982
Chonburi 23.38 5.94
Rayong 21.82 6.78
Nakhon Ratchasima 27.88 9.17

The latest available calculations (August 1982) from the Remote Sensing and Forest Mapping Division of the Royal Thai Forestry Department for the eastern region of Thailand, which includes the majority of the areas covered by our case studies, indicate a 46.79 per cent decrease of forest in the entire region from 1973 to 1982, and even 74.61 and 75.61 per cent in the provinces of Chon Buri and Rayong respectively. Table 1 shows the dramatic shrinkage of the forest area in the three provinces in which the majority of our case studies were located.

The recent large-scale land clearance and establishment of a new, booming agricultural zone in the Chon Buri hinterland can be fully understood only in context with the impressive changes in Thailand's crop production and related world trade. Besides sugarcane and maize, the tremendous expansion of the production of cassava (Manihot esculenta, processed into tapioca) was one of the most decisive factors during the last decade.

In 1940 (at about the same time as the Philippines) Thailand recognized the necessity of a public settlement policy and passed an initial law, but because of the circumstances of the war and the post-war period, it has become effective only since the 1960s. The continuing growth of the population (3-3.5 per cent a year during the period 1960-1970, and around 1980 still 2.1 per cent) and the corresponding demand for employment and land reserves with 80 per cent of the population still living on the land led to establishment of a Land Settlement Division of the Public Welfare Department (within the Ministry of the Interior). Its Self-Help Land Settlement Schemes cover the majority of the state-directed projects and are the most thoroughly organized ones. Besides this, the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives created its own Co-operative Settlement Schemes (with two pioneer projects already started in the late 1930s), and some six or more other departments are also engaged in certain minor attempts.

The earliest and largest government scheme is the Sara Buri-Lop Buri Self-Help Land Settlement. This is situated in the central region, 136 km north of Bangkok, and comprises 320,000 ha of agriculturally usable land (predominantly on good limestonerendzina soils) and 18,000 settler families. Each family received 4 ha of land for intensive dry-field cultivation, chiefly in the form of individual farms set apart along roads or in ribbon developments. One scheme of over 80,000 ha was begun in 1967 under the care of a combined German-Thai development project at Phra Buddhabat; its aim was summed up as the "improvement and stabilization of the sources of income of the settlers through improved methods of agriculture."

This aim was to be realized through the introduction of new crops (in the settlement area or in Thailand generally) and of cattle breeding on mixed farms, the development of agricultural purchasing and sales organizations, in inspection of machines and tools for their suitability for use on the new farms, and the agricultural training of settlers and settlement officials. The scheme, which has since been handed over to the Thai authorities (and incidentally has been succeeded by the Lamtakhong Scheme not far away on the edge of the Khorat plateau), excelled in intensifying maize cultivation and especially in introducing new crops and rotations suited for commercial dry-field cultivation. Included among these new crops were cotton, peanuts, soya beans, Hibiscus sabdarifla for tea and refreshment drinks, sunflowers, cassia, water-melons, and mung beans. In addition to improvements in advisory services and the opening up of water resources (well construction), an exemplary organization in the form of an agricultural purchasing and credit co-operative was set up. This was intended to counter the traditional system of dependence on intermediaries who impose exaggerated rates of interest and the resulting indebtedness of the farmers. In spite of its success, there is still room for improvement in the peasant population's understanding of the idea and discipline of the co-operative, and the temptation is still strong to sell products to intermediaries if they offer a better price or cheaper credits and to sell land to middlemen when debts have been incurred.

In contrast to this large-scale scheme and others with support from various nations and international organizations, the average number of families in the majority of settlement schemes is about 3,000, with the smallest having only about 150. Though small wet-rice fields for domestic consumption are planted wherever the ground is suitable, the programmes of intensification of rice cultivation (rice now as ever being the chief crop in production) are conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture independently of the selfhelp land settlement schemes of the Department of Public Welfare.

The satellite photographs revealed that from 1961 to 1974 roughly 10 million ha of forest land had been denuded! A survey in 1974, conducted by the Ministry of the Interior in co-operation with the Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives, covered 202 forest reserves, with 4.6 million ha altogether, in which there were at least 200,000 families: " . . . although official figures on the number of squatters and the amount of area they occupy are not known, conservative estimates within government circles have set the number of squatters [for all Thailand] at a million families [i.e. roughly 5-6 million people!] and the occupied acreage at 4-5 million hectares" (Chirapanda and Tamrongtanyalak 1980, 112).

Adding together 8.7 million ha rice land, approximately 0.7 million ha opened up by the various settlement schemes, and approximately 4-5 million ha of spontaneously settled land, we arrive at about 13.4-14.5 million ha. As the total area of farm land in Thailand was given at 18.1 million ha in 1976, there remains still a difference. This is partly accounted for by the 0.4-0.5 million ha for rubber and further by home gardens, orchards, etc., but there seems still to remain a gap, which most probably indicates a still larger area of 'squatting." Other estimates assume much larger areas of spontaneously cultivated land. Scholz (1980b), for example, bases his estimates on the agricultural statistics of Thailand, which indicate an overall growth of the amount of land in use from 7.8 million ha in 1956 to 16.9 million ha in 1975, a growth of no less than 9.1 million ha! The state-directed settlement schemes were restricted in that calculation to a share of 0.5 million ha opened between 1945 and 1975 (Klempin and Sandler 1975). (Since that date there have been further extensions.) Wet-rice cultivation has still been expanded by a yearly growth rate between 0.3 per cent in the central plain and 2.6 per cent in other regions, notably the north-east (World Bank 1980).

TABLE 2. Settlement schemes 1979, 1980

Type Area (ha) Settler families Persons
Self-help land settlement schemes: (1980), 58 projects 363,632 110, 670 550,000
Co-operative land settlements: (1979) 222,723 50,062 250,000
Land allocation programme: (1979) 87,123 56,077 310,000
War veteran's settlement projects: (1979), 8 schemes 4,386 195 1,000
Land development projects: (1979), 4 projects 21,300 10,200 50,000
Subtotal 699,164 227,204 1,161,000
Forest villages - 1,280 6,000
Forest community development projects - 2,243 11,000
Total - 230,727 1,178,000

With all reservations concerning the reliability of the given figures, they reveal some facts of astonishing dimensions:

1. With roughly 4-5 million ha the spontaneous land clearance in Thailand opened an area of at least six times the size of the state-directed settlement (or various kinds), given at roughly 700,000 ha.

2. The farming population involved shows a relatively small difference, comparing the roughly 230,000 families within the official settlement schemes with around 1 million in the six-fold area of the spontaneous clearing. There may be some miscalculations in the latter figure, but several facts indicate the existence of a certain distinction between the two groups. Our research has shown that a considerable number of farmers in the spontaneous clearing areas are not permanent residents but "agro-seasonal commuters" between their original homes and small rice-fields in the village of origin (disadvantaged by the small sizes of holdings or tenancy burdens) and the new settlements, where they stay only in temporarily used houses for planting and harvesting their dry-land crops. In traditional farming areas near the edge of the forests (e.g. the southern and western margins of the Khorat plateau), they reside within walking distance of their additional fields cleared for maize or cassava from the forest reserves.

3. The overall figures of 4-5 million ha of spontaneously cleared land plus cat 700,000 ha of the various official settlement schemes exceed considerably the extent of the already impressive land settlement of Malaysia by FELDA, covering 654,583 ha (1984) in West Malaysia, and the results of Transmigrasi in Indonesia, which up to 1980 had resettled some 1.3 million ha (while the amount of spontaneous settlement there is hardly calculable). Both figures of the extent of state-directed settlement of Malaysia as well as of Indonesia are not far from the 700,000 ha of state-directed settlement in Thailand. Taking into account the 147 million inhabitants of Indonesia compared to Thailand's 46 million, the latter's proportional share is quite impressive. West Malaysia, on the other hand (ca. 11 million people), nearly equals Thailand's figure, especially if one allows somewhat more for schemes other than FELDA. This, of course, refers to only the stateorganized schemes. Considering the extent of the spontaneous settlements, Thailand's huge acreage seems to break all proportions!

Our research disclosed a number of different types of spontaneous settlement in Thailand. They may be summarized as follows:

1. Extension of existing village lands by new, sometimes very large, clearings in the adjoining forests, but farmed still from the old villages. Examples are the extensions of cassava lands by many villages at the southern and western margins of the Khorat plateau into the forests of the Khorat escarpment. Riethmuller (chap. 5) demonstrates another case in his paper, the tremendous extension of maizefields into steep forest slopes bordering the upper Mae Nam Pa Sak valley.

2. "Agro-seasonal commuters" retaining their original fields and houses in their native villages (e.g. in NE Thailand), planting their small rice-fields there, and moving afterwards every year to distant new clearance areas. There they occupy temporary huts and prepare one crop of maize on newly cleared land. They commute between both places until both crops are harvested and return to their villages during the dry season.

3. True pioneer squatters settling permanently in newly cleared lands. They may be subdivided into a majority group growing cash crops for a market economy, usually closely connected to traders providing the marketing and sometimes seeds, credit, tractor ploughing, etc., and a second, small group of true subsistence squatters, achieving a fairly modest existence from remote jungle clearings only. They usually start by swiddening, but quite often what was intended to become an "incipient shifting cultivation," to be followed by permanent fields, has been abandoned, the land falling back to secondary shrubs and imperata grasses.

4. Quite successful and permanent attempts to create holdings for high-altitude market gardening at various locations where good access roads to the markets reach higher areas.

5. Finally there remain the large clearings (carried out and farmed partly by more or less dependent smaller pioneers) of agricultural entrepreneurs (economically viable, but not without social problems). (See the papers by Sirisambhand and Scholz.)