|Agricultural Expansion and Pioneer Settlements in the Humid Tropics (UNU, 1988, 305 pages)|
|4. The forest colonization process: case studies of two communities in north-east and south-east Thailand|
|Case study 1: history of settlement and in-migration|
The early stage of forest exploitation in the Km 79 area was started at least one generation ago by the Chao Bon people, or highlanders (an important ethnic group living in the western part of Khorat) (Seidenfaden 1967,112). They were hunters and gatherers who lived by swidden agriculture, growing crops such as upland rice, chillies, tobacco, and taro as well as exploiting local forest products such as scented wood and black lacquer from the yang tree (Dipterocarpus alatus). They were the original inhabitants in the area which is now the Lam Praploeng Dam but gradually shifted their cultivation southwards into the area that is now the hinterland of Km 79.
The ethnic Thai wet-rice farmers living in the adjacent lowland areas were the second population group to expand their agricultural areas by claiming the clearings left by the Chao Bon. They planted sugar-cane to produce home-made brown sugar, which was an item used in bartering for other goods, for example, chilliest It was not until the 1940s that the first brown-sugar mills were built in some of the north-eastern provinces, including Khorat. (When the Lam Praploeng Dam was completed in 1967, the sugarcane areas were gradually converted into paddy land, since irrigation was available.) These farmers, by following the Chao Bon "route," also exploited jungle resources and cultivated subsistence upland crops, supplementing wet-rice cultivation in their old settlements.
Large-scale exploiters of forest resources were the commercial logging companies, which started to extract timber in the area as early as the 1940s and continued for about 30 years. During that time other developments were taking place, that is, the construction of a dirt road, which later became National Highway 304, and the introduction of a bus route linking Khorat to the south-east (Rayong Province).
The earlier development of roads and sawmills brought workers, who became the first group of permanent settlers in Km 79. They were from neighbouring villages as well as other provinces like Nakhon Nayok and Sara Buri. Apart from growing subsistence upland crops, these settlers earned their living by felling trees in the hinterland, which was inaccessible to trucks supplying the sawmills. Elephants were used to haul logs to the road.
When maize became an important crop for export in the late 1950s, Amphoe Pak Thong Chai played a major role as a trading centre in Khorat. This brought in more people, who were former highway construction workers. They were mainly maize farmers from the maize belt in the central region, for example, Nakhon Nayok, Sara Buri, Lop Buri, and Nakhon Sawan provinces.
By 1964 the cultivated areas expanded into the hinterland further westward from Highway 304. This process was accelerated when tractors were introduced at about the same time. The forest areas were rapidly depleted and transformed into maize land. The maize boom period started at about the beginning of the 1970s, when the influx of inmigration began. Maize traders established shops as buying depots while new seed (Suwan Nung) was introduced to replace the old Guatemala. A system called tok khao phot was introduced to farmers whereby maize traders provided loans and services such as milling and transporting produce for farmers. Farmers in turn had to sell their produce back to the same trader who also set the price. Farmers were paid in cash after the deduction of debts plus an interest of about 3-5 per cent per crop year, that is, five to six months. This system ensures farmers a stable market for their produce as it does traders dealing with exporters in Bangkok. This had a triggering effect and encouraged more inmigrants from the central region and wet-rice farmers from other provinces in the northeast. These wet-rice farmers came primarily to work as labourers in the maize fields during the slack period of paddy cultivation to earn extra income. Some labourers managed to buy or rent land to begin farming maize as a sideline. The tok khao phot system enabled poor farmers to grow maize with the necessary inputs provided by the traders.
During this process the registered population of the subdistrict office rose from 10,000 to 13,000 during 1975-1979 (it was estimated that about five per cent of the population moved in unreported), whereby the number of settlements also increased. They gradually became permanent communities and were finally approved by the local government as separate villages. By 1984 three new tambon (subdistricts) with about 30 villages had been registered. These villages expanded from the previous ones.