On a Saturday afternoon, a line of green-clad student naturalists walked under a scorching sun between a sugar cane field and a forest. They were headed to Khao Pasang community forest, which serves as a buffer between the cultivated land in Mae Poen district and the reserved forests of Mae Wong National Park, in Nakhon Sawan province. The district is about 300km north of Bangkok.
They were there to learn how to create a forest fire barrier that can protect the woodland against fire during the dry season.
Brooms were the only tools needed for this activity. Even though what had to be done was merely the sweeping of dry leaves that can serve as tinder out of a predefined track that the local people had designated for the fire barrier, these young people, most of whom live in Bangkok, would gain hands-on experience in forest conservation.
The youngsters are Bayer's environmental emissaries from the ''Bayer Young Environmental Envoy'' (BYEE) projects, and they were attending the ''Conserve Small Forests for Big Ones'' camp at the Seub Nakhasathien Foundation's (Seub Foundation) field office in the sequestered Mae Poen district recently.
Over 40 Bayer envoys from several seasons of BYEE projects participated in this annual reunion event. During the camp, the attendees had a chance to work in the community forest and to learn from local professionals and young environmental activists how to protect and conserve the Western Forest Complex (WFC).
Mae Wong National Park is only a piece in the jigsaw (see graphic, top right) that is the WFC, the largest woodland in Thailand, which covers nearly 19,000sq km, and contains six wildlife sanctuaries and 11 national parks. The WFC spans six provinces.
The Western Forest Complex is home to over 800 species of animals and countless kinds of plants. Some of the reserves inside the WFC, such as the East and West Thungyai Naresuan and Huai Kha Khaeng wildlife sanctuaries, have been declared by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation as world heritage sites.
Of course, the bigger the area, the more numerous the problems. Among the problems for resolution are deforestation caused by mobile plantation and mono cropping; illegal hunting; and conflicts between local people and government authorities.
''We try to enable the local residents to live sustainably with the forest and to rely on themselves,'' said Tawanchai Hongwilai, director of the Seub Foundation's field office at Mae Peon, explaining his and the foundation's duties. The director added further that he and his team try to act as the middleman to raise the level of harmony between locals and state authorities.
Mr Tawanchai is one of the five leading forest conservation activists at the Seub Foundation, and is charged with the duty of supervising the WFC inside Nakhon Sawan and Kamphaeng Phet provinces. He was invited to be the chief instructor at the Bayer camp.
According to the director, a significant tool employed to save a large forest reserve is the use of the concept of community forests, which allows people to benefit from the resources in defined forest areas. The community forests are located on the edge of the WFC and act as buffer zones between the community and the protected forests.
Safeguarding the forest is not the duty of only a few. The Seub Foundation has initiated the Western Forest Complex Landscape Ecosystems Network (WFC Network), which is a network of 135 human settlements (communities) on the edge of the WFC and another 129 communities inside the reserved vicinity.
The group aims to create natural resource management that stems from collaboration between community members and state authorities.
It endeavours to spread the community forest concept among locals, promote acceptance of the concept, and develop the role of the community forest committee. The network also tries to push for the legal and permanent right for the locals to manage that portion of the forest allotted to them.
''The community forest cannot increase the incomes of the local residents but it can reduce their expenses. We try to teach the locals that reducing expenses is of utmost importance,'' said Mr Tawanchai.
Mr Tawanchai emphasized that a paramount objective is to develop a collective human awareness and respect for the forest and connect the community conservation networks.
The WFC Network is not limited to adults. A common premise of Bayer and the Seub Foundation is that they are trying to develop young minds to proactively protect and promote the environment.
Thinnapat Anatamsombat is one of the Bayer envoys who attended the camp. He was selected to be the envoy in 2007 for his project to bring youths to plant mangrove forests. While Thinnapat and his fellow envoys conduct their environmental projects in several parts of Thailand, but, mainly in Bangkok and nearby provinces, many youth movements along with the WFC _ forming a component of the WFC Network _ are busy carrying out a similar duty.
''We are a group of insane people,'' quipped Sasiwan Jaiasa, 19, a first-year student at Kamphaeng Phet Rajabhat University and president of the ''Tonkla Noi'' (small seeds) youth network, explaining that most of the group's members dedicate a great deal of time to environmental conservation.
Tonkla Noi is one of the most successful youth movements under the direction of the Seub Foundation. It was formed in late 2008 by students from four schools in Kamphaeng Phet province. Its membership is over 140 students.
''After I saw Mr Tawanchai dedicating himself to the forest and advocating against the overuse of natural resources by modern society, I could not just sit still,'' said Mr Tawanchai's admirer Sasi-wan, elaborating on the reason behind the founding of her group.
''We, as the incoming generation of people who are going to shape our community, should help wherever we can. The energies of young people can create a better society,'' she added.
During the past year, Tonkla Noi conducted over 40 activities, including several youth camps and community forest exploration trips. Additional activities include creation of a seed bank, forest ordination ceremonies, and meetings of members in the WFC Network.
Tonkla Noi also established a very popular trash-for-cash (''garbage bank'') programme that allows local residents to collect recyclable materials and deposit them in a garbage bank in exchange for cash. Sasiwan said that her most valuable achievement is being an activist who performs good deeds for society.
''Our group members' parents are relieved that their children go out to do good things. Now all of us have a well-managed community forest with minimal incidents of forest fire, and the garbage bank enables community members to enjoy monetary savings,'' she said.
At the Bayer camp, Sasiwan shared her work with the other Bayer envoys, who accorded her a high level of respect. ''Her group's achievements are really impressive and they have done many worthwhile projects,'' said Thinnapat.
It takes several steps to get youngsters to be as devoted as the Tonkla Noi members. The important tool, revealed Mr Tawanchai, is to use camps as the platform to incubate young activists, who range from full-time students to unschooled juveniles. The goals are to provide trainees with hands-on experience and to learn from senior activists.
''We try to bridge the age gaps. That is, we bring community forest committee members and local scholars to share their thoughts with the youngsters at each camp. We arrange for the young people to attend formal affairs, such as participation in forums organised for forest committee members. In this way, committee members can find out what the youngsters can do and what support to give them,'' Tawanchai said.
''The most important thing is that we try to have the young people organise their own activities and form their own networks,'' the field office director added.
The final objective of all this is to enable young people to actuate their personal worth and to take pride in the origins of their community. Mr Tawanchai expressed this belief: ''If we want them to love their home, first we have to let them know themselves.''
During the three-day Bayer camp, the Bayer envoys not only learned about the WFC Network from Mr Tawanchai and his colleagues, the determination of the Tonkla Noi group and how to create a forest fire barrier, but they also had the chance to go into the communities in Mae Poen to discuss with locals how they could benefit from, and how to manage, their community forests.
''It is not necessary to exclude people from the forest. It is better to teach and build awareness for them and let them preserve and benefit from the forest,'' Thinnapat said.
Ultimately, environmental protection, as well as forest conservation and related objectives, needs the cooperation and collaboration of all sectors, as Mr Tawanchai said on his work to promote community forests: ''We have to stop thinking that the goals can be achieved with the efforts of just one party _ either community members or state authorities. What we need today is wholehearted collaboration from everybody concerned.'' And of course, this includes the collaboration of the young generations like Tonkla Noi and the Bayer envoys.
z Applications for BYEE 2010 are now open. Applicants should submit their environmental projects under the theme ''Climate Change in Thailand''. Theme topics are: the impact of climate change; greenhouse gas emissions from households and the community; local adaptations for climate change; and sustainable approaches for increasing the oxygen in the air. Forty successful applicants will be appointed as BYEE 2010 envoys. Creators of the best five projects will enjoy a study trip to Germany from Nov 7 to 12 and a cash prize of 15,000 baht. Download application forms at http://tinyurl.com/y6ahyp3 . The deadline for applications is July 30.
More information on BYEE is available at www.bayeryoungenvoy.com . Additional details on the Seub Foundation can be obtained at www.seub.or.th .