Foreign-owned timber plantations bad idea

Foreign-owned timber plantations bad idea

Yet another project has been shelved by the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, but this time it is the right decision. It would be even better if the project – foreign owned timber plantations – was scrapped, period.

Deputy Prime Minister Pridiyathorn Devakula, head of a sub-committee reviewing the proposal, said it was feared the project would have an extensive impact on Thai society, and no one wanted this type of investment here.

But he quickly added that the idea could not be scrapped either, because it was an Asean project dating back to 1999. Every government since then, including the Yingluck administration, has been reluctant to implement it, apparently because of the expected undesirable fallout.

The project requires a huge area land, or several very large blocks of land, to be economically feasible. And this land is available only in degraded forest reserves, many of which are already inhabited, albeit by encroachers.

If the government really wants to go ahead with the project, the first thing it has to do is to evict the encroachers, many of whom have been settled on the land for decades. This would bring the government into direct confrontation with the people, which is self-defeating in itself, especially if the land wrestled back from the current inhabitants is then handed over to a handful of foreign investors for use as a commercial timber plantation.

How can the government explain the rightfulness of this, given that millions of poor people and landless farmers in this country have no place of their own to live on or make a living?

Another question is, what benefit would the country or the people gain from leasing out huge areas of land for, say, 50 years, to investors, both foreign and Thai, for timber plantations. State revenue? Technology transfer? Employment opportunities for Thais?

I don’t think any of the potential gains from this type of investment would be significant enough to justify its implementation when compared to allocating the vacant land to the truly needy so they can make a living.

It is indeed welcome news that the government has started issuing land use rights in forest reserves in Chiang Mai, Mukdahan, Nakhon Phanom and Chumphon to landless farmers. The land allocated cannot be sold or leased out to the other people. This serves as a commitment by the farmers that they will make good use of the land.

Allocating land to the landless is just half of the job; the other half is to help them to stand on their own feet. This means other forms of assistance such as cheap funding, technical help and marketing advice should also be given.

What exactly is a commercial timber plantation as envisioned by Asean? I presume it is a plantation of fast-growing trees, which is likely to be eucalyptus.

I have wandered through one of these plantations before. To me it felt eerily lifeless, with neither sign nor sound of birds or other wild animals, even though it looked green and fertile from a distance, like a mirage in the desert.

Veera Prateepchaikul

Former Editor

Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.

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