CRITICS CLAIM an all-star conservation group set up to tackle deforestation has missed the mark by advocating an artificially grown forest, which they say will not result in sustainability and rich biodiversity.
Many people have welcomed the plan by the Plook Loei Group, which is led by the famous rapper Apisit Opasaimlikit and former Bangkok gubernatorial candidate Suharit Siamwalla, to re-establish a forest on the denuded mountains of Nan, which have been cleared as the result of extensive farming. The group hopes the move will also spark other groups to tackle reforestation.
But critics of the project believe a forest planted by humans will not improve the damaged areas nor survive long.
Sombat Boonngamanong, a prominent pro-democracy activist, said on his Facebook page that the group should instead support local residents to protect forest areas.
He said while the group was acting with “good intentions”, it “should not plant the forest because it will not be a real forest, which has rich biodiversity”.
He said the chief cause of deforestation was poverty, as local farmers have to clear the forest to plant short-lived crops. The correct way to rehabilitate the land was to let people earn a living from the forest and protect it, Sombat said.
“There are a lot of methods to encourage the local people to live in harmony with the forest, but I can guarantee that it is not urban people growing the forest and just asking the local people to protect the forest,” he said.
Yingyod Lapwong, a biologist at Prince of Songkla University, said the good intention of planting a forest could turn bad because man-made forests usually consist of alien species and only a few native plants.
“This condition harms the forest biodiversity, as the alien plants will compete with the native species,” Yingyod said. “Moreover, Thailand has many forest ecologies, each of them different from each other and the different kinds of animals also prefer specific types of ecologies, not only the lush forests that we usually imagine.”
He suggested that land preservation efforts should focus on limiting human activities to let the forest naturally grow, allowing nature to select the proper species that suit the environment.
However, Dr Rungsrit Kanjana-vanit, a Chiang Mai University medical professor and environmentalist, said forests should be grown based on academic knowledge.
“We did not only destroy the forest, but we also destroyed the ability of the forest to recover, and we also hunted down wildlife,” Rungsrit said. “These animals are the pulse of the forest … so if there are no animals, the forest loses its ability to recover.
“Therefore, if the forest and wildlife are both destroyed, human help is needed to assist the forest restoration, and my suggestion is we should grow the forest according to the proper academic knowledge and it is essential to do it now.”
He said the socio-economic dimension was also important for the success of reforestation and urged every part of society to participate in the mission.
Plook Loei leader Suharit said his group was listening to all suggestions and was discussing the related issues.
This is the second instalment in a three-part series about deforestation and efforts to rehabilitate deforested areas, covering many of the different ideas people bring to bear on the issue.