31 March 2011

Development and Sustainability

Just last week I was in Baw Kaew, a protest village in Northeastern Thailand. There, villagers are continuing their 30-year struggle against the Thai government for taking over their land to develop a eucalyptus tree plantation. The protest village is illegally set up in the midst of eucalyptus trees. Back in the 1970’s as part of the national development plan, the government believed they were aiding reforestation by planting eucalyptus as a cash crop, which expanded industry. In reality, the plantation took over local villagers’ farmland.

This past unit looked at the impact of government policies on land. In addition to visiting Baw Kaew, we had a home stay in a forest village community named Toong Lui Lai. Near the forest village, the government established area as the National Forest Reserve and then later the Wildlife Sanctuary, which designated land for preservation by arbitrarily drawing borders that overlapped with local villagers land. Subsequently, villagers have been arrested and charged for trespassing while farming for what villagers believe is their land. To give voice to their struggles, both Toong Lui Lai and Baw Kaew communities have united with the Isaan Land Reform Network of Thailand to go protest in Bangkok and ultimately to help them attain legal community land titles.

Today, I find myself back in the city considering the greater implications of these villagers’ long-term struggle against the government’s policies and actions. Considering the issues from the villagers’ perspective, it is easy to vilify the government and its policies. The government policies have created challenges to attain adequate living conditions and retain their means of livelihood and subsistence. Development and globalization often times jeopardizes the human rights of people as well as the sustainability of communities. The community visits show the trickling down affect of policy on the community members. The networks, NGOs and community organizers give voice and legitimacy to the people’s problems. . As I think about the bigger picture, I am questioning the roles and responsibilities of the government to its people in causing and curing these larger issues.

One important distinction that I learned is the difference between sustainable-development and development. According to the World Health Organization, “Development can be achieved at the expense of future generations' survival, whereas sustainable development specifically seeks to achieve development in a long-term environmental framework that provides for the survival of future generations.” I find it unproductive to vilify the government and constantly fight against it. It seems that Thailand, like other countries is in a compromising situation by taking on more development initiatives rather than sustainable development. The problem is that industrial development comes at the expense of the local villagers. With conflicting interests in mind, sometimes the issues and problems faced between the government and community seem overwhelming.

When we asked P’Pramote, one of the NGOs we met with on land reform issues about the key way to affect change he gave his answer in a series of steps.

1. Understand the root of the issue.
2. After understanding, analyze where it comes from and how it functions.
3. Figure out where you fit in the structure to create social change.

As I come to understand the concerns of the communities we visit, the roles and responsibility of government is becoming clearer. P’Pramote’s advice is applicable not just to the community organizer working at the grassroots level, but it is also applicable in addressing the inadequacies from the top-down policy level. In either position, it is important to understand the system by which policies are shaped and formed, because in fact they eventually affect the people.

Jennifer Schwarz
University of Maryland

1 comment:

Cassie Schneider said...

After these past few units and witnessing all the hardships of the villages we have stayed with its hard not to vilify the government. In my opinion when we look to the root of the issue it seems, time after time, that it lays at the governments hands. I have been thinking a lot lately about where a compromise can be met or where both parties can be heard.
I think participatory action is a step in the right direction. Giving the villagers a voice in projects that up root their livelihoods. Having the government and citizens collaborate on development projects would alleviate stress and communication issues between both parties.
After studying the different communities social issues in Thailand, I understand that the Thai government is very complex and corrupt. I realize that the issue exists and their solutions are harder to obtain. But better understand their root cause and how it functions, will lead me and others to understand how we can work to solve them.