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Reorganizing Landscape and Livelihood: Household and Community Responses to Protected Area Establishment

This SSHRC-funded project focuses on changing environmental governance in remote rural areas of Southeast Asia. The expansion of protected area networks in the region has accelerated the transition away from subsistence agriculture towards market-based livelihood activity, posing a complicated scenario for rural sustainability. Market-oriented livelihood change is both top down, with conservation organizations and government agencies promoting ecotourism, intensive agriculture and wage labour, and bottom up, with farmers themselves seeking similar solutions to the loss of resources experienced during park establishment.

With a focus on the highlands of Northern Thailand, this research investigates conservation-induced livelihood change and asks how households and communities make livelihood decisions post park establishment. I am particularly interested in the social and environmental implications of different livelihood pathways, many of which depend upon increased market integration. The results of the research will critically inform ongoing processes of conservation and development within and beyond the region.


Project Updates >


In 2010.2011, the final year of the project, Professor Roth has concentrated on analysis, dissemination and some concluding research. A co-authored article in World Development titled “The Good, the Bad and the Contradictory: Neoliberal Conservation Governance in Southeast Asia” uses preliminary results from the project in comparison with the Philippines to argue that the turn towards market-based livelihoods inside National Parks has contradictory outcomes and must be evaluated within particular historical, ecological and social contexts.

In January and February 2011, Professor Roth travelled with her family (see picture of her son in one of her research villages) to update her understanding of events in Mae Tho and Doi Inthanon National Parks and to conduct key informant interviews with promoters of market-based conservation and livelihood change. From March 2011 onwards, she is completing a book manuscript on the subject. It is expected over the 2011.2012 academic year, two MA theses from Chiang Mai University that are based on project research will be completed. The first explores corn production on the border of Mae Tho national Park and the other looks at fair trade coffee production in Ob Luang National Park. Professor Roth and the students will produce joint publications.


Flower plantation

The Reorganizing Landscape and Livelihood project this year has focused on collecting data in three Karen villages in Doi Inthanon National Park. We have traced the origins of coffee and flower production and ecotourism in the area and interviewed key individuals in the growth of the industries.

In summer 2009, Professor Roth returned to Thailand to complete research in Doi Inthanon National Park and conduct interviews with organizations promoting market-oriented livelihood change.

 A Land Use and Cover analysis has been completed using Landsat 7 data. One MA thesis comparing the socio-economic features of coffee production sold into the Fair Trade market versus that sold to conventional markets has been completed. Two more MA students at Chiang Mai University have begun research on the project. One is looking at the development of corn production on the borders of Mae Tho National Park and how it is being used as a means of claiming land in the face of park establishment. The other is investigating the ways in which, and the factors involved, in fair trade coffee production gaining a foothold in Ob Luang National Park. A PhD student from Chiang Mai University is tracing the emergence of seed production for agribusiness on the outskirts of a National Park in Nan province.

A final research trip to complete research on flowers, coffee and ecotourism in Doi Inthanon and seek to interview actors involved in market oriented conservation initiatives and livelihood change will take place in late 2010. . 

Professor Roth has discussed her results at the Society of Conservation Biology meeting (2008), the Association of American Geographers meeting (2009) and the Canadian Association of Geographers (2009).


Since the award of the grant, Professor Roth has completed a livelihood survey and key informant interviews in two villages in Mae Tho National Park and conducted preliminary research on flower, fish and coffee enterprises in Doi Inthanon National Park. She has funded one Thai Masters student to conduct research on the coffee industry in Chiang Mai Province, a Thai doctoral student to conduct research on the presence of agro-business near a protected area in Nan Province and a recent MA graduate from Chiang Mai University to conduct a remote sensing analysis of land use change in Doi Inthanon National Park from 1998 to 2008.



Photographs by R. Roth and S. Na Nan

For more information, contact Professor Robin Roth, Principal Investigator, at rothr@yorku.ca
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