United NationsDepartment of Economic and Social Affairs Sustainable Development

Sustainable Alternative Livelihood Development: Doi Tung Development Project, Thailand

The Mae Fah Luang Foundation under Royal Patronage (
Non-governmental organization (NGO)

    Established in 1988 in the Golden Triangle, the Project has transformed the opium cultivation area into a reforested area by tackling the problems at the root cause—poverty and lack of opportunity. The activities of the Project ranged from rehabilitation for opium addicts, provision of healthcare and education, to creating alternative livelihood opportunities that benefited a total population of over 10,000 people of 6 ethnic groups. The Project’s contract with the Department of Forestry to utilize the land ended in 2021 and is currently extending the contract until 2051 to continue the sustainable development programme for local employment and climate change adaptation/ mitigation measures.

    Implementation of the Project/Activity

    The Project divides its plan into 3 phases which correspond to the reality and needs of the communities in those stages. Phase 1: Survival (1988-1993). Tackling immediate health issues through health education and disease prevention. A 1,000-day drug rehabilitation centre was established to treat drug users, and prepare the community to welcome the rehabilitated members. Infrastructures and opportunities for skills-training were also provided to the community members. The Thai government provided both in-cash and in-kind support during this phase, with a long-term contract of land utilization in forest area. Phase 2: Sufficiency (1994-2002). Long-term income generation was the main. Sustainable development is realised when financial stability is coupled with social and environmental progress. The Project introduced the value-chain concept moving beyond cultivation and sales of agricultural commodities to processing, branding, and marketing, to realize higher and more stable income for the community. With initial financial support from private sector to start the economic forestry scheme, the social businesses under DoiTung brand were established and were financially self-sustaining since 2000 . Phase 3: Sustainability (2003-2021). Strengthening the social business units is focused to ensure that the brand and the community are sustainable. Capacity building, empowerment, and education are emphasised to enable the local people to be at the centre of their own development process and destiny. The Project will continue creating local employment opportunities, incubating social enterprises and local businesses and the focus the new initiatives on the climate change mitigation and adaptation. The new contract with the government on land utilization will be extended until 2051.


    Economic - The average income/household rises 20 folds from $802 in 1988 to $19,200 in 2018 (exchange : 1 Baht = $0.03). - DoiTung brand is self-sustained since 2000 with approx. 30% ($5.1 M) of the expenditure goes directly to employ 1,700 staffs including Doi Tung communities and approx. 9% ($1.54 M) of the profit are invested for scholarship, and social enterprise incubation. Environment - Opium cultivation is eliminated. - The forest was revived, from 28% to 86.8% of total area with community forest management & forest fire prevention rule. - ‘Zero-waste to landfill’ target achieved since 2018 and is replicating to nearby communities by 2025. Social - Healthcare is provided for all. - From a largely illiterate population, 99% of 7-15 years old are now enrolled in formal education. - Job opportunities are provided to match all groups including elders, women, young adults and the disabled. - The 6 ethnic groups carry on their customs and traditions while adapting to the globalized context.

    Enabling factors and constraints

    Enabling factors: The Project engaged the locals to join, design and implement development activities to foster sense of ownership and sustainability. Multi-level and multi-sectoral stakeholder engagement ensure effective implementation, particularly the involvement of the private sector. Constraints: Building trust was the major constraint to overcome at the beginning of the Project. The Project staff stayed in the community and conducted many rounds of discussions to gain insight into their needs and wants, followed by implementing a quick hit creating immediate daily subsistence needs of the community to earn their trust.

    Sustainability and replicability

    Doi Tung community is now self-reliant, resilient and thrivable. They have diverse livelihood opportunities, decent work with dignity and pride. The DTDP now serves as a ‘Living University’ for sustainable development, environmental management, minority rights, and social entrepreneurship with around 900 study visits and trainings happen annually. Furthermore, the MFLF is driving international policy dialogues in multiple platforms. Applying the expertise from the DTDP, the MFLF led the process of drafting the UN Guiding Principle on Alternative Development as a guideline to implement a sustainable alternative livelihood development worldwide. The Doi Tung story has been presented at UN HLPF in NY in 2019. Since 2002, the MFLF has been requested to implement development projects in Myanmar, Afghanistan and Indonesia. Since 2013, the MFLF has been providing consultancy service to Colombia and Peru goverments through a partnership with the German International Cooperation Agency (GIZ).

    Other sources of information

    “Nurturing sustainable change: the Doi Tung case 1988-2017,” https://www.maefahluang.org/publication “Development Not Drug Control: The Evolution of Counter Narcotic Efforts in Thailand,” J. Illicit Econ. Dev., vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 80–88, Jan. 2019, https://jied.lse.ac.uk/ “Drugs and Development in the Urban Setting - Expanding Development-Oriented Interventions Beyond Illicit Drug Crop Cultivation,” J. Illicit Econ. Dev., Forthcoming https://jied.lse.ac.uk/ Website: www.maefahluang.org Instagram: maefahluangfoundation

    COVID-19 Impact

    Doi Tung people are resilient and well-prepared against external shocks. 84% of the households have savings to support their family during the crisis. Most of the households have more than one source of income, as well as their own vegetable plots and livestock for consumption. As a result, Doi Tung communities are able to take care of community members who worked elsewhere and suffered economically from COVID-19. The DTDP is also working with local agencies on border patrol and supports a strong network of village health volunteers to oversee quarantine and personal hygiene measures for the community members. Disinfection, hygiene, and social distancing measures are prioritized for our social businesses both at service points and production lines.

    This initiative does not yet fulfil the SMART criteria.
    26 April 1988 (start date)
    30 September 2021 (date of completion)
    The Mae Fah Luang Foundation under Royal Patronage
    Other beneficiaries

    Beneficiaries: 10,617 people in 29 villages of Doi Tung area (data of 2019). Partners: Royal Thai Government through 35 departments in 6 ministries, Royal Thai Army, The Crown Property Bureau, The Euchukiat Foundation, Mitsui Company (Thailand), The Siam Commercial Bank, The Bank of Asia, The Sumitomo Mitsui, Thailand Banking Corporation, IKEA, Kasama city, Japan International Friendship and Welfare Foundation (JIFF)

    More information
    Contact Information

    Dispanadda, Doi Tung Development Project, Chiang Rai, Thailand