United NationsДепартамент по экономическим и социальным вопросам Устойчивое развитие

Good Practice of Sustainable Highland Development: People Live in Harmony with Forest

Highland Research and Development Institute (Public Organization) (

    Forest encroachment for agricultural purposes has long been a serious problem in Thai highland, creating major conflicts between government and people, especially ethnic minorities who lack knowledge and opportunity. Highland Research and Development Institute (HRDI) has launched Sop Moei Highland Development Project Using Royal Project System in Huay Nam Sai Village, Mae Hong Son Province with 350 Karens. The practice concept derives from the understanding of Karen's traditional shifting cultivation. The “Land Zoning Innovation” has then been initiated to develop the land in zone A, B and C while zone D has been left to be reclaimed by natural forest.


    The objectives of this practice are as follows: 1.To create highland community development role model for "People Live in Harmony with Forest", reducing shifting cultivation, restoring forests and increasing highland biodiversity with proper land-use planning for sufficient food and income generation from environmental-friendly career, full participation of relevant agencies and local community. 2.To apply appropriate knowledge to solve the problems, cherishing the three principles of the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy (SEP): moderation, reasonableness and self-immunity, as well as enhancing open, transparent and accountable government data approaches through digital transformation to ensure that the village will be able to cope with any changes.

    Contribution to SDG Implementation

    Goal 15 to reduce shifting cultivation, restore forests and increase highland biodiversity. Goal 2 to promote equal access to sufficient food and income generation for small-scale farmers. Goal 12 to sustainably manage and use of natural resources, responsible management of chemicals and waste, environmental-friendly farming, soil and water conservation system, in line with Karen’s way of living and local wisdom to ensure sustainable development and living in harmony with nature. Goal 13 to combat climate change and to address water shortage problems and natural disaster on highland.

    Implementation methodologies

    2015: The villagers were poor and encroached forests. Through the use of IT, HRDI managed reliable village data sets as central information to be shared among relevant stakeholders. Farm plot maps were developed with the participation of relevant agencies and villagers to define clear area boundaries of total 8,490 rai., to be forest in 5,530 rai, arable area in 2,869 rai, and residential area in 91 rai. 2016: With cooperation of related agencies and local community, Huay Nam Sai area was divided into 4 zones: A, B, C and D. A community development plan was formulated with stakeholders’ participation. Zone A was the first to get started for its 261 rai as a prototype with the installation of water system. Knowledge was transferred to the farmers for them to grow alternative crops for their income. 2017: The development continued in Zone B and C areas of 794 rai. The community established a collaborative agreement not to invade Zone D area, solving conflicts between forest agencies and community through natural reclamation of forest at 966 rai. 2018: HRDI supported the farmers to upgrade their production to meet Good Agricultural Practice, including marketing and logistical management. Basic marketing infrastructure such as roads and electricity were developed. 2019: Farmers’ capacity building was enhanced through trainings and study-visits to advanced farms. The farmers were encouraged to become district cooperatives’ members. Support given to various farmers groups has further strengthened community development. Mae Hong Son Province has subsequently used this practice in its development plan. 2020: Farmers have been encouraged to increase value addition of their processing products. Huay Nam Sai has since become a learning center to other areas.


    The practice creates opportunities for 350 Karens to access knowledge for their careers and to reach government services and basic infrastructure. Regardless of gender and age, the villagers have equal opportunities to present their problems and make decisions in community development. They have changed the conventional swidden farming to environmental-friendly agriculture, resulting in the return of forest areas of 966 rai. Community has involved in conserving and restoring 5,530 rai of surrounding watershed forests, building food security from biodiversity. In 2019, farmers average income increased from US$1,230 to US$4,260 per household. The villagers have built community strengths and self-reliance by establishing various farmers’ groups and joining in as district cooperative group members to drive community development. The practice has empowered to push forward the land right certification policy to secure highland ethnic minorities.

    Factors and Constraints

    Success factors are 1) understanding of villagers’ real problems 2) having a common goal 3) building collaboration among stakeholders 4) using of IT to organize relevant data in a systematic and reliable manner. The project directions and guidelines are supervised by a Committee chaired by the Prime Minister to ensure that annual work plan and budget are sufficiently and appropriately allocated. A specific constraint during implementation is communication problem with the Karen that has been resolved by sending HRDI staff who can speak Karen dialect to work permanently in the village, helping build understanding and trust of the local people.

    Sustainability and replicability

    The government has required relevant government agencies to apply the Huay Nam Sai model to develop other areas with similar context including Mae Hong Son Province to solve problems on poverty and forest invasion. This practice has been extended to two areas in Mae Hong Son Province - Mae Umong village, Pang Ma Pha District in collaboration with Non-formal education teachers as well as another two districts in Chiang Mai Province. The Huay Nam Sai village has become a learning centre with 44 smart farmers. As HRDI 8-Year Development Plan, it has been planned to extend the practice more widely to 37 villages with 9,703 people in Sop Moei District and as the provincial development plan to 415 villages with 9,703 people to improve their quality of life living in harmony with forests. A strong agricultural cooperative institution has been established in place to drive sustainable community economy. The practice was presented at the International Mountain Conference in Austria in 2019.

    COVID-19 Impact

    Though it could seem that COVID-19 crisis does not have a direct impact on the implementation of the practice, many workers returning to their villages could pose issues and challenges. They have no occupation, nor income so it might be possible that their communities might have problems such as crime and drugs. The practice is integrated with a well-crafted strategy to welcome the returnees to join in the project and start their agricultural career to help generate income for their living. HRDI together with local smart farmers have provided them relevant farming knowledge and skills. The project has also encouraged young generations who come back with digital literacy to potentially help create activities using technology such as value-added local production and digital marketing.

    This initiative does not yet fulfil the SMART criteria.
    01 October 2014 (start date)
    30 September 2020 (date of completion)
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