Justice served for Karen villages
In 2009, the Ban Huay Krathing community became part of a national park and risked losing its land. Social Development and Services Unit (SDSU), supported by Diakionia, came in to support the community and teach them about their rights. They got most of their land back and Ban Huay Krating has become a model for other villages in Tak province, after learning how to manage natural resources.
“We thank God who sent SDSU to help us fight against the authorities. Today our community has been recognised widely in media and government discussions. Our village has become a community-managed Natural Resources Model,” says Sin, a 31 year-old schoolteacher in the village.
Sin and everyone in her village are ethnic Karen people. The village has 184 households and was established in 1930. In 2009, Khun Pa Waw National Park was officially designated in an area that included ten Karen villages. There were only a few settlements, flat farmlands and some sloping fields that were separated from the park. Most farmland on slopes, especially fallow fields, became “forest preserves”.
Taking action for their land
For several decades, the Karen people have supported themselves by farming and collecting forest products. To them, the forest is their “supermarket.” They conserve the forest and the ecological system for practical and spiritual reasons, with the belief that human and nature depend on each other. After the national park was created, the farmers could not farm and would have had no choice but to become wage-based workers. But thanks to the work of SDSU and others, many of them can now go back to farming.
SDSU, supported by Diakonia, assisted the local church in taking action to assert the villagers’ rights. Because people risked losing their lands and livelihoods, the organization brought in experts in different areas. A new tool “Global Positioning System (GPS)” was introduced to the villagers, to measure and map their land. Each community member learned to use these GPS tools. SDSU transferred the information to a technical expert who developed a GIS map. With this information, the community was able to get 21.4 square kilometers re-designated as private land for individual families, as well as 8.2 square kilometers of community land title deeds. In total, approximately 4,600 people in the ten villages got their land back.
In their fight for the Karen people, SDSU referred to the Thai cabinet resolution from August 3, 2010, which agrees to respect the Karen peoples’ way of life. It requires relevant organizations to support Karen identity, ethnicity, culture, natural resources management, cultural inheritance and education. This was to confirm that “Karen can live harmoniously with forests”. The resolution also requires “no arresting” as well as “protection” for the Karen people and respect for their human rights.
Joint-committee continues the work
Armed with the cabinet resolution, SDSU and the Church of Christ in Thailand, supported by Diakonia, worked together with the local church Pra Phorn of Ban Choppi and local government officials to increase awareness of forest and land management in the community. Accomplishments include creating a community map, writing the community settlement history, drafting community regulations and surveying each villager’s plot of land.
A joint-committee was also set up consisting of representatives from Khun Pa-Wor National Park, Subdistrict Administration, village headmen, and academic scholars. This committee will evaluate whether the farmlands are correctly measured. It will also designate the use of land for sufficiency or alternative agriculture (chemical fertilizer and pesticide-free) and promote rotational farming systems.
“Today I don’t have to be afraid to go to my farm land to collect food, I have a paper to show them that our family owns the land for farming” says a 60 year-old lady from Ban Huay Krathing.