Thailand - Editor’s Note: International Women’s Day is Saturday, 8 March, and in honor of women’s many contributions to forestry, Forests News is publishing stories from readers about their “forest heroines” — women who have devoted their lives to make a difference for the world’s forests and the people who live in them. Throughout the week, we will be sharing these women’s stories. In this one, guest blogger Bhawana Upadhyay writes about her forest heroine, Phakee Wannasak.
Phakee Wannasak is the leader of a women’s group established in 1977 by Thailand’s Community Development Department in Ban Thung Yao village, in the province of Lamphun.
About 10 years after its formation, the women’s group was approached by the Thai NGO Committee on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development, which encouraged the women’s group to raise awareness of self-development possibilities.
This led Phakee and other group members to take on new roles and responsibilities by participating in meetings and decision-making processes.
Now the group includes more than 90 percent of the women living in the community, and through Phakee’s leadership, they have the confidence to influence forestry committee decisions, rule-making and governance.
In 1989, the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation approached Ban Thung Yao’s Community Forest and offered an annual budget of $2,455 aimed at forest conservation. This implied, though, that community forest conservation and management rules would be supplanted by regulations under the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation.
Phakee consulted women committee members over concerns that threats to protected forest areas and the potential loss of rights to collect and manage forest products would have a negative impact on livelihoods. Subsequent protests led to the initiative being put on hold.
Several years later, Ms. Phakee coordinated village participatory research on food from the forest, conducted by the women, with the support of a local researcher. They sought to record the amount of forest products collected throughout the year and determine its overall monetary value.
The research determined that in a year, Thung Yao Community Forest produced 28 varieties of wild vegetables, 13 varieties of wild fruit, 25 kinds of mushrooms, and 20 different kinds of herbal plants — equivalent in value to $30,630. The findings convinced the community of the economic value and environmental sustainability of community-based forest management.
Currently, Phakee is focused on ensuring that community forestry is well conserved, and that customary rules are enforced and passed on to the next generation.
Phakee takes every opportunity to engage with youth, telling tales about the forest and its customs, with the hope that they carry the past with them into a better future as she has done so to maintain the customary beliefs and spirits of Thung Yao Community Forest.
Bhawana Upadhyay is gender and rights program officer with the Center for People and Forests (RECOFTC) in Bangkok, Thailand.
The views expressed above are those of the author and not the Center for International Forestry Research.