A Special Economic Zone in Chiang Khong, northern Thailand, could bring valuable investment into the area. But if it does go ahead, the wetland forests should be excluded to preserve the biodiversity of the local area, and to preserve the way of life of the local community.
Hannah Storey writes about her experience.
Before attending the 8th Southeast Asian regional conference on Human Rights and Business in Chiang Khong, Thailand I was invited, along with several other delegates, to visit nearby Boonrueng village. The community there have been protesting a proposed Special Economic Zone which they fear could destroy their precious wetland forest home and were keen to share their story.
Forty of us crowded into Boonrueng village’s Buddhist temple where villagers stood up and spoke about life in Boonrueng. The wetland forest which lies alongside the village provides almost all they need. One community member described it as their “supermarket, no plastic necessary!”. Villagers described gathering plants and fishing in the forest, taking all they need, but nothing more – sustainability is key in Boonrueng.
However, it was clear, even as they spoke about the harmony of their lifestyle with the wetlands, that they were fearful that it might all disappear if the proposed Special Economic Zone was to go ahead.
Special Economic Zones provide tax cuts and benefits to companies who set up in the area. The Chiang Khong Special Economic Zone which would overlap with the Boonrueng wetlands has been proposed to exploit its strategic location next to the Thai border with Laos. If established it could mean logistical, agricultural and manufacturing companies flock to the area, potentially ruining the delicately balanced ecosystem of the wetlands.
Villagers later invited us into the forest itself, beautifully framed by distant misty mountains, to show us the rich biodiversity for ourselves. I was handed a leaf to chew on, as our guide described the importance of the plants and wildlife around us. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see too much because the wetland itself was flooded, but we did see the beginning of a nature trial which the community have created to show tourists the importance of the area.
At lunchtime we were treated to a feast in the village. Every morsel had been carefully collected from the wetlands itself, including over 100 fried catfish which had been caught in individual traps. It was clear to me, as I passed the fresh bamboo shoots down the table, that this community knew the area better than anyone.
Boonrueng do not oppose the creation of a Special Economic Zone in Chiang Khong, as it could bring valuable investment into this area in the north of Thailand, but it is clear that if it does go ahead, the wetland forests should be excluded to preserve the biodiversity of the local area, and also to preserve the way of life of this community.