Since its inception at the IUCN Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy (CEESP) ‘Sharing Power’ conference in Whakatane, New Zealand, in January 2011, the Whakatane Mechanism has been piloted in two places: at Mount Elgon in Western Kenya and most recently in the Ob Luang National Park in Northern Thailand. The aim of the Whakatane Mechanism is to assess the situation in protected areas and, where people are negatively affected, to propose solutions and implement them. The Mechanism also aims to identify, celebrate and support successful protected areas where the new paradigm of conservation is being implemented.
Joint management of the Ob Luang National Park is an example that should be shared. Since 2004, the park authorities, local communities and NGOs have been working together to implement joint management, taking special care to include women and young people. The pilot Whakatane Assessment in Ob Luang was also carried out jointly, with a team including staff from the Inter Mountain Peoples Education and Culture in Thailand Association (IMPECT), Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, Forest Peoples Programme, IUCN, local NGOs, indigenous peoples and local community networks (the Watershed Network and Highland Nature Conservation, Chomthong).
This team spent several days visiting communities in the park and local government staff to hear their views and recommendations. The team found that the joint management approach was supported by everyone due to its clearly visible positive effects e.g. reduced tensions between the government and communities, increased protection of forests and watersheds, and improved livelihood security for indigenous peoples and local communities.
Unfortunately, Ob Luang is currently an exception in Thailand. In fact, those involved have to go against the law: while Thailand’s 2007 constitution allows indigenous peoples and local communities to manage their natural resources, they are still not legally allowed to live in protected areas. There are currently over ten million people living in protected areas in Thailand, under the constant threat of eviction. Recent reports reveal that Karen people in northern Thailand were forcibly evicted from the Kaeng Krachan National Park and their houses burnt.
Based on their positive experiences in Ob Luang, the National Park authorities, local communities and NGOs want to expand the joint management approach to other protected areas in Thailand and allow communities to live legally in the parks. At a community restitution workshop on 6 February 2012, participants unanimously agreed that the current laws have to be revised so that protected areas in Thailand can legally implement the new paradigm of conservation.
Closing the workshop, the Ob Luang Park Manager, Charkrit Saereenonchai, said:
“I came to this position only 4 months ago and my boss reminded me that Ob Luang has gained a good experience working with communities. He asked me can you work like that? Since then, I understood that Ob Luang is very diverse in ethnicity, in occupations and there is a great diversity of trees in the forest”. He asked “How can we manage a diversity like this? Not by putting people in a cage, but by helping them to gain better living conditions - the answer is participation.”
Charkrit Saereenonchai and many others will be championing this approach to policy-makers during a national workshop next month, and in a report summarising the findings of the Ob Luang pilot Whakatane Assessment.