Biodiversity and ecosystem values of, and indigenous and local knowledge in, Karen rotational farming systems in northern Thailand

Commissioned Report

In Thailand, many people blame the rotational farming (RF) system of the Karen people to be responsible for extensive forest loss. Even the Government has the ideas to limit the area of RF, and set up policies to encourage the conversion of land under RF to commercial crop production particularly maize production. The Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES), Japan, in partnership with the Indigenous Knowledge and People Foundation (IKAP), Thailand jointly conducted a study in 2015 to document the role of Karen’s indigenous and local knowledge (ILK) in their management of the land and natural resources, with a view to enhance the policy recognition of the importance of Karen’s ILK for the sustainability of biodiversity, ecosystems and cultural heritage of Karen people. With these, it aims to deliver the facts to the relevant international discourses and assessments, specifically to the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), on the implications of ILK-based practices by indigenous peoples and local communities for nature conservation.
The data were collected from a field survey and interviews of 55 villagers in three Karen communities from 11-21 December 2015. The surveyed villages were Hin Lad Nai village, Chiang Rai Province; Mae Yod village, Chiang Mai Province; and Mae Um Pai Tai village, Mae Hong Son Province. The three villages share similar geographic and climatic conditions, and while their patterns of land use are different, in all villages RF is the dominant land use.
The information gathered from the survey confirmed that there is high plant species diversity in the RF systems. More than 60 types of native plants were found in these system. The study found Karen communities in the study sites have applied their ILK for traditional RF management and sustainability of biodiversity and ecosystem services. The survey found that the RF provide high biodiversity with high carbon stocks, and contribute to conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services through applying organic pest methods and carefully piercing the soil surface for planting and weeding.
The study employed trade-off analysis of land use change with a 20 year timeframe. The study found that commercial crop production (Azuki bean and maize) provided higher short-term cash gain than RF. It explains why conversion from RF to commercial crop production is taking place in the study sites. The study estimated that conversion of an RF area into permanent in Mae Yod community will gain in the net present value of yearly income per ha of US$ 90/year for a maize field, but average carbon stocks of maize field (65 ton/ha) is lower than that of RF (106 ton/ha). The results showed the contribution of the Karen’s traditional RF to carbon sequestration, and biodiversity conservation