Ban Mae Sa Mai "A Model community"

Ban Mae Sa Mai is a Hmong village (Hmong people are one of several ethnic groups in northern Thailand and surrounding countries; collectively known as hill tribes), situated at 1,200 metres above sea level in Mae Rim district north of Chiang Mai, northern Thailand. They settled there in 1967, after relocating from higher up the valley after their water supply dried up. In 1981 the village and surrounding area was included within the boundaries of Doi Suthep-Pui National Park. Today, Ban Mae Sa Mai consists of 190 households with a population of 1,700 making it the largest Hmong community in northern Thailand.

Left: Ban Mae Sa Mai village to the left surrounded by forest and agriculture.
Despite being within the boundaries of a national Park, Ban Mae Sa Mai is allowed to practice agriculture as they were settled before park establishment (a common occurrence in Thailand). Opium poppies were once grown there, but during the 1970’s the practice was phased out and the villagers now grow corn, carrots, cabbages and litchis. More land was needed to grow these crops compared with opium, so more land was cleared. After some time, it became clear that forest clearance was taking its toll on the water supply for both Ban Mae Sa Mai and for villages lower down in the catchment of Mae Sa Noi stream. Other effects were increased landslides, drought, and wildlife extirpation.

Not only were the people of the area suffering from the effects of deforestation, the Ban Mae Sa Mai villagers developed a bad reputation for land management. So, in the early 1990’s some village members established the Natural Resource and Environment Conservation Club of Ban Mae Sa Mai. This group encouraged other village members to use the forest resources sustainably. A set of penalties was established for hunting and tree felling, and there was increased protection of the forest around the village and higher up the catchment, to ensure a clean and abundant water supply.  Next to the village, a sacred forest was established, known as “Dong Seng” forest, where rituals are carried out for village and forest protection. 

          Above: Village shaman conducts a ceremony to protect the forest from fire during the hot season.

In 1997, while working closely with the officers from Doi Suthep-Pui National Park (DSNP), the club was introduced to the work of the Forest Restoration Research Unit (FORRU) of Chiang Mai University. FORRU worked with the villagers to construct a community nursery to produce local tree seedlings, train a nursery manager and provided funding for long-term tree planting and educational activities. The first plots were planted in 1997, but were lost due to fire. In 1998, four experimental plots for forest restoration, of 4 rai each, were again planted and these provided a model for the village and FORRU for consequent years. Using the Framework Species Method, the villagers and FORRU have planted more than  65,000 trees on 134 rai along the ridges above the village(1998-2006). Tree planting is carried out once a year at the beginning of the wet season, and FORRU supports the villagers to monitor and take care of the planted seedlings. The villagers also make fire breaks and organise forest fire patrols. Fire prevention, which takes place during January and May of every year, is very important, otherwise the hard work of forest replanting could be lost.  In addition, a youth group for conservation of birds was also established recently.

Above: Ban Mae Sa Mai ladies participating in tree planting.

On 8th of June, 2006, we had a tree planting day at Ban Mae Sa Mai village. This planting is not only supported by the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park but also sponsored by WWF-Thailand and Kingpower. FORRU and the Ban Mae Sa Mai villagers are planting trees together. Here is the girl from the Jao Pho Luang 7 School who works closely with us for awhile and joined the Bird and Environment Conservation Youth Club. WWF-Thailand also sponsored Mae Sa Mai village to build up new "Nursery and Education Centre" and just had opening ceremony on 11th April 07. In addition, WWF also supports FORRU to plant more 20 Rais each year for 2007 and 2008. (See WWF Report)
On 1st of August, 2006, we had a tree planting day at Ban Mae Sa Mai, which was generously funded by "Plant a Tree Today". Chris from PATT came to the planting to help out and see what FORRU and the village of Ban Mae Sa Mai have been doing. Here he presents Neng, the nursery man of the village, with a donation to the Hmong community.(See PATT Report)

The planted plots provide the village with a cleaner catchment; wild animals with habitat, and FORRU with research sites to generate useful data. To compare the plots planted with framework trees in 1998 with “control” plots (where no trees were planted) which remain dominated by weeds, is inspiring, and has given both the villagers and FORRU the encouragement to continue with forest restoration. The villagers of Ban Mae Sa Mai are also beginning to enjoy a positive reputation in their custodianship of the surrounding forests.
See Upland Forests page for encouraging research results on forest restoration using the framework species method at Ban Mae Sa Mai. See also the many scientific papers and student abstracts on research carried out on biodiversity recovery, nursery and silvicultural techniques.