No Forest, No People

Written by Becky Rosaler on March 9, 2018 in General

There were no more trees around

“I heard that there were big trees in this village once, but there were no more when I was born.”

This was the world Malachi was born into, in the hills of Northern Thailand. The area, largely settled by refugees and ethnic minorities, was one that greatly suffered from the effects of deforestation.

Groups that were already vulnerable became even more threatened when their means of livelihood and survival began to deplete.

“When I was young, there was no electricity and no education,” reflected Malachi. As his village was void of trees the soil grew infertile for farming. Families who lived in the area had no way to earn an income.

This challenge is commonplace in communities where deforestation has grown rampant. Environmental loss is a major reason why rural populations make up 85% of those living in poverty.

Plant With Purpose began partnering with communities in Thailand to address this issue. By placing the tools for revitalization in the hands of community members, locals began to gather and take action.

But Malachi’s community realized their land could be healthier

Malachi joined alongside his neighbors to form a committee for forest management. Plant With Purpose provided training and techniques to give the committee the tools needed to understand their watershed, their local challenges, and steps they could take.

Malachi soon found himself in a leadership role. “I am the secretary of the committee,” he explains, “and when we have training of the group, I help to facilitate the meeting and activities.

“We need support in terms of capacity, knowledge, and education because the world keeps changing. Without those, we won’t understand it and it’ll be hard to live with the challenges that are coming.”

Their ultimate goal was to restore the land to a state where the surrounding families could survive off the land and maintain their traditional agriculture-based lifestyles. Malachi expressed that he preferred living somewhere where he could produce, rather than buy, most of the goods his family needed.

“We can save up to 90% of our income with the food we don’t need to buy,” he explains.

They realized a healthy forest was important for a healthy community

“Sustainability is like a good forest,” he tells. “Without a forest, we’d have to buy everything, like people in a city.”

One of the early challenges the committee faced was the potential for tension with the local industries that harvested the area for timber. Being to organize gave the committee the tools they needed in order to address the issue. Their newly gained skills in mapping and management also allowed them to persuasively come to agreements.

“Our village has an agreement for when we want to harvest firewood,” explains Malachi. “Other communities nearby don’t have a management plan and this leads to trouble.”

Malachi pauses when he states a key realization he once had– “without the forest, there would be no people.”

As a father of two, he has hopes that the work he’s done through this committee will continue into the future. “I want to see the next generation carry on the good work we’re doing today, otherwise they’ll have to go find work to get money.”

“Without money, you’re at risk because you often end up doing bad or dangerous things to buy things, so I want to see that the next generation will carry on the work.”

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