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Land use and its relationship to agriculture in Pangsa, Chiang Rai: A case study

Vanida Chitman


At present, the most important problems of land use in Northern Thailand are illegal settlement and shifting cultivation of the hill peoples migrating from places further north of the country Shifting cultivation is the dominant form of farming which causes deterioration of the northern highland environment. Furthermore. there is a rapid growth of the populations of the highland peoples and agricultural land is becoming ever more scarce. Therefore the farmer has to clear fallowed land at shorter periods, increasing the frequency of fires and thereby undoubtedly inducing ecological disturbances.

Pangsa is one of the swidden villages in Chiang Rai Province of Northern Thailand which represents one example of such a complex situation. Since it has been occupied by highland peoples for more than ten years, it will be impossible to abandon all highland farming and class this area as a forest reserve. There is another alternative: land-use planning. It may seem more difficult but is widely accepted to be the most long-range and comprehensive approach to natural resource management. Even though it is a new approach for Thailand, it has a much stronger environmental orientation. The highlands present major opportunities for the diversification of land use, both as areas of generally cooler and wetter conditions in a predominantly tropical monsoon environment, and because of the great variety of microenvironments provided by hill areas through differences in slope. aspect. and altitude. Broad application must be given to the term ''land use'' in this respect to include not only a wide variety of farming types but also diversified forestry and tourist-recreational activities. Thus. the approach of the United Nations University's Programme on the Use and Management of Natural Resources to the situation in Northern Thailand, concentrating on agro-forestry and highland-lowland interactive systems, is appropriate

The author had an opportunity to survey roughly the present traditional land use practices, and the population structure at Pangsa by field study during the pilot phase of the Project on Sharing of Traditional Technology sponsored by the UN University and the Thai Khadi Research Institute of Thammasat University. The data presented in this paper may provide some of the basic information needed to develop further research in agro forestry and highland-lowland interactive systems for Northern Thailand.

Historical Background

Pangsa village is situated on the slope of a hill about 500 to 1,000 m above sea level. The landscape has been sculptured into ridges, interspersed with valleys containing small streams. The drainage flows into the Mae Chan watershed system Since it is an area of old clearings, tall grasses and bamboo predominate. Pangsa is about 20 km from the nearest urban area in Mae Chan. There is a laterite road leading to the village which is usable only in the dry season. Only small trucks and motor cycles can pass through. The first group of people who settled here in 1965 was the Lisu. Thirty-four years ago these people migrated from Burma and settled at Mae Salong, where a remnant of the Kuomintang army was encamped. Then, there were conflicts between the Chinese and the Lisu, and the latter's leader was killed. The Lisu then migrated down the Chan River to live among the Thais at Huay Yano. which is only a few kilometres from Pangsa. However, they found that their domestic animals such as pigs and chicken were frequently stolen. About four years later, a group of the Chinese from Mae Salong came to settle in Pangsa, and later another group of Chinese from Burma came to join them In 1971 the Government combined Pangsa with 10 other hill villages nearby to make an administrative unit. An election for a headman of this unit was held.

The villagers' first contact and experience with outsiders was in October 1973 when university student volunteers came to the village to do some teaching for a short period. In April 1974 they came back again to teach Thai language to both adults and children. After this, the villagers and the government officials built a school. In September 1974 Mrs. Tuenjai Deethes, a graduate volunteer of the Graduate Volunteer Centre. Thammasat University, came to teach at the school. After graduation, she joined the Adult Education Division of the Ministry of Education and was posted to Pangsa. At present, most of the villagers can speak the Thai language.

In October 1975 the Hilltribe Division of the Department of Public Welfare set up a development centre at Pangsa. An official who had also been a graduate volunteer of Thammasat University. Mr Tanoochai Deethes, was sent there. Together they tried to raise the villagers' standard of living with the cooperation of three other government officials stationed at Pangsa: an agricultural extension officer, a health officer, and a teacher.


Pangsa's population was 265 in 1977, consisting of 50 households of the following ethnic groups: 20 households of Lisu, 6 households of Labu, 2 households of Yao. 21 households of Chinese. and 1 Thai household. Birth rate in the village is not high and migration in and out of the village has been quite considerable in the past few years. It would be difficult to make a population projection from birth and death rates since both figures fluctuate from year to year. However, it can be expected that the population growth in the village will be slow over the next few years (see Tables 1 -3).

Present Uses of the Land for Agriculture and Yields

Lands are not legally owned by the villagers as they are not legally recognized as Thai citizens. However, the possession and utilization of land by any villager is known and recognized by all persons concerned as well as the government officials. The total cultivated land at Pangsa is about 472 rais per year. This consists of permanent lowland rice fields along the bank of the Mae Chan River totalling 74 rais and swidden land along the slopes of the hills used for growing rice. sesame, soya bean. maize. Maize and coffee occupy about 398 rais (see Table 4).

The residential area on the slope is about 150 rats. There are differences in the use of land area around the houses. Almost every Chinese household has a home garden growing papaya. pineapples, mangoes, jackfruits, and vegetables. The Lisu and the Lahu do not cultivate home gardens. About 10 Lisu households possess no paddy fields. Therefore, they grow rice along the slope of the hill and the yield is about half that of the paddy fields in the valley (see Table 4). The yield does not satisfy local demand; therefore, supplementary rice must be bought or exchanged with other crops and labour.

TABLE 1. Population of Pangsa Village Classified by Age and Sex (September 1978)

Age Male Female Total
0 - 4 27 19 46
5-9 17 27 44
10-14 19 11 30
15 - 19 14 15 29
20 - 24 7 1 3 20
25 - 29 1 3 12 25
30 - 34 7 7 14
35 - 39 7 7 14
40-44 4 4 8
45-49 4 4 8
50 - 54 5 6 11
55 59 1 2 3
60 - 5 8 13
Total 130 135 265

TABLE 2. Number of Children Born in the Village

Year Male Female Total
1974 6 1 7
1975 4 5 9
1976 1 6 7
1977 8 3 11
1978 (Jan.-Sept.) 5 6 11

TABLE 3. Number of Deaths within the Last Five Years

Age at death Number Age at death Number
less than 1 mo 17 35-39  
1 mo-4 yrs 5 40-44 1
5-9 - 45-49 -
10 - 14 1 50 - 54 -
15 - 1 9 3 55 - 59 1
20 - 24 1 60 - 64 -
25-29 3 65 69 -
30-34 2 70 + 1
Total 35    

TABLE 4. Number of Households, Cultivated Land, Yields

Crop species No. of households Cultivated land (rat) Yields bushels*/rai Use
Upland rice 22 1581/2 40 consumption
Lowland rice 20 74 70 consumption
Sesame 29 1201/2 8 - 1 0 sale
Maize 2 6   animal feed. sale
Soya bean 8 1 5 20 consumption
Coffee 4 10 - -
Multicrops 15 96 - consumption. sale

* One bushel = 10 kg.

During 1977-1978 the price of maize declined and rats destroyed the crops; therefore. most villagers stopped growing maize. But some households still grow maize and soya bean in the same plots for consumption and animal feed. Twenty-nine households are growing sesame. which is one of the important cash crops. The yield is about eight to ten bushels per rai. Usually, sesame is planted on the steepest slopes of the hill (about 60°) in March and harvested in July-August (see Table 5). At present the Lisu grow a second crop by planting soya bean after harvesting sesame.

About eight households are growing soya bean. The first crop is grown during the rainy season and the second crop is grown later. Second crops at Pangsa were introduced by the government officials. Chemical fertilizers are not used in this village, but some pesticides are applied to the soya bean and sesame fields.

The average size of farm holding is 9.9 rats; the largest holding is 34 rais and the smallest 1 rai. Since Pangsa is in the valley, lowland rice fields are limited. Only 20 households owned these lands ranging from one to eight rais per household. At present, the trend is for the richer to buy paddy land in the valley to grow rice instead of growing other cash crops up on the hill, because the farmers want to ensure that they will have enough rice to eat and also because the price of rice does not fluctuate as much as other crops. However, every household can find a plot of land on the slopes of the hills for rice and other crops. In 1978 the government officials encouraged the villagers to grow coffee. and at present there are about ten rais of coffee on the hill.

Under the present physical and social conditions, only agricultural development is possible in Pangsa. The increase in agricultural products, not only for local consumption but also for sale. depends very much on market demand. In 1976 Mrs. Tuenjai helped the villagers organize a co-operative, buying agricultural products from its members to sell in town. However. the price still fluctuates because it depends on international and national markets.


Crop species Elevation (m) Slope
Terraced rice field 500 15°
Upland rice 550 30°
Sesame 550-650 60°
Soya bean 550-650 30°
Sesame and maize 550-650 60°

Recommendations for Research

Besides the basic field study that has been done at Pangsa. a pressing research need is development of land-use planning and natural resource management methodologies that are not only ecologically sound but economically and socially viable as well. The innovation of such methodologies depends on the collection of adequate data on, and evaluation of, the main environmental controls and determinants of agriculture. forestry, and other major human activities. A data base for environmental parameters such as microclimatology, pedology, hydrology, geomorphology. biota. and geologic structure is necessary for building land-use and natural resource management strategies. Equally important is the collection of basic data on soil, water, and other important environmental parameters.

Careful attention must also be given to a number of research possibilities that would provide information basic to an understanding of shifting cultivation and other types of peasant agriculture. Research priorities include (a) aerial mapping of the area when farmers are clearing and burning the forest land each year; (b) study and development of modifications of shifting cultivation to increase productivity, e.g., by fallow improvement through planted successions, the use of legumes as cover crops, multiple cropping, and multistory cropping; (c) study of the effects of shifting cultivation on soil structure and nutrient levels; (d) assessment of factors controlling the length of fallow necessary to avoid ecological deterioration of the land; and (e) analysis of yields under shifting cultivation with various combinations of inputs. Finally, experimentation should be undertaken to improve species introduced into the village at its local site.

However, over-reliance upon scientific data because of their apparent precision often leads to a narrow and unbalanced view of the system. In addition to its scientific aspects. every situation has its political, social, economic. and cultural aspects. Moreover. qualitative information may be as important as quantitative information. Thus, ideally all these data should be collected by an interdisciplinary team consisting of a geographer. a soil scientist. an ecologist. an agriculturist, a sociologist, an economist, and a forester. After assembling the basic data the team may also continue to work together towards producing the land-use plan. However, organizing an interdisciplinary team is not very easy. The real danger that would face such a team is that of providing an excess of unco-ordinated details which cannot be shaped into a practical management scheme. Therefore, it is of paramount importance that any data collection scheme be designed from the start in terms of the ultimate goals. Otherwise. the entire planning effort may be lost in a flurry of raw data.


Abdul Manap Ahmad. 1978. ''Forestry for Community and Rural Development.'' Unpublished paper presented at the Regional Conference on Technology for Rural Development, Kuala Lumpur.

Farnworth, Edward G. and Frank B Golley. 1974 Fragile Ecosystem-Evaluation of Research and Applications in the Neotropics. Springer-Verlag New York, Inc

Keen F.G.B. 1969-1970. ''Upland Tenure and Land Use in North Thailand.'' SEATO Cultural Programme.

Kunkle, Samuel H. 1975. ''Environmental Objectives in Forest Land Management.'' Agriculture and Environment 2: 121-135.

Van Dyne. G.M. 1969. The Ecosystem Concept in Natural Resource Management. New York: Academic Press.

Whitby. M.C. 1974. Rural Resource Development. London: Methuen.


This work was provided with data from the Thai Khadi Research Institute. Thammasat University, and the United Nations University's Project on Sharing of Traditional Technology. The author is grateful to Mr. Tanoochai, Mrs. Tuenjai Deethes, and the Government officials at Pangsa Hilltribe Development Centre, without whose helpful cooperation this work would not have been completed.


Increasing farm production in the highlands of northern Thailand

Peter Hoare

Lowland-Highland Population Pressure

About 90 per cent of the Thai population of 4.4 million in the nine provinces of the Northern Region of Thailand-Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Phayao, Lampang, Lamphun, Nan, Phrae, Tak, Mae Hong Son-lives in the lowlands. The overall rate of population increase is 2 6 per cent. The average population pressure in the lowlands (9,000 kmē), representing only 10 per cent of the area, is about 500 persons per kmē on crop land. 65 per cent of which is irrigated rice and 10 per cent double-cropped.

The uplands (27,000 kmē) and also the highlands will become increasingly important in feeding the lowland population increase because of the limited potential for further lowland irrigation development for multiple cropping.

In the highlands (54,000 kmē), ranging in altitude from 500 m to 2,500 m above sea level, the population is estimated at around 500,000 with at least 300,000 hill people. The highland population density is about 10 persons per kmē However, because of the physiography of the highland region, past immigration, and present political problems, over half the present hill population is engaged in bush-fallow farming systems at population pressures in excess of 50 persons per kmē

Farm crop production in these bush-fallow farming systems with the traditional technology probably cannot be sustained under such a relatively high population pressure. A study of the nutrient cycling in these bush-fallow systems is urgently needed to determine the population density which can be supported.

Hinton (1975) calculated the physiologic density in four villages and three satellite villages of Karen subsistence farmers to be in excess of 50 persons per kmē The Karen are the largest ethnic group who practice a bush-fallow sedentary farming system. and make up more than 50 per cent of the hill population. The high population density compelled farmers in the villages studied by Hinton to operate a mean bushfallow cycle of 5.6 years compared with a desirable minimum of 12 years. His opinion was that the population pressure was not confined to the study area because of the even spread of population in relation to agrarian resources in Karen society.

Some of the more mobile hill ethnic groups in other highland areas are farming tropical bush-fallow systems at population pressures in excess of 50 persons per kmē (e.g., Doi Muser. Tak Province, because of a security problem).

The Starting Point for Highland Agricultural Change

Government and also non-government agencies are working to bring about change in the present highland farming systems. particularly with the most mobile ethnic groups. Many highland farmers are well aware that relatively rapid agricultural change is inevitable due to increasing highland population pressure. However, agricultural officers have. in general, failed to understand and measure the productivity of the highland farming system which they are trying to change. Because of lack of experience in tropical bush-fallow farming systems, the reaction of many agricultural workers is to reject the technology of the existing highland farming systems as worthless, and to try and replace the indigenous technology with introduced, and often less relevant technology

These agricultural officers fail to tap a plant gene pool in the highlands. This plant material has been selected and tested at a range of altitudes in an ongoing process over several centuries by immigrant farmers, and carried from country to country as they moved their farms. Hinton (1975) reported 20 rice varieties in the seven Karen villages studied. and Somphob Jarchrojna (personal communication 1978) in one nearby Karen village reported ten rice varieties (five paddy, three hill rice, and two hill glutinous). Lahu farmers have highly developed technologies for the intercropping of the staple crops of rice with pigeon pea, and corn with cucurbits.

It would seem that collection and selection offers opportunity for the most rapid agronomic advance for the staple crop hill rice, and most other crops. Collection and testing of hill rice varieties has recently commenced (Tiyavalee, Insomphun. and Chamberlin 1978), A cocoyam variety brought from Burma by the Lahu and collected by the author, yielded at the rate of 20 tons per ha without fertilizer at the upper cropping level of 1,400 m above sea level and could be an important carbohydrate source for these higher altitudes.

This plant material and the agricultural technologies are often exclusive to special hill ethnic groups. For example, even though the Karen farmers mix cucurbit. brassica, and other vegetable seeds with their hill rice as understory crops, the Lahu association of pigeon pea mixed with hill rice is unknown to them. With little extension input the Lahu technology could substantially raise the level of human dietary protein obtained from the Karen farming system. There is a wealth of agricultural technology already available, once a better understanding of the highland farming systems is obtained.

Some Options for Increasing the Productivity of Highland Farms

Some options for increasing the productivity of highland farms of the least mobile group (Karen) and most mobile group (Hmong) of the highland bush-fallow farmers are discussed, and for the highland Thai farmers who grow native tea (miang). Most of the available information on highland farm calendars and labour work days comes from the work of anthropologists and geographers. However, they have only studied part of the farming system. and information is lacking on the level of farm employment and the ability of present farming systems to supply the subsistence needs of highland farmers. Techniques used successfully in Papua New Guinea to gather this information on the present farming systems have been tested in the

Northern Thailand highlands and these basic data on all highland farming systems could be obtained within a short time (J. Lamrock. former Dep. Dir. Agric. PNG., personal communication). In the proposed UN University-Chiang Mai University project area Karen and Lisu ethnic groups are represented. Part of the early programme could be to measure the existing farming systems.

Karen farmers

Preliminary investigations of subsistence farmers in Mae Ka Nai Karen village (Piriyamasakul. personal communication 1978) showed that rice provided over 85 per cent of energy and about 75 per cent of the human dietary protein. Daily protein consumption was as little as 30g/day. Even though there was an average ownership of five pigs and seven chickens per household, and 70 per cent of the villagers owned cattle (Imong and McKinnon 1975), less than 10 per cent of the human protein intake came from domestic livestock. which were only killed for religious or festive occasions.

Land is a constraint. All the available area for paddy fields has been developed. Paddy rice cropping provides 25 to 50 per cent of the family rice production. Fire control over bush fallow and some grazing control are practiced.

Some options for increasing farm productivity are:

  1. The increased use of grain legumes such as in hill rice pigeon pea association which could provide about 300 kg/ha of pigeon pea grain (23 per cent protein), probably without reducing hill rice yields; and in the fallow phase to provide legume grain and help maintain fertility in the shortening bush-fallow rotations.
  2. Use of fertilizers to increase the yield. Fertilizer costing 250 baht resulted in added value of 2,000 baht on paddy fields at 800 m elevation (Wichian Pooswang, personal communication). The economics of fertilizer on hill rice may be less favourable than for paddy rice, and new rice varieties responsive to fertilizer inputs may be needed
  3. The scope for increased domestic livestock and ruminant production seems limited because of the pressure on land resources to grow food crops for direct human consumption. An area of about 0.4 ha for good nutrition for the five pigs per household is needed. This is more than the area needed to feed one person, as 57 per cent of the energy and protein would be lost in feeding the rice and pigeon pea to the pig. The role of pigs in the Karen system will be limited to scavengers.
  4. Permanent tree crops

Hmong farmers

The Hmong are the most mobile of the group of the bushfallow farmers (Geddes 1970) Rice is the staple crop supplemented by corn. The average daily food consumption of 14 families in four Hmong villages at Pa Kia over two periods in May and August were: rice 852 g. potatoes 152 g. and protein 86 9 Over half the daily protein intake came from rice, with most of the remainder from domestic livestock and wild animals. Domestic animals were killed mainly for religious occasions (Piriyamasakul 1978)

The options in moving towards a more sedentary agriculture and increasing farm productivity seem to be:

  1. The development of available paddy areas. The greater return for labour from rice production on paddy land is recognized by most Hmong farmers (''from paddy land the yield is double the hill rice yield for the same labour input''-Nai Tu, Middle Pa Kia farmer interview, 1976). Every hectare of paddy land takes about 30 ha out of the bush fallow hill rice farming system (1 ha paddy = yield of 2 ha of hill rice x 15 year fallow period).
  2. The cultivation of permanent tree crops The most promising is coffee (UNPDAC Crop Replacement Project 1977). In Papua New Guinea the promotion of highland small holder coffee resulted in some villages making a complete change from bush-fallow farming to coffee (J. Lamrock, personal communication).

Thai native tea growers

Over 100,000 highland Thai depend on the native tea economy with average farm sizes around 2 ha and supporting a population density of about 80 persons per kmē (Keen 1972; Oughton 1971).

Two options for increasing farm productivity are

  1. a legume cover crop of greenleaf desmodium (Andrews 1977)-with grazing control the yield of tea leaf should be increased and
  2. diversification of the farming enterprise. with (a) coffee interplanted with the native tea, or (b) ruminant production where sufficient grazing land is available (Falvey 1977)



Andrews, A. 1978. Thai-Australian Highland Agricultural Project Third Report. Australian Development Assistance Bureau

FAO 1972 Food Composition Table for Use in East Asia

Falvey, L 1977. Agrosociological Study of Highland Ruminants. Thai Australian Highland Agricultural Project Tribal Research Centre, Chiang Mail Thailand

Geddes. W R 1973. Migrants of the Mountains. Oxford University Press

Hinton P. 1975 ''Karen Subsistence: The Limits of a Swidden-Economy in North Thailand' Ph.D. thesis, University of Sydney.

Ho, R, and E C. Chapman, eds. 1973 Studies of Contemporary Thailand Canberra: Australian National University.

Imong, N., and J M. McKinnon 1975. ''A Karen Swidden Project. ''Tribal Research Centre, Chiang Mai, Thailand Roneoed

Keen, F G B 1972. Upland Tenure and Land Use m North Thailand SEATO Cultural Programme, Bangkok.

Oughton, G.A 1971 ''Nikhom Chiang Dao Resources and Development Survey.'' Tribal Research Centre, Chiang Mai Mimeographed.

Piriyamasakul. R. 1978 ''Food Consumption in Meo Villages at Ra Kia'' Faculty of Agriculture, Chiang Mai University, Thailand Roneoed

Tiyavalee, D., et al 1979 Thai Australian Highland Agricultural Project Fourth Report Australian Development Assistance Bureau

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