Yadfon’s work, which began in a few villages, eventually spread to 30 communities. The organization encouraged villages to unite in protecting the coastal fisheries and mangroves. In 1986, under Pisit”s leadership, communities began restoring a 240-acre mangrove forest. In 1989, with the area restored, the Thai Forest Service and the provincial government declared it the country’s first community-managed mangrove forest. The restoration results were dramatic. From 1991 to 1994, there was a 40 percent increase in total catch, resulting in increased income levels in the local villages. Co-management became a government-sanctioned model in other communities. At least nine community-managed forests have been created since, and Pisit continues to work for the growth of this strategy.
Pisit’s approach acknowledges that top-down management of fragile resources has failed. Successful conservation must involve and sustain resident communities, and the approach requires education, decentralized decision-making and hands-on strategies. The dramatic results and the organizing lessons of Yadfon have attracted agencies and village leaders from other provinces to travel to Trang and learn about sustainable resource development.
The dominant change that Yadfon brought to Trang was to empower a population that had been shut out from decisions that affect their daily lives. This unified effort has led to other important victories, including:
- Restoration by villagers of sea grass beds, habitat for the endangered dugong manatee. Villagers used dugong conservation to pressure the government to ban trawlers and destructive push nets in a protected 133 square kilometer sea grass area.
- Curtailing the number of commercial shrimp farms.
- Defeat of a proposed deep-sea port that would have been funded by the World Bank.
- Enforcing boundaries intended to keep trawlers out of the area as villagers took responsibility for confronting the trawlers at sea.
- Encouraging better watershed management and overturning a proposed dam in a national park in Trang that would have irrevocably degraded the watershed.
Pisit has developed grassroots organizing workshops called “In the Hands of the Fishers,” which advocate the involvement of local residents to secure long-term protection of natural resources. The workshops, which he has helped lead since 1999, have brought fishers together from throughout Asia and as far away as Africa.