The hill tribes have fled ethnic wars and hardships in Burma and Laos for decades, settling in the sensitive border region of northern Thailand. Due in part to the hill tribes’ tradition of practicing shifting agriculture on the steep slopes, extensive deforestation and severe soil erosion have devastated northern Thailand’s vital watershed areas. The recent construction of roads has also contributed to erosion, especially during the monsoon season. With more accessibility to the outside world, pesticides and herbicides are being introduced to the community, threatening its water supply and health. Industrialization threatens to further encroach upon the biodiversity of the hill area.
Respecting the traditions of the hill tribes, Tuenjai has involved the women, men, and youth of the villages in HADF projects that contribute to the development of self-reliant communities. HADF activities, while varied, all focus on the hill tribes’ education and strengthening community leaders and their organizations. Through intensive research, workshops, demonstrations, and ongoing followup reforestation methods and sustainable agricultural practices appropriate for steep slopes have been introduced, investing the hill tribe people in protecting the fragile upland area.
The communities of the hill area are recognized as national models of sustainable agriculture and resource conservation. They have also gained recognition from the Thai government, which in some cases has facilitated the process of granting Thai citizenship, an ongoing struggle in the hill area. Citizenship will allow the hill tribe people access to basic rights in the future. HADF has partnered with UNICEF to bring international attention to issues of citizenship in Thailand. Under Tuenjai’s leadership, HADF has formed various international partnerships in its work.
Tuenjai and HADF, through providing information to the hill area people and allowing them to their own make choices, have succeeded in bringing many improvements to the hill area while supporting the rights and wisdom of the indigenous people.