Survey finds forest communities in Thailand face multiple hardships from COVID-19

Results highlight the digital divide and other persistent inequalities faced by forest communities.
Village and rice fields in Santisuk District, Nan Province, 11 October 2019

A RECOFTC survey on how COVID-19 pandemic has affected forest communities in Thailand found that many face rising living costs, reduced incomes and marginalization due to poor internet connectivity. 

“Every village has been locked down,” says a farmer. “Everyone is worried as this directly affects our livelihoods. Some communities and some families have land that they work on in other locations. This means that they can’t reach and tend to their land until the lockdown is eased.”

The survey collected information from 100 people who live in communities that depend on forests for survival across 30 provinces in Thailand. Participants included women and members of ethnic minorities. RECOFTC conducted the survey in April 2020 over the phone and internet. 

The survey found that indigenous and local communities, especially those living in remote and highland areas, are struggling to access the internet in order to get vital news and information. Two-thirds of respondents said they have an unstable mobile internet connection. More than 17 percent said they have no internet connection. Others are unable to fully use internet technology for work because they can’t afford it or lack knowledge about online conferencing and other web tools. 

The lockdown restrictions also raise concerns among forest communities about completing ground surveys to submit to the government by the 22 July 2020 deadline, as set under the National Parks Act and the Wildlife Preservation and Protection Act of 2019. Many organizations and networks have sent letters expressing their concerns and asking for an extension because the surveys are mandatory for government approval of community forestry areas. The deadline for the survey submissions is unchanged.

"RECOFTC’s survey helps us understand the impact of the crisis, how people living in forests can cope and how they can continue their community forestry networking and communication under lockdown." 


Warangkana Rattanarat, RECOFTC Thailand director.

In April 2020, during the COVID-19 lockdown, the government asked the public to submit online comments regarding subordinate laws supporting the National Parks Act and the Wildlife Protection Act. The invitation to comment was part of the government’s consultation process to determine how it would grant land tenure to local communities. 

Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation has said it will organize other kinds of consultations besides online methods to gain more opinions from different sectors about the National Parks Act and Wildlife Protection Act. There are 4,000 forest communities living in national parks in Thailand that could be affected by these laws. As the survey reveals, many forest communities do not have reliable access to the internet and digital tools to participate in online consultations.

“RECOFTC’s survey helps us understand the impact of the crisis, how people living in forests can cope and how they can continue their community forestry networking and communication under lockdown,” says Warangkana Rattanarat, RECOFTC Thailand director. “The findings help us understand how we can support local people and our network members. For example, we recognize a need for training on using online meeting tools. We also understand the challenges forest communities are facing in accessing online information provided by the government.” 

Participants in RECOFTC’s survey ranked the impacts of the pandemic on their communities. They said rising living costs were having the greatest negative impact. Second was stress and anxiety over family finances. Third was loss of income from lockdown measures that have shuttered workplaces and kept people at home. Health problems were fourth. And inability to access forests was fifth. Without access to forests they can’t manage their land or collect food and other forest products. The survey found that some members of forest communities have been forced into precarious employment to make ends meet, such as labouring on construction sites.

Farmers ready to sell their product
Farmers with their products, ready to sell at the daily market,  Santisuk District, Nan Province, 11 October 2019

A street stall owner in remote northern Nan Province said restrictions on the movement of people left him unable to sell forest products, making it harder to feed his family.

“The Covid-19 pandemic is causing economic hardships,” he says. “Locals can’t sell their goods on the street as before because Bo Kluea District has closed its tourist destinations and doesn’t allow people to enter or leave the district. This directly affects household income and the community because we have only one way to make a living, which is to sell things on the street. Some communities haven’t been able to get out in time to buy goods for selling. And the people waiting for the middlemen to come and buy their produce have not been able to sell it because they’re not permitted to travel.”

During the crisis, RECOFTC continues to serve the poorest and most marginalized rural communities in the Asia-Pacific, where more than 450 million people depend on forests to survive. 

Visit this page to download the survey report.


This story is produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its content is the sole responsibility of RECOFTC and it does not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union. To find out more about this and other activities under the EU-funded Voices for Mekong Forests, visit the project page.