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The Effects of Protected Forest Areas on Local Economic Development in Villages of Chiang Mai Province, Thailand

Investigator  Kate Emans, KSG Center for International Development

In response to concerns about deforestation and habitat loss, many countries around the globe have set aside large tracts of land with special conservation status. However, in many instances such lands are home to existing human settlements, agriculture, or timber production.

Clearly, environmental policies have the potential to change patterns of land use, employment, and economic growth. However, little is currently known about the actual direction and magnitude of the economic effects of protected areas policies on existing or nearby human settlements, particularly in developing countries. In particular, do protected areas policies significantly change the pace of economic growth for populations inside or near these areas, compared to similar settlements that do not have protected status? If so, what is the magnitude of the difference, and what are the mechanisms that seem to dominate in explaining the effects?

This project analyzes how protected area policies have affected economic development in the context of villages in Chiang Mai Province in Northern Thailand. I compare the growth of selected household assets and employment rates for villages inside and outside different types of designated forest protection areas over a period from 1986-2003, using bi-annual survey data from the Thai Community Development Department.

Geospatial data plays an important role as the researcher seeks to choose villages in the comparison or "control" group that are similar in terms of geographic characteristics (including elevation, slope, soil type, and proximity to major water bodies) to those villages that are inside of protected areas.

The project calculated five geographic data variables for roughly 1,500 villages in the Chiang Mai province. The data variables sought for each village are:
1. Average Elevation within 1.5 km radius
2. Average Slope within 1.5 km radius
3. Soil type
4. Distance to closest major river or perennial stream
5. Distance to border of nearest conservation area.

Final deliverables include a table with all the geographic variables and a technical procedure manual for the researcher to be able to repeat the process: