Behind "The Trail"
Just nearly 20 years ago, Mae Ngow river basin was a truly Shangri-La on earth where people lived with nature in harmony. The villagers of Karen Hill tribe grew enough rice explicitly for their consumption, caught fish from the river, and harvested food from the forest surrounding their village. Money is almost not necessary.
Only a small portion of what they grew or harvested, such as sesame, bean, and honey, would be traded for what they really need on a daily-life basis, such as salt, clothes, and etc, outside the village. And because the village was not accessible by road, the villagers typically made a bamboo raft and cruised down the river, some 40-50 kilometers away, to the nearest road and commute with others.
If this were a bed time story, it would end with “and they will live happily ever after”. As much as we want the story to end that way, but there would be no such thing in the recent modish-living world.
Roads were built. The introduction of modernized perception undeniably helped them in many ways, but it also changed the way they live their lives forever. New notions were introduced to the villagers, and money that the Karen Hill tribe never depended upon, now, becomes a necessity. Forests were rapidly replaced with cornfields and modern agricultural practices were introduced for better production, or in other words, make money faster.
Forests, that once could provide natural food for the villagers, began to dwindle. Without any protection from trees, rain wiped away the abundant soil from steep mountain ranges down into the river. Beautiful crystal clear river became muddy. All of the small living creatures and aquatic insects in the river were the first to be affected, which number had already been decreasing at a distressing rate. And not too long after, fish population would, more or less, follow the same manner.
A few years later, lands were no longer fertile enough to grow corn. The villagers gradually invaded deeper into the proximal forest to have new fresh lands for their cornfields in the next season.
This area was planned to be declared as one of Thailand National park almost 20 years ago, but the plan has never succeeded due to an overlapping-area conflict between the park and the local people. The deforestation, sadly, continues to advance at an alarming rate.
Not all hope is lost. The Forest Development Project, the Royal Initiated , which has been set up in the area, aims to find alternative ways for the villagers to live with the forest again. Some of the initiatives include eco-tourism and growing coffee and konjac while preserving the conditions of existing forests.
Fjallraven Thailand Trail is a part of the eco-tourism plan to create a revenue stream, from the forest itself, for villagers. By creating trail and bringing hikers on the ridges of the mountains and through the remaining untouched forest, which is a precious water resource for Mae Ngow river, we aim to visually show city people how important forests are to the river and to all of us. At the same time, this will show the villagers that the forest itself can create a “tangible benefit” for them. Sooner or later, the local villagers will realize a way to coexist and sustainably earn from the forest, without cutting down a single tree, and protect the remaining forest as their own valuable asset.
Fjallraven Thailand Trail is organized by the villagers of Sobmoey province and Forest Development Project – The Royal Intiated by the support of Fjallraven and Nature Unlimited Foundation.