Documentation:Open Case Studies/FRST522/Illegal logging in Thailand

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Illegal logging in Thailand

The video below tells part of the story of Illegal Siamese Rosewood logging and smuggling in Thailand.



Map of Thailand

Thailand, officially named the Kingdom of Thailand and formerly known as Siam, is located in the center of the Indochinese peninsula in Southeast Asia. The total area of Thailand is 513,000km2 (198,000 sq mi) approximately, and it is the world's 50th-largest country. Geographically, it is bordered to the north by Myanmar and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by Malaysia, and to the west by the Andaman Sea and the southern extremity of Myanmar. The maritime boundaries of Thailand include Vietnam, Indonesia, and India.The population of Thailand is around 69 million.[2]

About 45 years ago, forests covered 60% of Thailand's land. However, after massive deforestation due to rampant illegal logging and excessive clearcutting, only 15% remained in the late twentieth century. [3]Given such situation, Thailand's congress passed a ban on illegal logging in 1989. What's more, as the price of timber especially teak and rosewood continued to climb, timber plantations began to expand in Thailand since 2010. [4]Until 2014, the forest area has reached 116,3000km2. At present, about 30% of Thailand is forested. And the majority of natural forest has been protected. [5]

Thailand acts as a regional manufacturing hub for wood-based products such as furniture. The manufacturing products are mainly exported to China, the EU, Japan and the US. The majority of processing timber is from domestic plantations as well as Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar. Although one-fifth of Thailand's wood imports was estimated to have been illegally sourced, the exports produced from domestic plantation has a low risk of being illegal. [5]

Principally, the forest land in Thailand is owned by the government, while a small area of commercial forests belongs to the private sector and communities. In general, instead of timber, they use these forests to produce fruit, oil, and rubber. [6]

Framing the problem

Framing the problem: Forestry perspective

There is no single definition of illegal logging since the varied contexts and complex relevance. However, the ideas from FLEGT and Brack were recognized and cited by the majority. FLEGT (Forest Law Enforcement, Governance, and Trade) defined the illegal logging as: "the harvesting, processing, transporting, buying or selling of timber in contravention of national and international laws.",[7] which slightly differs from what Brack said: "illegal logging takes place when timber is harvested, transported, bought or sold in violation of national law." [8]

Generally speaking, the illegal logging that occurs in Thailand is mainly due to the following reasons:

1. Corrupt administration and weak governance

2. Lax land title laws

3. Inadequate regulation enforcement

4. Agricultural and animal husbandry expansion

5. Large-scale unemployment of foresters and logging workers caused by 1989 ban. [9]

Thailand's administration, especially the government officials in charge of the conserved forest area, was blamed for contributing to deforestation by allowing illegal logging and illegal timber trade to take place. There was collusion with big domestic as well as foreign industries which enabled the latter to gain rebates from illegal timber trade. Even now, although thirty years have passed, corruption still remains a serious problem for Thailand's administration to face with. According to the corruption perception index coming from transparency international, the government of Thailand ranked 107 of 176 nations in 2016.[10] Obviously, police corruption in Thailand is widespread. The Human Rights Practices reports that there were plenty of corruption cases in Thailand in 2016. [11] One of the corrupt sectors was that of illegal logging. Resulting from inadequate initiatives for regulating illegal logging, the state lacks resources and experience in fighting against illegal timber trade. Furthermore, incomplete laws for managing mature forest also contributed to aggravating illegal logging. [EXPLAIN THIS LAST STATEMENT]

Illegal logging in Chiangmai

The most rampant period of illegal logging was between 1965 to 1989, which was consistent with the expansion of agriculture and pasture in Thailand. The land use change was the primary cause of deforestation and illegal logging. People converted the forest into agricultural land and pasture without the permission of the state. [9] In addition, the climbing price of teak and rosewood also drove the loggers to ignore legality. Until 1989, the remaining forest cover was 29 percentage in Thailand. [GROUP ALL THE FOREST COVER PERCENTAGES IN ONE PARAGRAPH] That was the trigger which led the administration to implement the logging ban. However, this logging ban embarrassed the government since it worsened the illegal logging take place in neighboring countries such as Cambodia and Myanmar. A large number of foresters and loggers lost their jobs owing to forest protection and they resorted to log illegally in domestic and foreign forests.[12]

Framing the problem: Layering perspective

The description above describes the problem of illegal logging related imports into the Thailand from the perspective of a forestry student. In this section, we welcome contributions from other perspectives. Those interested in contributing to this case study may use the following questions as a guide:

1. How do scholars and professionals outside of forestry conceptualize illegal timber and timber product imports?

2. What are other ways of framing this problem?

3. What special expertise, resources, or theoretical orientations might others bring to help us understand this phenomenon better?

4. What other methods could help dissolve the supply chains of illegal timber and timber products?

Historical context

In 1896, the Royal Forest Department has been established by the Ministry of the Interior. It mainly in charge of controlling revenue from the teak forests in northern Thailand. The first director was Herbert Slade, a British forester from Burma. From 1896 to 1925 the Thai government and British foresters and businesses created an "informal empire" over the teak forests of northern Thailand.

In 1899 all forests were declared government property and all logging without payment to the Royal Forest Department was prohibited.Unlike the neighboring counties such as Cambodia and Vietnam, Thailand was not be colonized by foreign counties in World War One as well as World War Two. Thus, the state sovereignty is consistent. Although there were some problems like weak governance and inadequate regulation, the ownership of forest land and natural resources belong to the state.[13] Despite some mangrove in the southern part and traditional rubber plantation, which were owned by private sector owing to historical reasons, the government is able to manage the forest without any domestic interruption. [14]

In 1956 The Forest Industry Organization was set up to establish governmental control of industrial uses of Thai forests.

In 1962 the Thai government began to establish national parks and other forest conservation areas, their management under the jurisdiction of the Royal Forest Department.

In the late-1960s the Thai government began to grant logging concessions, which required re-planting. They were poorly managed.

In the 1980s, the government started to take measures to ease the speed of deforestation. In order to prevent forests from illegal logging and overharvested, they establish the target for conserving 40% forest cover at least. To achieve this goal, the local administration initiated tree planting initiatives and leased some degraded forests to third parties to create logging plantations.

In 1989, the ban of inhibiting commercial logging has passed and implemented. [15]


Environmental implication

According to the Global Forest Watch, the forests cover reduced from 1,303,243 ha to 499,182 ha since 2001 in Thailand. Acted as a primary determinant, illegal logging contributed significantly to deforestation. [16]

Illegal logging led to multiple unexpected environmental impacts. Initially, because most illegal logging activities were implemented without any scientific plans and guide, it wasted a large quality of potential forest resources with high value. The loggers and local villages only focused on the timbers which brought reward most directly, causing the non-timber forest products to be neglected severely. [17]Furthermore, the unregulated logging activities resulted in deforestation and degradation directly since the bare forest land was exposed to rainfall and sunlight directly. Both of them consumed the soil nutrient and disputed the soil structure, which means it would be more difficult in replanting and recovering for the future foresters and managers.[18] In addition to NTFP and soil loss, illegal logging also resulted in the habitat loss and ecosystems out of balance. Without habitats and stable, healthy ecosystems, the abundance and diversity of wildlife species reduced dramatically. [12]

Economic implication

The economic influence of illegal logging can be broken into several aspects.

Firstly, in terms of local people and loggers, they had well-paid jobs in a short term. With the price of timber, especially teak and rosewood going up, the job opportunities increased and salary improved a little bit as well. However, It was reported that compared with the real income of big industries which could make profits of $240 per cubic meter, the local only acquired $11 which just accounted for one twentieth approximately. Instead of small income, the local paid numerous environmental cost in the coming future. And when the limited natural resources exhausted, they still need to face the situation of losing jobs. [19]

As for the government, they lost the income which derived from the timber logging and sales such as tax. According to the Ministry of Forestry in Thailand, "legislation covering payment of all legally required forest harvesting specific fees such as royalties, stumpage fees, and other volume-based fees. [4]

In addition to the human and administration sector, the timber market was disputed as well. Because of the supply of illegal logging wood, the total quantity of timber increased, causing the price of timber declined. It means higher competitiveness of national industries. American Forest & Paper Association provided a number of the global timber product prices, which has decreased by 7-16% due to illegal activities.[20]

Social and cultural implication

Due to illegal logging, especially from 1970 to 1980, the forest cover reduced dramatically and soil degraded significantly. According to the FAO, between 1965 and 1989, the annual deforestation rate reached 2.6 percent because of the foreign demand for tropical hardwoods. The deterioration of forest cover resulted in the natural disasters took place frequently, landslide and flood in particular. [9]

Chumphon typhoon damage

On November 1, 1989, there was the worst flood in nearly a century happened in Thailand. It was recorded that because typhoon Gay struck the coast of Chumphon Province, resulting in 833 deaths and 11.7 billion baht in damages. [21] Owing to the loss of natural windbreak forests, the typhoon went straight into the villages, bring the heavy rainfall which caused the unpredictable flood. That's the reason why logging ban emerged. The government has tasted the bitter fruit of illegal logging and the corresponding result of deforestation and degradation, in order to avoid such severe natural disasters happening again, they agree to start stopping harvesting and replanting.

However, banning timber harvesting has its side effects. It promoted the unemployment rate since thousand of sawmills and timber manufacturing closed, and it also drove many people back to home to be a farmer in their rest lives. Only pretty small part was able to find other jobs in the cities. Besides, there were a number of Thai selected to work abroad. In a word, the worst flood gave birth of logging ban, which made a unneglectable change in the population mobility in Thailand. [9]

Apart from that, according to INTERPOL, between 50 and 90 % of logging in key tropical countries of Southeast Asia such as Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos, illegal logging was implemented by organized crime, which contributed to increased murder, violence and atrocities against indigenous forest dwellers. [22]

Political implication

As corruption and illegal logging were "twin brothers", the illegal logging contributed to the deterioration of administrative corruption. Only if the officers can reap exorbitant profits from the illegal logging, would the resistance to corruption reform exist. [23]

Meanwhile, owing to part of the illegal logging was conducted by the organized crime, the profits from illegal logging enriched them so that they were able to equipped with better weapons. It means the government should pay a higher cost to suppressed the organized crime and maintain the social stability. [22]

Initiatives to combat illegal logging

Illegal logging was a negative feedback loop, which enriches a small part temporarily with the long-term costs. Uneven distribution of foresty resource and wealth deteriorated the income discrepancy which forced the government to face with illegal logging problem. Meanwhile, in order to diminish the corruption which has influence the reputation of Thailand's administration severely, Thailand has introduced a new anti-corruption court on 2 Oct 2016. Prime Minister Prayauth Chan-ocha promised to eradicate corruption in the country within 20 years..[24] If this country is able to get rid of corruption, the illegal logging would be cure from the roots because of the requirements of legitimating procedures in logging process and timber trade.

UN-REDD member countries map.jpg

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) is also an essentially economic initiative for Thailand to fight against the illegal logging activities. As REDD+ Country Participant, Thailand could get extra allowance by means of maintaining and improving the forest cover. This subsidy would distribute to the local people who rely on the forest from generation to generation. As a result, the villages could gain benefits without sacrifice their forests. [25]

Of course, the tax revenue gained from legal logging activities also acts as an intensive initiative in combating illegal logging.

The pressure coming from the global urged Thailand to strive to inhibit illegal logging as well. On 7 July 2017, Thailand and the European Union (EU) have held their first negotiation towards a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) to improve forest governance and promote trade in verified legal timber products. VPA encourages Thailand to establish a systematic verification of timber and timber products. What's more, the transparency and independent monitoring also required by VPA. There is no doubt that with the help of VPN, the commercial relationship between Thailand and EU would be promoted. All the effort Thailand's government did was aimed for the better economic environment so that they can have ideal accessed to export and import timber.[26]

Summary & Recommendations

Illegal logging is a wicked problem which requires multi-stakeholders to participate in negotiating and managing. Although compared with the most rampant time, the illegal logging has been mitigated in recent ten years, we still have some suggestions which Thailand's government can take into consideration:

1. Speed up the negotiation with EU in reaching the consensus in VAP.

2. In order to combat illegal logging, the corruption ought to be eradicated from the government.

3. Instead of exploiting the natural forest resources entirely, the administration should teach the local to use forest resources in sustainable and scientific ways.

4. Eco-tourism should be promoted by the government.

5. The government needs to pay more attention to the rural poverty problem. Otherwise, without the livelihood guarantee, the local will have no choice but exhaust what they have alongside.

6.The IFLUP ( Integrated Forest Land-Use Planning ) may function in satisfying multi-stakeholders demands, because it has potential to address conflicting societal demands on forest ecosystem services within local forest landscapes.[27]


  1. Illegal Siamese Rosewood logging and smuggling in Thailand. (2017). YouTube. Retrieved 21 October 2017, from
  2. Thailand. (2017). Retrieved 21 October 2017, from
  3. Forest conservation project in Thailand. (2017). Retrieved 21 October 2017, from
  4. 4.0 4.1 (2017). Retrieved 21 October 2017, from
  5. 5.0 5.1 Thailand | Illegal Logging Portal. (2017). Retrieved 21 October 2017, from
  6. 泰国林业. (2017). Retrieved 21 October 2017, from
  7. (2017). Retrieved 22 October 2017, from
  8. Brack, D. (2003). Illegal logging and the illegal trade in forest and timber products. International Forestry Review, 5(3), 195-198.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Hays, J. (2017). DEFORESTATION AND ILLEGAL LOGGING IN THAILAND | Facts and Details. Retrieved 22 October 2017, from
  10. e.V., T. (2017). Corruption Perceptions Index 2016. Retrieved 23 October 2017, from
  11. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016. (2017). Retrieved 23 October 2017, from
  12. 12.0 12.1 6. Impacts and effectiveness of logging bans in natural forests: Thailand - Sureeratna Lakanavichian. (2017). Retrieved 23 October 2017, from
  13. Forest Tenure in Asia: Status and Trends | Illegal Logging Portal. (2017). Retrieved 23 October 2017, from
  14. Rammohan, A. (2004). Fertility Transition in South and Southeast Asia. Asian Economic Bulletin, 21(2), 183-197.
  15. Deforestation in Thailand. (2017). Retrieved 23 October 2017, from
  16. Institute, W. (2017). Interactive Map | Global Forest Watch. Retrieved 23 October 2017, from,forestgain?begin=2001-01-01&end=2014-12-30&fit_to_geom=true&threshold=30
  17. Fisher, Robert, and Philip Hirsch. "Poverty and agrarian‐forest interactions in Thailand." Geographical Research 46.1 (2008): 74-84. APA Fisher, R., & Hirsch, P. (2008). Poverty and agrarian‐forest interactions in Thailand. Geographical Research, 46(1), 74-84.
  18. Ecosystems in the Greater Mekong: Past trends, current status, possible futures | Illegal Logging Portal. (2017). Retrieved 23 October 2017, from
  19. Reboredo, F. (2013). Socio-economic, environmental, and governance impacts of illegal logging. Environment Systems And Decisions, 33(2), 295-304.
  20. Seneca Creek Associates, LLC. (2004). " Illegal" Logging and Global Wood Markets: The Competitive Impacts on the US Wood Products Industry. American Forest & Paper Association. Chicago
  21. List of disasters in Thailand. (2017). Retrieved 23 October 2017, from
  22. 22.0 22.1 UNEP (2012) Organized crime trade worth over US$30 billion responsible for up to 90 % of tropical deforestation. UNEP Press Release, 27 September. (2017).
  23. Callahan, W. A. (2005). Social capital and corruption: Vote buying and the politics of reform in Thailand. Perspectives on Politics, 3(3), 495-508.
  24. Heidler, S. (2017). Thailand introduces new anti-corruption court. Retrieved 24 October 2017, from
  26. EU and Thailand hold first talks on forest governance and legal timber trade deal | Illegal Logging Portal. (2017). Retrieved 24 October 2017, from
  27. Bonsu, N., Dhubháin, Á., & O’Connor, D. (2017). Evaluating the use of an integrated forest land-use planning approach in addressing forest ecosystem services conflicting demands: Experience within an Irish forest landscape. Futures, 86, 1-17.

Seekiefer (Pinus halepensis) 9months-fromtop.jpg
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