Forest, water and people: The roles and limits of mediation in transforming watershed conflict in Northern Thailand

Ahmad Dhiaulhaq, Kanchana Wiset, Rawee Thaworn, Seth Kane, David Gritten


This study focuses on watershed management in Northern Thailand, where conflict over forest, land and water-use is a prevailing problem. A characteristic of watershed conflicts is that they are often multifaceted and involve multiple stakeholders with different interests and values, consequently requiring conflict management approaches that are sustainable in their outcomes, including addressing the underlying causes of the conflicts. Drawing from a case study in Mae Tia Mae Tae watershed in Northern Thailand, this study explores how mediation by external third party can contribute to the transformation of conflicts in the watershed and how the broader institutional contexts in which the conflict is embedded shapes the mediation outcomes. The study suggests that co-creation of mutual understanding and recognition of each party’s socio-cultural differences, including land-use practices, are critical in building trust and in how conflict transformation processes moved forward. Moreover, the ability of the mediator in facilitating the establishment of a deliberative institution (i.e. a watershed network committee) and agreed rules on forest utilization were also critical in maintaining long-term collaboration in the watershed and potentially preventing other conflicts arising in the future. Some issues, however, may threaten the continuity of the cooperation and sustainability of peace in the watershed, including the lack of structural reform that formally recognizes local people’s rights, insecure land tenure, and the absence of legal recognition for the watershed network committee as a legitimate mechanism for watershed decision making. The paper discusses these findings by comparing it with those from our previous studies in other locations (Cambodia, Indonesia and Western Thailand) to strengthen the insights from Northern Thailand. Finally, the research puts forward some recommendations for reforms and to strengthen the use of effective mediation, to achieve transformative outcomes, in conflicts of this nature. iation, to achieve transformative outcomes, in conflicts of this nature. 


Watershed management; forest conflict; mediation; conflict transformation; Thailand

Full Text:



Augsburger, D. W. (1992). Conflict mediation across cultures: Pathways and patterns. Westminster: John Knox Press.

Bonell, M., & Bruijnzeel, L. A. (Eds.). (2005). Forests, water and people in the humid tropics: past, present and future hydrological research for integrated land and water management. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Buergin, R., & Kessler, C. (2000). Intrusions and exclusions: Democratization in Thailand in the context of environmental discourses and resource conflicts. GeoJournal, 52(1), 71-80.

Bush, R. A. B., & Folger, J. P. (1994). The promise of mediation: Responding to conflict through empowerment and recognition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Bush, R. A. B., & Folger, J. P. (2005). The promise of mediation: The transformative approach to conflict. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons.

Callister, R. R., & Wall Jr, J. A. (2004). Thai and US community mediation. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 48(4), 573-598.

Church, J. (2009). Avoiding Further Conflict: A Case Study of the New York City Watershed Land Acquisition Program in Delaware County, NY. Pace Envtl. L. Rev., 27, 393.

De Koning, R., Capistrano, D., Yasmi, Y., & Cerutti, P. (2008). Forest-related conflict: Impact, links, and measures to mitigate. Washington D.C., USA: RRI.

Delang, C. (2004). Living at the edge of Thai society: The Karen in the highlands of northern Thailand. London; New York: Routledge.

Dhiaulhaq, A., Gritten, D., De Bruyn, T., Yasmi, Y., Zazali, A., & Silalahi, M. (2014a). Transforming conflict in plantations through mediation: Lessons and experiences from Sumatera, Indonesia. Forest Policy and Economics, 41, 22-30.

Dhiaulhaq, A., De Bruyn, T., Wiset, K., Thaworn, R., Gritten, D., Yasmi, Y., Soontornwong, S., Kritsanarangsan, S. (2014b). Transformative mediation, a tool for maximising the positives out of forest confict: A case study from Kanchanaburi, Thailand. Forests under pressure: Local responses to global issues, IUFRO World Series, vol. 32, Vienna: International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO).

Dhiaulhaq, A., De Bruyn, T., & Gritten, D. (2015). The use and effectiveness of mediation in forest and land conflict transformation in Southeast Asia: Case studies from Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand. Environmental Science & Policy, 45, 132-145.

Engel, A., & Korf, B. (2005). Negotiation and mediation techniques for natural resource management. Rome, Italy: FAO.

Forsyth, T., & Walker, A. (2008). Forest guardians, forest destroyers: the politics of environmental knowledge in northern Thailand. University of Washington Press.

Government of Thailand (1961). National Park Act, B.E. 2504 (1961). Government of Thailand. 5 p.

Hares, M. (2009). Forest conflict in Thailand: Northern minorities in focus. Environmental management, 43(3), 381-395.

Imperial, M.T., & Kauneckis, D. (2003). Moving from conflict to collaboration: watershed governance in Lake Tahoe. Natural Resources Journal, 1009-1055.

Kerr, C. (1954). Industrial conflict and its mediation. American Journal of Sociology, 230-245.

Laungaramsri, P. (2000). The ambiguity of" watershed": the politics of people and conservation in northern Thailand. Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia, 15(1), 52-75.

Leach, W.D., & Pelkey, N.W. (2001). Making watershed partnerships work: a review of the empirical literature. Journal of water resources planning and management, 127(6), 378-385.

Lederach, J. P. (1997). Building peace: Sustainable reconciliation in divided societies. Washington DC: United States Institute of Peace Press.

Lee, J., & Teh, H. H. (Eds.). (2009). An Asian perspective on mediation. Singapore: Academy Publishing.

LeResche, D. (1992). Comparison of the american mediation process with A Korean‐American harmony restoration process. Conflict Resolution Quarterly, 9(4), 323-339.

Lesnick, M. T., & Ehrmann, J. R. (1987). Selected strategies for managing multiparty disputes. Conflict Resolution Quarterly, 1987(16), 21-29.

Mansourian, S. (2017). Governance and forest landscape restoration: A framework to support decision-making. Journal for Nature Conservation, 37, 21-30.

Martin, A., Coolsaet, B., Corbera, E., Dawson, N. M., Fraser, J. A., Lehmann, I., & Rodriguez, I. (2016). Justice and conservation: The need to incorporate recognition. Biological Conservation, 197, 254-261.

Mitchell, C., 2002. Beyond resolution: what does conflict transformation actually transform?. Peace and Conflict Studies, 9(1), pp.1-23.

Patel, T., Dhiaulhaq, A., Gritten, D., Yasmi, Y., De Bruyn, T., Paudel, N.S., ... & Suzuki, R. (2013). Predicting future conflict under REDD+ implementation. Forests, 4(2), 343-363.

Peluso, N. L., & Watts, M. (Eds.). (2001). Violent environments. Cornell University Press.

Raitio, K. (2012). New institutional approach to collaborative forest planning on public land: Methods for analysis and lessons for policy. Land Use Policy, 29(2), 309-316.

Reimann, C. (2004). Assessing the state-of-the-art in conflict transformation: Reflecting from a theoretical perspective. In A. Austin, M. Fischer & N. Redpers, eds. Transforming ethno-political conflict: The Berghof handbook. Berlin: VS Verlag fur Sozialwissenschaften.

Rubenstein, R. E. (1999). Introduction: Conflict Resolution and Social Justice. Peace and Conflict Studies, 6(1), 1-7.

Steinberg, P. E., & Clark, G. E. (1999). Troubled water? Acquiescence, conflict, and the politics of place in watershed management. Political Geography, 18(4), 477-508.

Tangtham, N. (1996). Watershed Classification: The Macro Land-use Planning for the Sustainable Development of Water Resources. Paper presented at the International Seminar Workshop on “Advances in Water Resources Management and Wastewater Treatment Technologies”, 22-25 July 1996, Suranee University of Technology, Thailand.

Tungittiplakorn, W. (1995). Highland-Lowland conflict over natural resources: A case of Mae Soi, Chiang Mai, Thailand. Society & natural resources, 8(4), 279-288.

Uhlig, H. (1980). Problems of land use and recent settlement in Thailand’s highland-lowland transition zone. In Conservation and development in Northern Thailand, ed. J. D. Ives, S. Sabhasri, and P. Vorurai, 33-42. Tokyo: United Nations University Press.

Vandergeest, P., & Peluso, N. L. (1995). Territorialization and state power in Thailand. Theory and society, 24(3), 385-426.

Vayrynen, R. (1991) To Settle or to Transform? Perspectives on the Resolution of National and International Conflict, in R. Vayrynen, ed., New Directions in Conflict Theory. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Wall, J.A., Stark, J.B., & Standifer, R.L. (2001). Mediation a current review and theory development. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 45(3), 370-391.

Wittayapak, C., & Dearden, P. (1999). Decision-making arrangements in community-based watershed management in northern Thailand. Society & Natural Resources, 12(7), 673-691.

Yamaguchi, K. (2006). Scarcity and conflict of resources: Chom Thong water conflict. Bali, Indonesia: International Association for the Study of the Common Property.

Yasmi, Y., Guernier, J. and Colfer, C.J.P., (2009). Positive and negative aspects of forestry conflict: lessons from a decentralized forest management in Indonesia. International Forestry Review, 11(1), pp.98-110.

Yasmi, Y., Kelley, L., & Enters, T. (2010). Conflict over forests and land in Asia: Impacts, causes, and management. Bangkok, Thailand: RECOFTC.

Yasmi, Y., Kelley, L.C., & Enters, T. (2013). Community-outsider conflicts over forests: Perspectives from Southeast Asia. Forest Policy and Economics, 33(21-27).

Zachrisson, A., & Lindahl, K. B. (2013). Conflict resolution through collaboration: Preconditions and limitations in forest and nature conservation controversies. Forest policy and economics, 33, 39-46.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.