A meeting with the Governor of Chiang Mai
Yesterday a delegation representing Gum Hak Doi Suthep (Ricky Ward), Dokmai Garden (Eric Danell), Chiang Mai University (Dr Prasak Thavornyutikarn, Environmental Science Program) and Big Tree in Town (Orarick Sriwong) met with His Excellency M.L. Panadda Diskul – Governor of Chiang Mai, and his colleagues Khun Jantima Dateputhat (The Chiang Mai Strategic Planning Office) and Khun Prasit Sukoanaphraphat (Head of the Natural Resources and Environment Office, Chiang Mai).
The aim of the 90 minutes long meeting was to discuss how the Chiang Mai government can improve the awareness of northern Thai biodiversity. In this context we discussed the importance of expanding the green segment of tourism, and the importance of marketing the national parks with educated guides and bookstores. If local people can make money on showing and even explaining the true Thai nature they would care for biodiversity and the forests.
Such a promotion should start already within the city of Chiang Mai, making it clear to the visitor he visits a city different from all other cities in the world. Planting more native tree and bamboo species on governmental land is important also because Thai people are losing knowledge about what is natural. Frequently South American visitors to Dokmai Garden have remarked that Chiang Mai ‘looks like home’, so I make sure they leave our garden with impressions from truly Thai plants and animals.
Another suggestion was that when the government invests in orchid ornaments of their governmental parklands and office buildings, they may wish to consider using native Thai species from legal growers rather than exotics or man-made hybrids.
We also proposed that the Governor could encourage arborist education and city employment of certified arborists, to avoid improper treatment of city trees leading to their slow death, causing destruction of houses and cars and loss of lives. The Governor remarked this fits well with the ASEAN proposal to make Chiang Mai an educational hub.
Prior to the meeting Ricky Ward gave the Governor the following documents:
1. A letter asking the Governor to write to all government administrative units on the care of trees on government property, with a suggested wording which included an announcement that an advisory committee of officers and the public be formed and a reference to:
2. The Chiang Mai urban forests Declaration which calls for planting of many local species of trees along roads and elsewhere to restore some of the lost biodiversity of the plains.
Mr Orarick Sriwong presented the Big Tree in Town Project which is mobilizing thousands of Chiang Mai people to plant trees on their own land and aims to see 15,000 trees planted over
three years. He also showed slides with text in Thai showing examples of damage, death & destruction of trees on government managed land, ranging from office precincts and roadsides
to recreation reserves. This slide show will be made available for viewing in the government sector to explain the issues.
The Governor gracefully promised to discuss these issues within his own Strategic Planning Office and to set up a committee of advisors. He also suggested that he could forward the proposals to the Minister of Interior Affairs so other parts of Thailand feel inspired too.
He further explained that previously it was easier for the Governor to implement directives from Bangkok, but with the new political system with more levels of authority, implementation is harder.
To my understanding, local district governments are basically good if the population is well educated. Unfortunately, there are many cases of local corruption in Thailand, where subdistrict heads use national Treasury money (‘Bangkok money’) for their own private consumption rather than developing libraries, infrastructure and garbage pick-up. Such subdistrict heads are elected based on how much cash they pay uneducated peasants for their votes. Until the population has reached an educational level to appreciate and promote true democracy, the Governor’s office is an essential cornerstone for a positive development initiated by the intellectual elite in Bangkok. The challenge for the well educated Thai minority is huge, also because corruption can be found at high levels.
Personally I felt excited about meeting so many intelligent, well educated and visionary Thais. We also mentioned the great efforts made by the new generation of young Thai scientists at the Queen Sirikit Botanic garden. All these people carry on the visions of fallen heroes like Dr Boonsong Lekagul and Seub Nakhasatien with honour. Feeling you are not alone but that good and even powerful forces share your ideas is important to get the strength to carry on with your daily struggle.
Being the father of two young Thai citizens it is my duty to contribute to the preservation of Thai biodiversity, an amazing, important and valuable monument.
Dr Prasak Thavornyutikarn, Dr Eric Danell, His Excellency Governor Panadda Diskul, Khun Eric Ward, Khun Prasit Sukoanaphraphat, Khun Orarick Sriwong.
A declaration by the Governor (in Thai) was video recorded by Khun Orarick Sriwong: http://youtu.be/n82DVdSJ4aQ
Text: Eric Danell
Photo: Khun Jantima Dateputhat