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Community based monitoring

The wealth of local knowledge and experience in the management of wetlands resources has tremendous potential. In the Lower Songkhram River Basin as well as other parts of Thailand local people have taken on responsibilities for assessment and monitoring of their natural resource base in a research strategy called Thai Baan.

Thai Baan simply means villager. It is an approach to research that was developed by groups of Thai villagers who felt that their interests and knowledge had been ignored. The first Thai Baan research was started by villagers around Pak Mun with the support of South East Asia Rivers Network (SEARIN) and local NGOs. The Thai Baan network is now working in several parts of Thailand.

In Thai Baan research local people themselves undertake all the research activities as a basis for documenting their resources and livelihoods, and for making decisions among themselves about how to best manage their resources.

In the Songkhram River Basin, Thai Baan research has been ongoing since early 2003 with the support of IUCN, SEARIN, and local NGOs. Involving the villages of Baan Yang Ngoy, Baan Pak Yam, Baan Tha Bo and Baan Ouan, it is conducted under six different livelihood aspects:
fish species;
fishing gears;
cow and water buffalo; and
river bank gardens.

In general, the methodology to study each aspect involves field surveys, observation and the participation of volunteer research assistants. Villagers are chosen to participate in the research in regard to their knowledge and experience. To eliminate the probability of error, at least ten people are involved in each research recording.

Thai Baan research is an evolving process, yet it is producing positive outcomes both socially and environmentally.

By taking ownership of their research, the villagers in the Songkhram Basin have been able to build a local information base that is helping to raise awareness of natural resources in the area and enabling the villagers to better deal with management of their natural resources.

The involvement of a number of villages throughout the area has been instrumental in strengthening relationships between neighbouring villages. This increase in community capacity has empowered the community to better make decisions in regard to sustainable resource management and improving the health of their river. Thai Baan research is enabling local people to be better prepared and informed for consultation in regional decisions about the river and its development.

During the past year, Thai Baan research has also produced the following outcomes:
identification of 97 fish species;
identification of 84 different types of traditional fishing gear;
identification of 208 non-fish wetland products.

Thai Baan research is gaining strength in Thailand with many local villages participating in the research in various parts of the country. In order to make an impact in the region it is hoped that the continued success of the research methodology will be adopted and implemented in other Mekong countries.

This participatory approach to assessment and monitoring of natural resources has significant implications for an area such as the Mekong. The huge diversity and seasonal dynamism of the river basin is such that regular monitoring and assessment is important but poses serious challenges.