On Monday 15th June, news came from an ecstatic member of the Gum Hak Doi Suthep planting team, that Chiang Mai’s new governor Suriya Prasatbuntitya had given a TV address to announce the government was embarking on a program to plant 800 million trees to reforest Chiang Mai. The announcement, she said, included an invitation to residents to visit government nurseries to request trees for planting and for information to visit the Environment Department office.
The figure of 800 million trees, might make sense in a country with the population and area the size of China, but not at all in one province of Thailand, so I thought I would try to find out the truth of the matter. Common planting practice here is to plant 400 trees per rai, an area 40 x 40 metres, so where could 2 million rai of land be found?
Firstly I visited the provincial office of the Royal Forest Department (RFD) in Charoen Pratet Rd. The RFD operates a wide network of tree nurseries, however there the staff new nothing about the governor’s announcement, but I was told they had organised planting, together with local villagers, in reserved forest of the Mae Wang district in the vicinity of Doi Ithanon for 24th June. For more information I was advised to visit the office of the Natural Resources and Environment Department across the road on the banks of the Ping River. Here again I drew a blank but was given the phone number of an absent officer who may be able to assist. Later by phone he suggested I visit the Sala Klang government office park in Mae Rim.
Three days later at the Sala Klang I headed straight for the governor’s office. As he had made the announcement his staff should be able to set things straight. Yes the 800 million figure was correct. However it is for planting for the whole of Thailand and planned t0 take place over the five year period 2014-16 a.d. beginning from the 80th birthday of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit.
For details I was advised to consult firstly the Mae Hong Son government website, but then when I protested that were in Chinag Mai the Chiang Mai PAO site details were provided. However there was no news to be seen of a recent announcement from the governor. So I did a search of the site typing in “800” and lo and behold details of the project launch appeared complete with photos of Prime Minister Yingluck and her Peur Thai aides hard at work.
So it appears that Yinguck has not been banished after all, if we are to believe local sources, rather than the heavily censored press. But local sources are not restricted governor’s announcements nor to official websites. Visits to government tree nurseries where hundreds of thousands of trees propagated two years ago remain unplanted, and where no new trees for this enormous program are in the pipe line tell another story.
Will the junta be told this truth and if so how will they respond?