Mae Salaep : Management of Land Degradation Risk in a Highland Catchment of Upper Northern Thailand

Cycle 1: What crop and cultivation practices could reduce the risk of soil erosion? Cycle 2: What rules for the allocation of rural credit could lead to a more equitable access to perennial commercial crops? Cycle 3: How to manage water for a more equitable access to irrigation?

Start date of project



Mae Salaep village, Chiang Rai province


In the sloping highlands of upper Northern Thailand , conflicts over the management or renewable resources are becoming more frequent. The ethnic minorities populating these highlands are blamed by the dominating Thai lowlanders for increasing the risk of soil erosion by concentrated run-off due to their farming practices. The highlanders are facing the threat of seeing their farm land being seized by the authorities for reforestation, forcing them to migrate. The recent decentralization policy allowing an increase in the participation of citizens in the management of local resources represent an important opportunity for these communities. But problems are complex and stakeholders involved in the use of renewable resources are diverse. In this context, in 2002, a ComMod process was initiated with the Akha community of Mae Salep village.

In this experiment, the learning process focusing on a given problem in a ComMod cycle raised new problems and questions that were examined in the following cycles. For this purpose, each time the role-playing game and associated computerised multi-agent model were adapted. The first cycle aimed at understanding the interactions between crop diversification and the risk of soil erosion. At the end of this loop, the villagers identified perennial crops as a promising way to mitigate the problem, from both an ecological (lower risk of land degradation) and economic (higher cash incomes) perspectives. They also underlined that poor villagers could not invest in such crops because of their lack of access to credit and requested to address this issue in a second ComMod cycle. Moreover, since these perennial crops are irrigated, their expansion in the village catchment created social tensions over access to water. On the villagers' request, this question was addressed in a third cycle.

The main phases of a ComMod cycle were as follows :

  1. Analysis of secondary data & field interviews to fill knowledge gaps on the key problem/question to be examined;
  2.  Construction or modification of the role-playing game and computerised multi-agent model based on the same conceptual model;
  3.  Participatory field workshop combining gaming sessions and plenary discussions to validate the model and facilitate exchanges about the problem among participants, followed by individual interviews to better understand the participants behaviours and opinions, then computer simulations for the collective exploration of scenarios selected by the players;
  4.  Monitoring of the effects of the ComMod process on the participants in term of learning, communication, change in behaviour, decision-making and practices.

This ComMod process increased the villagers' awareness of the necessity to solve collectively the different problems examined during this process. A better understanding of the others participants' perspectives on these problems was also achieved as well as the collective identification of socially acceptable solutions.


Center for Agricultural Resource System Research (CARSR), Faculté d'agriculture, Université de Chiang Maï, Nord de la Thaïlande


G. Trébuil, F. Bousquet
(Cirad Green & CU-CIRAD ComMod project)
C. Barnaud
(Paris X Nanterre & Cirad Green)
B. Ekasinh, P. et T. Promburom
(Université de Chiang Mai)

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