Researchers and policy makers are increasingly looking at the drivers of forest recovery (or forest transition) for inspiration in their search for win-win solutions to deforestation. However, causal generalizations regarding forest transitions are subject to significant problems. First, forest transition theory (FTT), at least in its simplest renditions, tends to emphasize socially benign processes and fails to pay sufficient attention to the causal role—and social impacts—of negative (push) dynamics. Second, we have yet to understand when and why forest transition drivers sometimes lead to outcomes other than forest transition (e.g., further deforestation). Of particular relevance is the paucity of work analyzing the capacity of actors to counter drivers of forest transitions through adaptation and resistance strategies. These problems can lead to overly optimistic views of the causes and consequences of forest transitions, and this hinders the search for contextually sensitive policy prescriptions compatible with social justice and sustainable development. Using process tracing, this paper presents analysis of the causes of reduced deforestation in the 1980s, and forest expansion in the 1990s and early 2000s, in rain-fed maize farming areas of northern Phetchabun, Thailand. From the perspective of past and current land users, forest expansion mainly occurred following distress-driven land abandonment and land confiscation rather than private afforestation. Increasing economic opportunities induced wealthier farmers (with access to paddy fields) to shift their attention to irrigated cultivation, but this had more indirect and contradictory effects on non-wealthy farmers. Most forest expansion thus appeared to be the result of “push” causal dynamics, to which some farmers were unable to respond or adapt. Adaptation and resistance strategies are discussed, including pluriactivity and political activism.
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Land Use Policy is an international and interdisciplinary journal concerned with the social, economic, political, legal, physical and planning aspects of urban and rural land use. It provides a forum for the exchange of ideas and information from the diverse range of disciplines and interest groups which must be combined to formulate effective land use policies.
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