Thailand’s total land area is approximately 513,115 km² [1]. Land is a source of well-being for present and future generations – it provides a wide range of ecosystem services that sustain human needs [2]. Yet, Thailand has been experiencing land degradation, mainly due to improper land utilization, inappropriate land management, and deforestation, that in turn lead to soil erosion. Between 2002 and 2013, about 4.8% of forest land was converted to other land use types. Additionally, from 2000 to 2010, land productivity decline was experienced in 21% of the total land area in Thailand, with 0.03% loss of Soil Organic Carbon (SOC) [3]. This land degradation can severely influence livelihoods by limiting the availability of vital ecosystem services (including food and water), increasing the risk of poverty, and ultimately forcing people to migrate [2].

Agricultural land in Thailand accounts for nearly half of the country’s total land area [1]. In 2010, 27% of Thailand's rural population was living on degrading agricultural land, which amounted to approximately 10.2 million people [2]. Today, soil degradation remains a major problem for Thai farmers [4], affecting agricultural productivity and thus human well-being [3]. Thailand suffers from various types of soil degradation such as acidic soil, highly saline soil, sandy soil, peat soil, and shallow soil. As of 2019, these problems had been encountered on over 60.01 million rai (96,048 km²) of land, an increase from 55.92 million rai (89,472 km²) in 2005. Shallow soil remains the most prevalent issue, making up over 30% of degraded soils [4].

Land degradation leads to a reduction in the provision of important ecosystem services, with significant social and economic costs to the country. In Thailand, the total annual cost of land degradation is estimated at 2.7 billion United States Dollars (USD) — equal to about 1% of the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2018. A considerable share of the cost of land degradation (40%) is due to the decline in provisioning ecosystem services (e.g., food availability, wood production, etc.), which has a significant impact on the population of the country. The remaining share refers to regulating ecosystem services (e.g., carbon sequestration, water regulation flows), which has an impact not only at the country level, but also on the regional and global scale due to the transboundary nature of these services that provide incentives for international cooperation. Further, the returns on taking action against land degradation are estimated at 3 USD for every dollar invested in restoring degraded land in Thailand, underlining the strong economic incentive for bold actions against land degradation [2].


Major causes of land degradation in Thailand include (a) climatic factors such as heavy rains during the monsoon period that dissolves and translocates soil minerals, as well as seasonal droughts; and (b) human activities including land use change without soil improvement, over-exploitation of land, and land use on steep-slope lands causing soil erosion and expansion of saline soils [5].


Key policies and governance approach

Thailand acceded to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in June 2001, accepting to be a part of the global agreement to combat land degradation. The country’s Land Development Department (LDD) is the National Focal Agency responsible for fulfilling the country’s obligations under Sections 9 and 10 of the Convention by preparing and implementing the National Action Programme (NAP) [5], [6]. In 2004, the LDD launched the National Action Programme for Combating Desertification of 2004-2008, which consisted of two groups of strategic issues [5]. The first strategic issue prescribed development of basic infrastructure of soil and water resources for crop production, aiming to promote suitable land uses as well as improve soil fertility and water resources. The second strategic issue aimed to promote access to land development services for farmers. This strategic issue consisted of 2 strategies for the enhancement of opportunity for farmers and communities to thoroughly access public services [6].

More recently, Thailand has committed to achieve Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) by 2030. Specific targets to be achieved by 2030 at the national level include: (1) Increase the proportion of national forest cover through reforestation and rehabilitation of degraded forest, including headwater and mangrove forests by participation of local communities; (2) Restore and rehabilitate degraded land to be productive land, with emphasis on sustainable agriculture; and (3) Reduce soil carbon loss and increase soil carbon sequestration by soil and water conservation and promote awareness raising and community participation in land management. These targets are to be achieved though implementation of several measures involving several institutions in Thailand [3].

Successes and remaining challenges

Serious efforts are still needed to address land degradation in Thailand, including through effective land management, sustainable recovery of soil, soil and water conservation, and cooperation on land resource conservation between the public sector, the private sector, and farmers [4]. Nevertheless, Thailand’s LDN targets provide a strong vehicle for fostering coherence of policies and actions by aligning the national LDN targets with measures from the Nationally Determined Contributions and other national commitments. Investing in LDN will also accelerate the advancement of other SDGs due to the close linkages between land and other goals and targets, such as: Goal 1 (No poverty), Goal 2 (Zero hunger), Goal 5 (Promote gender equality), Goal 6 (Clean water and sanitation), Goal 8 (Decent work and economic growth), and Goal 13 (Climate action) [2].

  • The returns on taking action against land degradation are estimated at 3 USD for every dollar invested in restoring degraded land in Thailand. Such assessments of the cost of action against land degradation through restoration and sustainable land management practices versus the cost of inaction highlight the strong economic incentive for bold actions against land degradation in the country [2].
  • Land-based mitigation options also rank among the most cost-effective opportunities to sequester carbon emissions. Economic evaluations of various climate change mitigation alternatives show that capturing carbon through restoring degraded lands (including degraded forest) is a cost-effective option that offers multiple co-benefits [2].
  • Serious efforts are still needed to address land degradation in Thailand, especially through effective management of land, sustainable recovery of soil, soil and water conservation systems, and cooperation on land resource conservation between the public sector, private sector, and farmers [4].
  • To achieve Land Degradation Neutrality, Thailand should aim to mobilize all stakeholders, including the public sector, private sector and civil society, at national and local levels, to implement identified measures [3].
  • The Government needs to develop maps illustrating areas with land degradation, as well as to identify drought-prone areas. The Government should also conduct research on drought-affected land to reduce such areas or prevent it from spreading [4].
  • A monitoring system for land degradation should be adopted and effective indicators should be developed to improve the accuracy of monitoring at different levels in national, watershed and affected areas [3].
  • Sustainable Development Goal 15 ‘Life on land’ and target 15.3 on Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) offer a unique opportunity for countries to curb the growing threats of land degradation and to reap multiple socioeconomic benefits of LDN [2]. Awareness-raising is needed for comprehensive implementation of SDG15, especially promoting the community’s role in the conservation, recovery, and management of natural resources. This includes providing appropriate compensation for those affected by natural resource conservation and generating income from growing forests and the preservation of biodiversity [4].
  • Thailand must increase fund-raising in the private sector for activities regarding the conservation and promotion of biodiversity and sustainable ecosystems as a way to bolster the implementation of SDG15 [4].