The peasant farming system of the Chiangmai valley was established more than 700 years ago with the majority of agricultural communities located across the intermontane basins of the Upper Ping River. These lowland settlements of Chiangmai Valley and their subsistence livelihoods had been built based on animism belief, sustainable natural resources management with population control, strategic geographic locations, and landscape planning strategies. Muang Fai networks, the traditional nature-based irrigation systems was an essential community component in the rice fields of the valley to control the crop productions, population growth in the communities, due to water limitations in the region. These networks have long been operated locally by social networks and multilevel coordination within the river networks with local knowledge and spirit cult.

Today, The agricultural communities of Chiangmai valley have experienced substantial socioeconomic and political changes in the past century as a part of nation-building. The communities that were based on subsistence-oriented production with limited resources have transformed into agroindustry with modern irrigation schemes, tourism industry, and rapid urbanization. The water resources are no longer sufficient for everyone. This has also drastically altered the river ecology and the livelihoods of the locals who have inhabited along the Ping River and its tributaries for many centuries.

PhD researcher: Jidapa Chayakul

Throughout human history, rivers have engaged in intricate interactions with the environment, human societies, and other forms of life, functioning as complex social-ecological systems. Rivers have been modified in response to evolving human needs, leading to the transformation of landscapes and water courses, often with significant consequences for marginalized entities, particularly local people and the natural environment.

Current research and practices within the field of landscape ecology, which primarily focus on the critical connection between landscape configurations and ecological processes, frequently overlook the impact of these power dynamics. In my research, I aim to uncover the power relations that influence water systems and water (-related) technologies in relation to changes in landscape changes. A more comprehensive understanding of the power dynamics at the core of shifts in water management and spatial development will shed light on the repercussions of these changes on local livelihoods and the environment within water-based communities situated in the swiftly urbanizing Ping River basin in Thailand.

The overarching objective of my research is to comprehend how various perspectives, knowledge systems, and discourses held by diverse stakeholders in Thailand’s traditional irrigation system communities, undergoing rapid urbanization, address or misrecognize matters related to social-ecological and water justice. My focus is on contributing to the development of a community-based landscape planning approach that may empower both affected humans and the environment.

The research will integrate insights from the concepts of hydrosocial territories (HST) and rooted water collectives (RWC), landscape ecology, along with principles from science and technology studies (STS) and counter-mapping scholarship. This approach will enhance our understanding of landscape and water management changes and will help construct a framework that addresses the conflicts and transformations observed in contested landscapes that impact local water communities.