Tara’s life began in Aranyaprathet, Sakaeo Province – popularly known as “Aran” (meaning “wilderness” or “forest” in Hindi) – on the eastern Thai border, next to Poipet, Ou Chrov district of Banteay Meanchey Province, Cambodia. “Aranyaprathet” is located along the so-called “Thai Corridor,” which is a region between the Chaopraya and Tonle Sap river basins that has been identified as a strategic sensitivity in terms of geopolitical conflict between Thailand and Cambodia at all times. Aranprayathet is also a major trade route between the two Kingdoms and one of the busiest border crossings. The border is now a popular tourist route connecting Bangkok and Siem Reap, the town nearest to Angkor Wat.
Border towns like “Aranyaprathet” have undergone a dramatic transformation as a result of the Cambodian civil war (1970-1975) and its aftermath. A human tragedy, Tara thinks. Several major movements of refugees from Cambodia (in 1975 when the Khmer Rouge took power, 1979 when starvation and the advancing Vietnamese army, 1984/85 Vietnamese offensive along the Thai border, Hun Sen’s 1997 coup, and 1998 by Khmer Rouge remnants) were a major factor in the development of Cambodian politics. Refugees who lived in appalling conditions in some of the border camps witnessed Tara’s “suffering (Dukkha)”. It piqued his interest and inspired him to take action to improve the world, or at least the world he lived in.
While in college, Tara volunteered for various activist groups, including one of Thailand’s most well-known student movements, the Committee for Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation from 16 University Campuses. One notable victory was the campaign to stop the Nam Chon Dam from being built in the Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary. Thung Yai Naresuan, together with Huai Kha Kaeng Wildlife Santuary, is the largest protected area on mainland Southeast Asia, covering 622,200 ha.
Tara was inspired by the work of volunteers from the Adaptive Technology Group (later renamed Energy Ashram: Appropriate Technology Association), who promote rural development by combining “local wisdom” and “scientific knowledge.” This included the creation of low-cost/locally produced ground water pumping equipment for drought-stricken areas.
Tara moved to Rayong province’s fishing community to learn more about “right livelihood” after graduating from King Mongkut Institute of Technology in Latkrabang in 1998. Tara discovered on Thailand’s eastern seacoast that “Industrial Development” was preparing to irreversibly impact the entire beautiful and pristine eastern seacoast. The oil and gas and petrochemical giants’ “development at any cost” has made Rayong province’s seacoast “pollution heaven.”
Tara was able to participate in Asian Cultural Forum on Development (ACFOD) funded participatory field research on the impact of mass tourism, aquaculture, and industrial development on small-scale fisherfloks and coastal ecosystems, as well as gain expertise in building and organising the movement on the ground.
The last remaining small fishing village of Leam Chabang, Chonburi (now a major deep seaport), Tara documented the stories of people fighting to protect their ancestor land from deep sea port expansion and industrial eviction. Thanks to the generosity of Japanese friends, the book was published in Japanese in 1994 by Iwanami Shoten Publishing.
Tara moved away from the eastern seacoast in 1992 to work for the Village Foundation’s Rural Development Institute as a media officer. He began extensively “traveling the world” to document and publish stories about “local wisdom” in relation to sustainable natural resource exploitation, community rights, community-based businesses, saving groups, cultural diversity, and self-reliance in the local economy.
Tara then turned up in Chiang Rai in the summer of 1993 to work for the Hill Area and Community Development Foundation. His role was to help rally resources for the development of a highland sustainable agriculture model and ethnic community land-use patterns. In collaboration with a professor from Chiang Mai University’s Department of Geography, Tara also learned how to use geographical knowledge and mapping as key tools to debunk the myth of “slash and burn” farming practices on the highland.
Tara lived in Chiang Mai province for several years, where he earned a Master of Science in Geography (1994-1997) from Chiang Mai University. His dissertation, “Spatial Mobility and Health Risks among Factory Workers in the Northern Region Industrial Estate, Thailand” was the result of extensive research on female electronics workers and their struggle for occupational health and human rights. Tara wrote a book titled “Lamphun under Industrailization’s Shadow : The Story of Social Change and Environment Health Impact after Two Decade of the Northern Region Industrial Estate” that was published in Bangkok by the Committee of Toxics Chemicals (1997), which is now known as Ecological Alert and Recovery-Thailand (EARTH).
Tara worked for the Wildlife Fund of Thailand (WFT) under the Royal Patronage of H.M. the Queen between 1997 and 1998. Tara worked with the Policy and Advocacy Unit to mobilise local communities to defend their rights as a result of ill-advised large-scale development, specifically the hydropower project. Tara conducted research on “the Environmental Changes of the Mae Yom River’s Floodplain” to address the role of wetland in mitigating flooding and prolonged drought rather than building a large dam upstream. This also included a study on “Conflict Resolution and People Participation in Large Dam Construction Scheme,” which was funded by Thailand Research Fund and was to be proposed to the Ad-Hoc Committee under a Council of Ministers Resolution (1997).
Another piece of work done with colleagues at the Wildlife Fund of Thailand was “the Critical Analysis On The Ecological And Social Impact of Yadana Gas Pipeline Project (ผลกระทบทางนิเวศวิทยาและสังคม โครงการท่อส่งก๊าซธรรมชาติจากแหล่งยาดานา สหภาพพม่า),” as part of the involvement in the non-violent conflict resolution of controversial issues surrounding the project.
Tara collaborated with colleagues at the Wildlife Fund of Thailand to mobilise communities in Chiang Khong district, Chiang Rai province, to investigate and implement a conservation plan for the “Mekong Giant Catfish.” Tara actively participated in the development of the Action Plan for Biodiversity Conservation for Kantuli Swamp Forest, Surat Thani Province, which is now one of the country’s National Ramsar Sites. For further implementation, an action plan has been submitted to the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning.
Tara Buakamsri is a founding member of Greenpeace Southeast Asia and has been a campaigner for the organisation since December 1998. Tara took on a new role in 2011 as Greenpeace Southeast Asia’s Campaign Director, and in August 2014 as Greenpeace Thailand’s Country Director.