While people in the urban lowland feel very disconnected from the life in the uplands, there are many paths running up and down the hills which connect them.
Middlemen sell genetically modified corn seeds to the farmers and set up contracts with them for buying back their harvest. The seeds are sold to the farmers together with herbicides and fertilisers, which makes the baby corn look more yellow. The farmers are not allowed to keep harvest as seeds for the next year. If they replant the corn they will be sued by the company, because these seeds are patented. The middlemen sell the harvest again to other distributors or animal food factories. Both, the corn itself as well as the animal products find their way to consumers in the city. This path also runs the other way: the products of the meat and egg industry travel back to the markets on the hills, where they are consumed by the people. These cycles of agribusiness, retail and distribution are mostly controlled by the Charoen Pokphand Group (CP), a major Asian conglomerate based in Thailand. The company also operates the omnipresent 7-Eleven convenience stores in the country. Initiatives by NGOs and the government on promoting organic farming and composting methods usually remain without an effect as they are often not followed up by further support. Contract farming seems on the other hand more convenient, promising secure financial benefit and farmers don't have to find a market by themselves to sell their harvest.
With the consumer products that are brought to the highlands by small supermarkets, sale trucks and by tourists, the hill villages face an increasing waste problem. Some of the sellable and recyclable litter gets picked up by individual collectors, however most of the packages, foils and other trash is spread around the settlements where it harms the soil, landscape and water. Lower villages receive the waste from villages upstream, adding to their own pile.
The watershed forests have been a major social and political issue. The main rivers that feed the country originate in northern Thailand. Traditional farming practices such as slash-and-burn have been held responsible for the loss of forest, for soil erosion and therefore for a loss of water supply. Forests have been replanted by the government and turned into protected areas, not allowing farmers to use this land for cultivation anymore. At the same time, the authors of the book ‪ Forest Guardians, Forest Destroyers‬: ‪the Politics of Environmental Knowledge in Northern Thailand ‬ write "…this persistent focus on forest protection and water supply has diverted attention from the important issue of water demand. […] very little attention is given to the greatly increased quantities of water that new agricultural systems consume." [p 136]
It means that the increase of cash crop fields in the low land demands for more water, but the finger always points up the hills for indicating the cause of water shortage.
With the freshwater, also agrochemicals that leak from the growing amount of cash crop fields come down the streams, added by waste water from other agricultural areas and factories in the lowlands. The water goes to the cities and into the sea where fishermen get seafood and fish for the markets.