Sharing the Karen way of life, sufficiently
Phanon Khorsook, 24, faced disappointment and confusion from his parents and community when he decided to return to the mountainous village in Uthai Thani where he was born after earning a bachelor’s degree…
They felt he could find a job with better pay in Bangkok or in the industrial provinces. But Mr Phanon insisted on returning home to run his small eco-tourism business on his father’s land at Kaen Makrut in Uthai Thani province, in the lower northern region of Thailand. “I like being back home to take care of my ageing parents and running Oui Kue Farm [oui kue means ‘yummy’],” he says. “We were quite fortunate the business was somewhat successful last year.”
Mr Phanon began with constructing 10 small bamboo houses and tents on 23 rai of his father’s maize farmland. He also built tourism routes on his farm and adjacent communities for visitors to be able to experience the Karen way of life and Karen food, while allowing visitors to collect vegetables and mushrooms to cook for their own meals. Single visitors are required to pay 600 baht per night, two persons pay 800 baht per night and groups of 3-4 are charged 1,000 baht per night.
The business opened in 2016 and Mr Phanon’s tents were fully booked between October and January during the cold season. He earned more than 100,000 baht along with additional income from selling coffee grown by his father at the small coffee shop on the farmland. This year, many visitors have tried to make advanced reservations for his tents, but he says the reservations should start from Oct 20 onwards.
“I am happy to be able to show my father and my community that small tourism businesses are commercially viable. I’ve done everything by myself. This year I intend to set up better management for community tourism,” he says. Mr Phanon also created a Facebook page for tourism attractions at Kaen Makrut to promote community tourism in the province, which draws 170,000 visitors per year.
“Many people and visitors have asked me to expand the tent service, but I think 10 tents are appropriate for the size of my farm and I can take care of them. Too many tents makes it relatively crowded and I think it is not sufficient, which is what my father reminds me to make sure of,” he says.
Kaen Makrut is one of 13 tambons in the Ban Rai district of Uthai Thani province. The inhabitants of this mountainous area are mostly Pwo Karen, and the village is home to the Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, a Unesco world heritage site. The tambon is about 600-800 metres above sea level and the average annual temperature is 24C, with the cold season dropping to 5-8C, making it an ideal climate to grow temperate fruits and vegetables. There are 704 families in the tambon, which covers 21,600 rai.
Mr Phanon’s father grew only maize and tapioca, and more recently strawberries. Phadet Nuipree, president of the Uthai Thaini provincial administration organisation, and the Pid Thong Lang Phra Foundation initiated a project in 2013 to train villagers about the late King’s sufficiency economy philosophy and encourage villagers to grow strawberries and other crops in order to reduce deforestation.
The Pid Thong Lang Phra project specialises in rural development using the late King’s philosophy to deal with deforestation, flooding and poverty, and sends officials to urge farmers to grow strawberries and temperate fruits in lieu of single-crop farms. The project has developed reservoirs for the community that could supply water for over 1,000 rai. It also conducts strawberry farm demonstrations. Some 513 village families have already joined the Pid Thong Lang Phra project, with many shifting to grow short-lived alternative crops such as strawberry and avocado.
In 2014, only 36 families grew strawberries, and the number grew to 65 families in 2015. The high income of about 100,000 baht per rai from strawberry sales is drawing more villagers to grow strawberries.
Mr Phanon says his father has followed the principles laid out in the late King’s philosophy and it has helped his family earn more revenue and create a better life. His farm grows not only maize, but also strawberries, vegetables, and fruits such as banana, avocado and pomelo. It aims to become an organic farm over the next five years.
According to Mr Phadet, 8,960 rai of local preserved forest areas have been encroached upon and converted into farming area over the last 23 years. After several years of following the Pid Thong Lang Phra scheme, Kaen Makrut’s inhabitants are earning higher incomes and living better lives, all with lower forest encroachment. “Some villagers still grow maize but the deforestation has stopped and we expect the villagers have a better understanding of the sufficiency economy so they will have a better life,” he says.
Mr Phadet says the provincial administration has been promoting tourism in Kaen Makrut since last year and aims to promote and develop the tambon as a new tourist attraction, following the success of Doi Tung. The goal is to generate income for the community, reduce locals’ debts and cut deforestation.
“The number of visitors to Kaen Makrut amounted to 70,000-80,000 during the fourday long New Year holiday last year, and this year we expect the number of visitors will grow, which will hopefully alleviate local poverty and deforestation in the longer term,” he says.
Oui Kue Farm has 10 small bamboo houses and tents on 23 rai of farmland.
Source: Bangkok Post 23 October 2017