Thailand – Diversifying livelihoodsto enhance resilience to climate change in Ma La Oob village in northern Thailand
Wijit (age 38) and Nittaya (age 31) Phanakriengkrai are a young couple living in Ma La Oob village in Kallayaniwattana District in Chiang Mai Province in northern Thailand. They have two children, a 12-year old son and an eight year-old daughter. Like the rest of the village’s population of 385, they are from the Karen ethnic community. Unlike many of the older residents of the village, both completed high school. Nittaya also earned a two-year certificate, which has allowed her to get a job as a bookkeeper for a local Christian NGO.
To improve their own standard of living and save for their children’s education, Wijit and Nittaya are working to diversify their sources of livelihood and make them more resilient to increasingly unpredictable rainfall patterns. Like virtually the entire population of Ma La Oob village, their primary source of income is agriculture. To complement the two rais (0.79 acres or 0.32 hectares) of paddy rice, they also raise chickens and pigs. Swine fattening is a profitable activity for the family, allowing them to generate a net profit of 6,000 Thai Baht ($187) from four piglets every three months. Their main sources of non-agricultural income are Nittaya’s salary as a part-time bookkeeper and her embroidery work on the hand-loomed textiles for which Karen women are well-known.
To build a new, long-term source of income and savings for the family, Wijit and Nittaya began to develop an upland plot (three rais) to which their family has the land rights as an agro-forestry plot. On this land, they have already planted some 200 banana plants and 40 mango trees, in addition to other species, including jackfruit, lime, and pomelo. They now plan to plant avocado trees, which they have identified as a profitable venture based on the experience of another nearby farmer. Of their existing plantation, they are able to generate a regular monthly income of nearly 700 Thai Baht ($22) from bananas, while other tree crops, like mango, can generate a larger income but only once a year (as much as 40,000 Thai Baht or $1,250).
One of the main problems that the Phanakriengkrais have encountered as they have tried to develop their agro-forestry plot over the past ten years is a shortage of water in the dry season, resulting in a low survival rate for the tree seedlings they plant. Untimely rains this year also resulted in significantly reduced rice harvests this year for virtually all farmers in Ma La Oob village. For this reason, they have very actively involved themselves in the Project Management Committee established by the field officer of Raks Thai (CARE) in the village to identify and construct an improved water management system under the Where the Rain Falls project. In the case of Ma La Oob, community members have identified a series of small water resource management projects, including check dams on local streams, ponds (for irrigation and aquaculture), and water tanks, which will allow 20 village households to cultivate kitchen gardens and agro-forestry plots during the dry months (esp. March – May) after the main rice harvest at the end of each year. In addition to contributing to increased agricultural production and income during the dry season, the project will also bring health benefits to the community through improving drinking water supply to both local households and the village health clinic and increasing production of nutritious foods in kitchen gardens. The construction of check dams will also reduce stream flows and resulting erosion during the rainy season. Flash floods in the area during rainy seasons have become an increasingly frequent phenomenon, with the local watershed management committee reporting significant floods and landslides in 1999, 2002 and 2011.
Making better year-round use of the available annual rainfall, most of which falls during the months from June to October, is a key climate change adaptation strategy for poor communities in northern Thailand such as Ma La Oob, where livelihoods remain highly dependent on rain-fed agriculture. Generating evidence of the economic, nutritional, and ecosystem services benefits of interventions to improve the management of scarce water resources will be an important outcome of the work of Raks Thai under the Where the Rain Falls community-based adaptation project in northern Thailand.
By Kevin Henry