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The danger of drought: How Thailand’s farmers are coping with an unending dry season

December 20, 2019

The rains aren’t coming when they should

Weeks go by and Thailand moves further into what is supposed to be its rainy season. Except it hasn’t rained. The people still wait. Especially the farmers, for whom the arrival of rain is needed to feed their families and to bring in an income.

This drought isn’t the first Thailand has had to deal with recently. Shortages in rainfall earlier in the year already triggered a number of crises. The country’s water reserve fell by 24%. Rivers and lakes dried up that were supposed to nourish the country’s rice fields. Estimates for how much rice would be grown this season dropped significantly.

“This is supposed to be the wet season,” says Kattaya, a farmer in the north. “I’ve never seen such a drought in 50 years.”

As the rains remain delayed and farmers struggle to make a living, Thailand’s forests and watersheds have also taken a hit. Grasslands that were typically lush have gone brown and dry. The rivers that nourish them have shrunk. Fires become more likely. Earlier last year, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai set records for astonishingly poor air quality.

Plant With Purpose is working with community members like Aa Boh to protect their land and to secure the health of their forests. He admits it isn’t easy.

"Farming is hard work. It’s hard growing rice and corn. For corn, we sometimes have to use herbicides when it gets too hard. The forest is important because having a forest means you have a good environment, you have a cool weather."

Aa Boh and his son struggle through a drought.

Aa Boh and his son struggle through a drought.

Drought jeopardizes the security of some of Thailand’s most vulnerable communities 

We know that climate change will have a harsh impact on everybody, but it will be especially devastating for the world’s poorest communities.

In Northern Thailand, you will find some of the most vulnerable communities in Southeast Asia.

The individuals who partner with Plant With Purpose are almost entirely ethnic minorities. Many of them are refugees who have escaped persecution in neighboring countries. When it comes to a nationwide problem like the drought, they are often overlooked by governing bodies and large international agencies.

“These families do not have their own land or knowledge for farm management,” explains Na Lo Kah. She is married to Aa Boh and also participated in Plant With Purpose’s programs. “In this village, land management is different because it belongs to the village chief. They can use the land but cannot own it because it belongs to the chief. They want to have their own land, they want to have their own trees. Also, they don’t know how to do this yet.”

Plant With Purpose works with these communities to help them secure land rights and to help them gain the knowledge they need in land management.

As the drought continues, community members are actively building firebreaks. The shortage of rainfall and water reserves can increase the likelihood of wildfires, and that would be devastating. Many continue to plant trees, which has a helpful effect on the polluted air.

Farmers in Northern Thailand are working hard to cope with environmental challenges.

Farmers in Northern Thailand are working hard to cope with environmental challenges.

Farmers in Thailand are hopeful, but not naive, when it comes to the future

The farmers we know in Thailand are a resilient group. Many have seen and endured plenty of hardships and atrocities in the past, and they have so much to teach us about overcoming challenges during the difficult time of this drought.

Among the biggest lessons they have taught us is the importance and value of everybody working together to protect a shared home.

In preparation, Plant With Purpose is equipping the area’s farmers with forest management plans and knowledge. “Forest management brings good air, good environment, good climate, and it’s not against the law. We don’t want to do things against the law. We want to do things for the next generation,” explains Ja Hee.

“I don’t know much about the scripture, but I know that taking care of the environment and natural processes is taking care of God’s Creation. If you don’t take care of your land and manage it well, that gets you in trouble with other people, including government people. You won’t live in peace.”

The prolongment of the drought is only one concern. When it ends, communities are also concerned that the destabilized soil will not be swept away by a sudden inundation of delayed rains. This will result in flooding, landslides, and damage to farms.

We believe that strategic partnership is key to coping with the drought as well as broader environmental concerns of the moment. The affected populations are not helpless bystanders. Their empowerment is key to Thailand’s environmental security. This especially includes indigenous populations, ethnic minorities, and refugees.

Seeing our allies as partners, not projects, is key to responding effectively to Thailand’s drought crisis.

To help empower these populations, your gift of $22 will allow them to receive training, knowledge, and opportunities in tree planting, forest management, and community solidarity. Make a donation by following this link.

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