“As a group, we are now confident to apply for any small grants available which will boost our livelihoods in the near future,” said 56-year-old housewife, Nonphan Promsuk from Sai Khao Village, Pattani province, southern Thailand.
Nonphan, is the founder of Sai Khao Agricultural Housewives Community Enterprise, a small cooperative, which prepares, preserves and sells Garcinia – a local fruit. The community enterprise is one of eight selected community livelihood projects to recently receive a small grant through UNDP’s Southern Thailand Empowerment and Participation (STEP) Project. The small grants, which are financially supported by the Japan-UNDP Partnership Fund, aim to assist local communities to become more resilient amid the ongoing violent conflict in southern Thailand, through the improvement of their livelihoods.
Conflict affected provinces
In Thailand there are approximately 3.3 million Muslims who make up five per cent of the total population in the country. The majority of Muslims live in the southernmost provinces, where roughly 80 per cent of residents are Malay and Muslim.
From January 2004 to April 2014, conflict-related violence across the provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, and Songkhla in southern Thailand resulted in an estimated 14, 128 violent incidents, where 6,097 people were killed and 10,908 injured. Over the past decade, civilians have suffered the most causalities. Women and children are particularly vulnerable, and since 2004, more than 3,000 women have become widows. As a result, women are often finding themselves becoming the sole breadwinner of their families, despite having fewer skills.
The ongoing conflict has severely hampered development in these provinces. According to UNDP’s Human Achievement Index 2014, the province of Pattani is ranked 76th on the employment index out of the 76* provinces in Thailand.
Building social cohesion
The STEP Project which was developed in 2009, works in partnership with various government departments, academia, civil society, and local stakeholders to build social cohesion and reduce the risks to human security in conflict-affected provinces in southern Thailand.
The small grants programme aims to help alleviate the economic stress communities face whilst living amid the ongoing violent conflict, and help foster social cohesion among the multicultural communities through promoting the development of sustainable livelihoods.
Nonphan resides in the ancient district of Sai Khao. The district, rich in natural resources, is home to a large number of well-known seasonal fruits such as Durian, Longkong, and Garcinia. Due to sour taste of Garcinia, farmers sell it at a low price of 4-5 Baht/per kilogram (US$0.11). Nonphan who has been managing the Sai Kaew Agricultural Housewives Community Enterprise since 2005 said, “I realised ten years ago that Garcinia, which is grown mainly in the Sai Khao district and Songkhla province, could be used to make a number of products. It is often used as an ingredient in curries because of its sour taste and it’s only in season from June to August every year. I noticed that residents in the district worked mainly in the rice fields or farmed fruits such as Durian, Rambutan and Mangosteen, but no one farmed Garcinia. I gathered a group of women from the village to discuss the idea of setting up a community enterprise to add value to Garcinia by preserving it, to sell it all year round. Most of the twenty-five women who I approached were housewives, and they welcomed the idea of the business. We then established the Sai Khao Agricultural Housewives Community Enterprise.”
Training and development
Whilst Nonphan has ten years’ experience in managing the community enterprise, she had never undertaken any formal training on running a business. Upon hearing from one of her neighbours about the small grants being awarded by UNDP’s STEP Project to communities, Nonphan made contact with STEP Project staff to obtain further information. Following her enquiry, she and two other members of the Sai Khao Agricultural Housewives Community Enterprise were invited to attend three days of training. Three members from seven other community projects were also invited, amounting to 30 participants in total. The first one-day training on project proposal preparation, took place in June 2015 and provided the participants with guidance on how to draft a project proposal. The second training ran over the course of two days and consisted of project implementation, financial management, product development, product standardization, packaging and marketing.
When asked if she found the training useful, Nonphan replied, “The training was very insightful because we learnt about standardizing products and how to develop new products. We also learnt of the appropriate government departments to contact for certification of the products, and quality control to meet international standards. Since the training, the members and I have already begun developing a new spicy and sour Garcinia product.”
Senior project manager for UNDP’s STEP Project, Naruedee Janthasing said, “The training provided the grantees with the necessary skills for project management, marketing, packaging, and applying for health certification. The STEP Project will continue to provide specific vocational training, based on the needs and skills of each community project, and will work cooperatively with local authorities to effectively implement all the community projects through this small grants programme.”
In addition, Naruedee added that the STEP Project plans to provide advice on project management, budget planning, product development, and market accessibility to the selected community projects; and engage stakeholders in the activities linked to social cohesion to ensure the needs of the local people are addressed.
In June 2015 following the training, the STEP Project awarded small grants to seven community projects located in Pattani province, - including Nonphan’s Sai Khao Agricultural Housewives Community Enterprise. The other community project to receive a grant was located in Narathiwat province.
After receiving the grant in August, Nonphan said, “With the grant we plan to improve the workshop area by installing a new fully equipped kitchen with effective plumbing, and develop new products. Whilst the grant is immensely helpful, I also found the training equally important.” She, explained, “We now have 55 female members who all have a stake in the business and they are aged from 35 to 75 years old. Since receiving the training and the grant, we feel more motivated and together we want to develop and sell a wider variety of products made from preserved Garcinia,” added Nonphan.
The eldest member of the community enterprise, 75-year-old grandmother, Erb Phetorn from Village 3 said, “I love my job. I can come and talk with my friends and earn money at the same time.” Erb has been working at the community enterprise for four years and helps with the peeling and cutting of the Garcinia. “When it is busy, I come every day. I start at 0500hrs and finish at 1700hrs. I used to work in the rice fields which was very hard work and my income was uncertain. But now I have a stable income and can earn around 4,500 THB (US$125) per month. I’m happy because every Thai Baht helps me and my husband to save and purchase weekly household items,” explained Erb.
*There were 76 provinces in Thailand when the UNDP Thailand Human Development Index report was published.
Ms. Angelique Reid, Communication and Partnership Officer
Mobile: +66 (0)9 496 52272