By Chanyut Pawakang
Special to The Nation Weekend
IF THE residents of the remote Nhong Ung community in Yasothon province are keeping their feet dry these days even at the height of |the monsoon rains, they owe it all to the efforts of one very special |individual – His Majesty King |Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, whose birthday falls today.
Just under two decades ago, the seven villages that make up this low-lying community of the Northeast province’s Koh Nue subdistrict faced annual misery, with floods every rainy season and drought the rest of the year. With crops damaged and roads impassable, residents were forced into the forest to forage for what little food they could find. The able-bodied left the villages to find work in urban areas, leaving behind their elders and children.
In 2000, His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun visited his subjects and the royal-sponsored project at Nhong Ung, Yasothon, where he received a briefing from local officials.
Then on November 28, 2000, the then Crown Prince accompanied His Royal Mother, Her Majesty Queen Sirikit, on a visit to flood victims in Baan Kham Nam Srang village.
In an attempt to bring comfort to his subjects, the Crown Prince granted a royal-sponsored project to develop and to improve the surroundings by dredging the ground at Nhong Ung and turning it into a water source, thus allowing residents to engage in agriculture and enlarge the fish breeding stock. The soil was improved and protected by planting vetiver grass while the forest was kept under careful scrutiny so that they could live in harmony with nature.
The Pid Thong Lang Phra Foundation recently invited the media to witness first-hand the productive results of this royal project, one of the many models that exemplifies His Majesty King Rama X’s resolution to fulfil the wishes of His Majesty the late King Rama IX and work for the benefit of all Thais.
Somsak Taweenan, head of the Nhong Ung Development Project, says that the main obstacle faced by local people was the repeated flooding, which was always particularly bad between August and October.
“The water discharged from the Ubolratana and Lam Pao dams would converge here. Water then submerged the rice fields causing major problems for the farmers. However, after the visit of the then Crown Prince, everything started to change thanks to various royal initiatives. Local people could commute more conveniently because the roads in Nhong Ung were raised by one metre along a 15- kilometre stretch. Dredging for water was also highly effective. The villagers were allocated plots of lands for farming and about 120 rai in the Nhong Ung area was shared among 120 families from Tayiem village so that they too could earn a living from agriculture by following His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s sufficiency economy philosophy,” he explains.
A view of the water integration system and the abundant forest.
The Dong Mun forest, which is close to Nhong Ung and covers some 3,000 rai, has also seen the benefits of the project. It had lost almost half its area to encroachment prior to 2000 but today has regained more than 50 per cent of its former abundance. Government agencies have helped to support local forestry systems by planting rubber trees, around whose roots grow such wild mushrooms such as puff ball, scabbard, talai and ra-ngok. And so local residents can still forage in the forest and their income has doubled, going from Bt1 million to Bt2 million. A cooperative has been set up with more than 70 members, who help each other generate more income by processing mushrooms as well as ant eggs.
Somsak Taweenan, head of the Nhong Ung Development Project
“We support all kind of integrated development – agriculture, fishing, and livestock so that the people will enjoy a better quality of life. The community is stronger because socially they have become more cooperative and willing to share. The royal-sponsored project has made seven villages stronger and united. It has also promoted knowledge sharing and this has expanded to other areas in Yasothon and to nearby provinces,” Somsak says.
Som Sairoj, 68, a resident of Baan Nam Kham village in Koh Nue subdistrict, says she greatly appreciates the royal-sponsored project, which has improved her life in so many ways. Today she is the vice-chairman of the Wanathip wild-product processing plant. She recalls the damage that past flooding did to her rice yields, explaining that on from a 20-rai plot, she was only able to harvest eight tons of rice worth some Bt20,000 -Bt30,000 a year.
Mushroom products from Nhong Ung community are well received in the market and create extra income for local residents.
“When His Majesty King Rama X and Her Majesty Queen Sirikit visited us and brought many royal development projects, we all cried with happiness. Planting trees had allowed the forest to grow again and we are able to collect more mushrooms than ever before, which makes for extra income,” she explains.
“We have fully embraced the sufficiency economy. We plant trees in the forest and protect them because they are a great source of income. More importantly, we don’t have to move anywhere. This is our home. If we work harder, we can have more money. Our processed mushrooms are a great success and have been awarded 5-star Otop rating. When our earnings are good, life too is better,” Som says with a smile.
Farmer and fisherman Bin Sansook
Sixty-four-year-old Bin Sansook is also grateful to the King. Two decades ago, he gave his four rai of rice fields to his nephew and turned to raising fish in Nhong Ung’s pond. But too many other villagers had the same idea resulting in the pond eventually losing its oxygen content and the fish dying.
“Back in 2000, I was a member of the subdivision’s administration. I saw His Majesty coming to the village from a long way off and I was delighted. The royal project was the great hope. The land suffered from drought, the soil was like sand, and didn’t have land ownership. Now we can stay in our village. They are plenty of fish for us all. The income from the fishery is better than ever, earning a clear profit of Bt200-Bt300 per day. Some days we catch Clown featherback fish, or Mekong catfish and we are satisfied with that even though it is not a lot. I also plant vegetables and I share the surplus with my neighbours. In the past, it was very hard to grow anything and life was very difficult. I had only enough money to buy fish sauce to mix with steamed rice and vegetable,” Bin recalls.
Gaysorn Rosapa, left, and Nanta Chaiya
Mother and daughter Gaysorn Rosapa, 63, and Nanta Chaiya, 39, of Baan Tayiam have also reaped the benefits of royal generosity. Both members of the Support Foundation under Her Majesty the Queen’s patronage at Baan Kham Nam Srang, they recall all too clearly the flooding of the past.
“Life was very hard and I ended up moving to Bangkok to work in a plastic manufacturing factory for 10 years. When the royal-sponsored project was initiated, my mother asked me to come home. We have now lived happily as a family for more than 13 years, much more so than in Bangkok where I really struggled to make ends meet. These days we grow rice and vegetables and even have some money saved.
“Every time we think of the royal graciousness, we shed tears of joy. Wherever Their Majesties visit, prosperity comes to those areas.”