04 March 2012

Where Have All the Farmers Gone?

On our first unit in Yasothon district I stayed with a family of rice farmers. I had a chance to talk to my home stay dad, Wichian Weluwanarag, about what he hoped to see for the future of his farm, and more specifically, the future of his three sons. He told me that his eldest son is already out of school and works in the city, his middle son attends the university in a nearby province, and his youngest son is still in primary school. He told me that his only hope for his children is that they have enough education so that they can later support themselves. When I asked whether or not he thought that his older children would come back to work with him on the family farm, he shook his head: “My oldest son may come back, but not to farm.”

This is a photo from Nong Weng, one of the slum villages our group visited. Some of the families here that have migrated into the city in the hopes of finding jobs and economic stability are now fighting for both land ownership and basic human rights.

This situation of my home stay family in some ways illustrates a trend that is emerging in Thailand among the younger generations of farmers: migration to the city. Rather than taking up the family farm, a lot of the younger generation farmers are moving from their villages into larger cities, in most cases for education, work opportunities, or out of economic necessity. As my home stay father explained, people are beginning to move away from their farms because they no longer have large enough areas of land to provide enough money to support their families. As more and more families have to leave their farms, the younger generations are less and less familiar with farming practices, or in the words of my home stay father, “the young just don’t know how to farm.”

As a result, in some cases, like the Weluwanarag family, the younger generations of farmers are encouraged to migrate into the city for education and for career opportunities. Here they may be removed from the economic stressors that working as a farmer can create. However, these men and women may just likely find similar economic instability by moving into larger cities. With large amounts of people coming into the cities, the opportunities to find well-paying jobs or higher careers become limited and harder to find. In a lot of these cases these men and women may have to move into the slum villages, that our group was also able to visit, where they will face issues concerning not only labor rights, but questions of land ownership and legalities of basic human rights.

This means that as the numbers of younger generation farmers are moving out of the villages their families at home are hiring outside help. For the Weluwanarag family this means hiring two to three people from their community to help out during harvesting season. However, for other families this may mean hiring from outside the village to other districts and provinces or even from outside the country. This can in some cases put another economic stressor on the family, but also seems to just fuel a cycle of migration.

This trend in the younger generation of farmers seems like it may mimic in some ways the migration patterns that are happening in other countries, like that of the states. However I am not sure to what degree these trends are similar—this is something that I would want to research more, in addition to further research on this seeming trend in Thailand: is this something that Thai people, other than my home stay family, are noticing? Is this even an issue?

By the end of our conversation my home stay father turned to me and said, “My youngest says he doesn’t want to do anything else. He only wants to farm.” Can’t speak too soon.

-Hadley Mowe
Whitman College


Zoe said...

Your article really reminds me of a phenomenon that's also growing here in the Dominican Republic, one that we saw especially when we visited a rural community in the mountains. There, there is an incredible organic school, that's a sort of high school, where students stay for two years and finish with their high school diploma and a technical certificate...oh, and did I mention it's totally free for them? However, many of the students there are just studying at the school because “it's there” and not because they have a future interest in agriculture, which was very surprising to me. Most of them want to go to the city, go to college, get jobs in places other than their rural home community.

It sounds similar to your experiences in Yasothon and in other parts of Thailand. Have you noticed any differences or similarities within parts of the country? Where does the outside help come from (which provinces and/or countries)? Though it's clear that not all youth have this desire (like your host brother, it seems), what do they think? How is it impacting life in the cities?

Awesome article!

Fatuma said...

Hadley, great piece I really liked how you included the gap we have been seeing in all the communities of the younger generation not farming. I think it’s a huge issue that will affect Thailand communities down the line. And it’s also another problem that we haven’t been paying attention to. It’s scary to think if these youth don’t come back what would happen to these rich communities we have been visiting. On another note, I am happy to see how some communities like Rasi and Huay Muang having more youth involvement to bring those youth back. Great piece!

Molly said...

Now that we are nearing the end of our time here, I think it’s safe to say that this urban flight seems to be a growing trend among young people, especially college-educated students in Thailand. As P’Suvit mentioned in a recent exchange, “education must build people to become human beings.” In a rapidly developing and globalized nation, higher education in Thailand is becoming more of a priority for families, seen as a means for developing necessary skills for the future. However, P’Suvit argued that these same skills could be developed on a more local and technical level for young people interested in continuing the family farm and the concept of self-sufficiency. While I believe higher education can be a truly beautiful thing, it does sadden me to see the number of self-sufficient farmers both in Thailand and the United States rapidly decreasing. A more localized education approach with an emphasis on organic agriculture could provide the bridge between family’s wish for education and the desire of children to stay in their hometown.