How a reservoir built in one of the driest areas of the Northeast has improved the living conditions in a poor community
Less than a decade ago, Baan Huay Mak Lam was an isolated village in Udon Thani trapped in a vicious cycles of poverty and drought. The villagers didn’t have their own land to make a living nor did they have water to use in their daily lives. Now, with the construction two years ago of the Sam Tom Khao Reservoir by the Water Resource Development Project under the royal initiative of His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, their lives have changed for the better.
“Water offers hope for life,” says a smiling Pao Yathao, the village headman, who has been part of the community for 30 years. “We can see a future thanks to the reservoir and the water supply system from Royal Irrigation Department has turned our land green. We live a sustainable lifestyle. We’re not interested in big houses or luxury cars. That’s it, we are happy.”
Students at the border patrol police school enjoy a lesson.
Apichat Chumnoommanee, director of the Udon Thani Irrigation Project, takes up the tale. “Even after the construction of the reservoir, which has a capacity of 204,100 cubic metres, the villagers still had to face up to the unfavourable nature. Rainfall is very low in this part of the world, probably 25 per cent of what other areas experience. Udon Thani’s provincial office released some 500,000 fish of different species including silver barb and tilapia into the reservoir. The villagers agreed not to use the water because they are afraid that the fish will die although they allow us to deliver water to students at a border patrol police school.”
Villagers generate some much-needed revenue by selling the vegetables they cultivate.
Ban Huay Mak Lam is located in Pa Thom-Pa Kha National Forest Reserve and the villagers use water from a small pond for their daily lives and for their cows. Most of them have settled here from other provinces such as Khon Kaen and Kalasin and work for hire in the sugarcane fields that are part of the forest reserve. There is no agricultural area but seven rai of the public area has been allocated to the families to cultivate as a way of generating extra income and feed their cows. The villagers also earn some money from selling the compost they have been taught to make.
Talad Rom Khiew or Talad Kasetakorn offers chemical-free organic products.
“The number of families has gone up from 30 to 70 households and they are now growing such vegetables as cucumber, gourd, chilli, and small eggplant. Before this, we would travel six kilometres to another village to buy our water and paid between Bt120 to Bt250 per tank. I would use five tanks per month and washed our clothes once a month then took the used water for recycling. Now that life is better, we have a chance to learn how to make desserts and weave brooms with the support of Udon Thani Rajabhat University,” says headman Pao.
A former rock musician has turned his talents to growing ruby corn.
Today, Udon Thani supports the community in leading better lives, adding value to their products through organic and aquaponic farming under the Pid Thong Lang Phra for Extension and Development of the Royal Project of His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
In 2014, Talad Rom Khiew – which translates as a market with green umbrellas – was set up in the heart of the province, for the growers to sell their chemical-free vegetables and fruits. Health-conscious shoppers responded and money started to circulate among the villagers. The market was later renamed Talad Kasetakorn or farmers’ market and has grown considerably, with vendors increasing from 22 to 59, among them young smart farmers, agriculturists from several villages, community enterprise groups and military units as well as Udon Thani College of Agriculture and Technology. It boasts different zones selling processed products, mixed farming, vegetables and fruit, rice, flowering plants and trees, and cooked foods and is open every Friday and Saturday from 6am to noon.
Khanom ditches foam and plastic and instead wraps his goodies in banana leaf.
To my surprise, one of the farmers I meet is a former rock musician and producer. He now owns the Rocker Farm and grows and sells ruby corn. Further along is Khanom Wannasri of Baan Nong Ped, which is also a learning centre, who offers his goods wrapped in banana leaf rather than foam and plastic. Boonkerd Yubolphan from Baan Thub Kong has a stall brimming with different herbs. A soldier from the 13th Infantry Regiment sells mushrooms while Krathin distributes brown rice and collaborates with Udon Thani Hospital.
A community enterprise group for nutritious rice at Kumpawapi District
“I’ve been growing herbs for seven years and inherited local wisdom from some villagers aged 80 and 90 years old,” says Boonkerd, 70.
A soldier sells mushrooms.
“This village is a centre for exchanging ideas. We try to help ourselves instead of waiting for help from the government. Our goods must be chemical free and safe for the health. If our health is good, everything that comes after will be also better.”