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Thai farmhands learn the lie of the land with vocational work in Japan

Thais and others aim to turn their experiences into success at home

WICHAI KANA will be proud of becoming a farmer in Thailand. But for the past few years, he has been working on a farm in this Japanese prefecture. "I am a trainee here," the 23-year-old said.

Wichai has helped his employer with farm work under a three-year contract. Thanks to this, he has honed his skills in working with farm machines and soil preparation. The contract also means he is paid well enough to amass savings for his future.

Even better is the fact that he has a good chance of turning his farm-work experience into practice credits in an upcoming bachelor's degree programme at the Khon Kaen College of Agriculture and Technology.

Office of Vocational Education Commission (Ovec) deputy secretary general Akanit Klungsang disclosed that the college was in the process of drafting the programme's curriculum.

"In the meantime, we are talking to the Japan-based College of Agriculture and Nutrition to prepare a memorandum of understanding. After we sign it, we will be able to certify the work experiences on the farm," he said. "Such experiences can qualify as project-based learning."

He added that for academic content, courses could be made available online.

"We believe the programme should be ready for launch in the 2015 academic year," Akanit said.

Wichai is not the only young Thai farmhands in Japan.

At his employer's farm, he has two Thai friends.

Yoshiuki Inaba, whose parents own the farm Wichai is working on, has described the Thais as hardworking, dedicated and responsible.

"I need not keep watch on them. After I teach and assign what they need to do, they can work on their own very well," he said.

Spanning over 120 rai, this farm generates an annual income of about Bt23 million.

"I hope Thai farmers get a good income like this too," Wichai said. "In Japan, farmers can set crop prices."

Holding a vocational diploma in agriculture, this young man previously worked on farms in Arabah in Israel as part of a dual vocation programme facilitated by the Ovec.

His experiences in Arabah must have been useful given that just like Wichai, several other Thai farmhands there have finally made their way to Ibaraki too.

There are more than 25,000 farms in Ibaraki, the second highest number in Japan.

To comply with Japanese laws, relevant parties in Thailand and Japan have ensured the Thai farmhands, or trainee farmers like Wichai, obtained work permits. Their trips have to be arranged with the help of recruitment agencies.

Ryohei Hasegawa of the Koibuchi College of Agriculture and Nutrition said his college had helped the Marumiya Syukka Cooperation Association, the Nippon Sisan Cooperative, and the Friends Cooperative recruit farmhands because most Japanese farmers in the town were now getting old.

"On average, Japanese farmers here are around 65 years old," he said. According to him, there must be some 4,000 foreign farmhands in Ibaraki. Other nationals include Vietnamese and Chinese.

It took Wichai nearly Bt200,000 to secure a farm job |in Ibaraki, with the expense covering a six-month Japanese-|language course and an air |ticket.

He paid for all these |things with the money he borrowed from a group of students and alumni of the Maha Sarakham College of Agriculture, his alma mater.

"After I started working in Japan, I could repay what I owed within months. The amount can then be used for other Thais who wish to come and work here too," he said.

Warin Anthakhaek, who teaches at the college, said many graduates in agricultural programmes wanted to work overseas because of the good income and good experiences involved.

"For example, work experiences on the Japanese farms will familiarise them with modern farming techniques," she said.

In Akanit's opinion, the work experience gained from Japanese farms is valuable and can be applied to Thai farms.

Chanchai Laihakhot, a 30-year-old Thai farmhand in Ibaraki, said he hoped to go back to Thailand, start working on his |own farm, and export crops to Japan.

"I will do this project with two friends. We will rent land plots and buy farm machines," he said. "While we are here, we will try to create business contacts - someone who will be interested in buying our crops."


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