Poverty Eradication in Thailand
Bangkok is Thailand’s capital and many tourists know it as an exciting, vibrant and relaxing vacation destination. Even though many people live in high-quality and high-income housing, others live in poor-quality housing without running water or electricity. Due to urbanization without necessary accommodations to support the needs of low-income residents, slum and squatter settlements emerged with 84% of slum settlements residing in Thailand. The Baan Mankong Program addresses this issue and helps poor communities in Bangkok improve their housing and their relationship with the local government. Here is some information about how the Baan Mankong Program is aiding poverty eradication in Thailand.

What is the Baan Mankong Program?

The Baan Mankong Program is a secure housing program from the Community Organizations Development Institute in Thailand. CODI started in 1992 with the purpose of learning about the lives of the poor and encouraging a partnership with its local governments to improve the living conditions of the poor. Launched in 2003, the program emerged under the National Housing Authority with a grant of $34 million U.S. dollars from the Thai government to give loans to organizations devoted to providing housing for poor communities in Bangkok.

Why is Secure Housing Important?

An increase in population and rural-urban migration contribute to the unplanned global expansion of urban settlements. Urbanization can bring work opportunities, access to health services and better education, but poor communities still face inadequate housing and access to basic services. Therefore, increasing urbanization should focus on how to improve the living conditions of poor urban families. Improved living conditions will not only provide housing, but also improve health, and reduce injuries and premature deaths.

How has the Baan Mankong Program Helped?

The government funds through CODI go toward directly supporting the communities and aiding poverty eradication in Thailand. Through improvements in housing, the environment and other services, the citizens of the poor urban communities control where the money goes. In addition to financial control, people of the communities are able to work closely with local governments, professionals and universities offering multiple opportunities to evaluate housing and ways it can continue to improve. Communities also used the Baan Mankong Program to get drainage systems, communal septic tanks for sanitation, better connections for water and electricity supply and grey-water treatment units.

Its Impact and Growth

The program empowers the communities involved to plan, apply and improve the projects themselves based on the needs of the community. By 2009, the program existed in 260 cities in Thailand with money for 80,000 housing projects receiving approval, and communities implementing 1,033 housing projects that provide decent and secure housing for 104,000 poor families. The program not only helped the regions of Bangkok, but it also reached 320 cities/districts across 72 provinces and helped over 90,000 households with $191 million U.S. dollars. Thailand is one of a couple of countries that established a nation-wide effort to improve poor housing and what makes The Baan Mankong Program stand out is the focus of the community which strengthens the voices of the citizens in poor communities.

Supporting communities in need of quality housing is important to poverty eradication in Thailand and requires attention from the government, members of the low-income community, and members from high-income communities. The success of programs like the Baan Mankong Program not only depends on money but community support encouraging spaces to learn from one another.

– Nyelah Mitchell
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in Thailand
Mental health has been a hot topic recently, especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thailand is one country that has been struggling with mental health. As of 2019, Thailand has had a population of about 70 million with a substantial number experiencing mental illness. Here is some information about mental health in Thailand.

The Situation

According to Deputy Health Minister Dr. Surawith Konsomboon, the most common diseases in Thailand are psychosis, anxiety disorders, depression and apoplexy. In a Department of Mental Health study from 2012, Konsomboon found that about 20% of the Thai population has struggled with some type of mental illness. Additionally, projections have determined that this number will grow each year.

Health Care System

Thailand’s current mental health policy emerged in 1995, which includes advocacy, promotion, treatment and rehabilitation. Its plan was to promote maintaining one’s mental health and preventing future mental health issues while forming new treatment services.

Thailand’s universal health coverage started in 2002. The intent was for care to be affordable, yet many extra costs exist with certain treatments. The government and private and non-governmental sectors now provide psychiatric services to give services for mental health in Thailand.

However, many hospitals are facing issues with having too many patients, a lack of staff members and under-financing from their government. This creates difficulties in providing quality care to their patients and having enough funding to do their job effectively.

Young People and Mental Health Discussions

According to interviews that UNICEF performed, adolescents feel that mental health in Thailand does not receive the attention it requires. Many people do not have access to services and information that they need in order to understand and manage their emotions and thoughts. This creates many difficulties including negative perceptions and stigma surrounding mental illnesses.

The risks of developing mental health struggles are especially high for those who are facing poverty, discrimination and violence. UNICEF explained how adolescents wish that there was an open space with their families and friends to talk about the things that they are struggling with instead of bottling their feelings up and keeping it to themselves.

These feelings of stress and depression have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, as people are fearful of getting the virus, stressed about the transition to online school and work and loneliness from social distancing. This is especially true for those who do not have a solid financial situation and are worried about their employment.

Contributing Factors

A wide gap exists between the rich and the poor in Thailand, contributing to societal pressures and judgment. Living in poverty has a negative effect on one’s mental health, as financial crises can lead to an increase in stress regarding supporting one’s family.

High expectations in Thai culture have also added pressure to the lives of young people, which can weigh them down as time goes on. Feeling the need to be perfect in college and supporting one’s family can be a key part of poor mental health in Thailand.

On the bright side, Thailand has been working to reduce its rate of poverty over the past few decades. In 1988, over 65% of people were living in poverty. As of 2018, this rate decreased to under 10%. This process is still in effect, and the number continues to decrease.

Progress

Many causes and influences have contributed to struggles regarding mental health in Thailand, including societal pressures and poverty. Adolescents feel this pressure through their experiences in school and work as they are trying to build a life for themselves while making their family proud. However, the Ministry of Public Health has goals to expand its mental health services. It hopes to increase children’s emotional intelligence and decrease the suicide rate in Thailand through its efforts.

Over the past two decades, the Ministry of Public Health has emphasized developing systematic and effective technology which will be able to improve health programs. Thailand is also incorporating mental health care into community services, prison services and psychiatric rehabilitation. The efforts in laying down these foundations have been raising the quality of services that the country provides.

– Miranda Kargol
Photo: Flickr

Disability and Poverty in Thailand
Like many other countries, Thailand has been working for the past several years to provide rights, facilities and access to people with disabilities and people living in poverty. In the last three decades, the poverty level in Thailand has reduced from 65% to 10%. Part of this reduction has occured through programs such as The Government Welfare Registration Programme, established in 2016. This program gives registered citizens over the age of 18 earning less than 100,000 Bhat (roughly over $3,000) a monthly fund between Bt1,200 -Bt 1800 (the price correlates with where the citizen lives) to access public transportation and buy basic needs. Throughout the ’90s and the 2000s, the government has instated more rights and organizations for those with disabilities to help guarantee them work, welfare and accessibility in government and public buildings. However, a correlation between disability and poverty in Thailand still exists.

However, poverty is starting to rise in Thailand due to the country’s economic growth slowing down and the environmental challenges that are affecting citizen’s livelihood and homes. And there are still some cultural misconceptions in Thailand about disabilities that can create barriers to those with disabilities. So, even though things are improving, it is still incredibly important to advocate for those living with disability and poverty in Thailand.

Current Statistics on Disability and Poverty in Thailand

Around 3% of Thailand’s population (a little over 2 million people) have a disability card. The top three conditions were mobility disabilities (about 50%), hearing impairments (around 18%) and visual impairments (approximately 10%). Other disabilities included physical impairments, psychological disorders, autism and learning disabilities. Nearly 52% of the disabled population of Thailand are over 60, around 42% of them are from the ages 15-60 and almost 2% are 14 years or younger.

Excluding those under school age, about 4% of Thailand’s disabled population has never had any formal education. For those who have, only around 5% of them have any kind of schooling outside of primary education. For work, only around 24% of those above 15 years old reported having employment, while about 18% reported being able to work but unemployed.

While there were no specific statistics about what percentage of people living with a disability and are in poverty in Thailand, the major reasons people found themselves under the poverty line were ill-health, job-loss or a natural disaster.

Rights and Laws for Those with Disabilities

The Thai government has set up laws and acts to make sure people living with disabilities get the rights they deserve. One of these legislations is The Persons with Disabilities Empowerment Act, which the government set up in 2007. It states that anyone who encounters limitations through an impairment has the right to receive legal or personal assistance, sign language interpreters, medical services, house modifications for better accessibility and education free of charge. They can also receive tax exemptions, cheaper public transportation feeds, loans without interest for self-employment and a monthly allowance of 800 baht.

Other Organizations and Resources

Different associations, organizations and charities have emerged within Thailand or internationally to support people with various disabilities and their work frequently involves fighting for specific laws. For example, the National Association of the Deaf of Thailand helped the government recognize Thai Sign Language as an official language in 1999.

Other organizations provide the necessary resources for those who do not have easy access to it. Handicap International has been providing free physical therapy to refugees and neighboring host villages along the border of Myanmar since 1982.

These organizations also aim to provide fun, social events that help give people with disabilities a sense of community. An example of this is The Association of the Blind which, among other things, has held an annual reading and writing in Braille contest since 2013.

Necessary Improvements

Despite government and organization efforts, work is still necessary to meet all the needs of the disabled community, especially for those living with disability and poverty in Thailand. For example, the government’s monthly fund is not enough to live on and get access to different health care services, even with the increase from 800 baht to 1,800 baht per month due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, the pandemic has made it more impossible for those with disabilities to live off this fund because many of them have lost their jobs, access to many health care services and any way to earn an extra income.

When it comes to other services such as employment and education, some in Thailand have a lack of cultural awareness regarding disabilities and how it can lead to discrimination. For example, studies have shown that many parents feel many mainstream teachers do not have enough specialized training to deal with children with different disabilities. Also, because many people have a more “fixed” version of what it means to have a disability, those who have a registered disability but are “able-looking” on the outside have a harder time obtaining resources or finding employment.

To improve attitudes towards disabilities, The Persons with Disabilities Empowerment Act states that it is the responsibility of The National Commission on Promotion and Development of Life Quality of Disabled Persons (which was the minister of this act) to inform individual employers and organizations of the nature of disabilities and the rights of the disabled. Regarding education, Thailand established The Education for Persons with Disabilities Act in 2008. It emphasized that education is free for those with disabilities and that they had the right to pick what institutions they choose to attend and request any accommodations to aid them on their academic journeys.

Conclusion

It is important to look back and recognize that Thailand is making progress to help the disabled community and acknowledge the people and organizations that continue to fight for the Thai people at large. However, it is also important to recognize there are still plenty of issues regarding disability and poverty in Thailand that require attention and that spreading awareness about disability and poverty is vital.

– Mikayla Burton
Photo: Flickr

Harmless HarvestHarmless Harvest is an organic coconut brand that guarantees nonpesticide, chemical or GMO supplements in its young Nam Hom coconuts, harvested from Thailand. Known to be the first brand to introduce non-thermally pasteurized coconut water in the United States, its mission is to “create remarkable coconut products through sustainable farming practices while having a positive community impact,” says Harmless Harvest CEO, Ben Mand. Utilizing organic-certified Nam Hom coconut farms, Harmless Harvest ensures growing coconuts without “persistent pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or sewage sludge.”

Fair Wages for Workers

In addition to its commitment to clean practices and natural coconut products, Harmless Harvest guarantees social accountability through its Fair for Life certification. Fair for Life certification demonstrates the organization’s efforts to provide fair wages for its workers in Thailand. Fair for Life advocates for financial resiliency for all its workers and reallocates funds to support communities of farmers to found mobile health clinics and provide dental checks and water filtration systems. The certification promises social responsibility and fair trade to all the people involved in the production, which starts with farmers that harvest in the very beginning to the consumers that take home the products. 

Regenerative Coconuts Agriculture Project (ReCAP)

In December 2020, Harmless Harvest announced its partnership with Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) to introduce a new agricultural project called the Regenerative Coconuts Agriculture Project (ReCAP). This project aims to ensure a sustainable farming model with innovative coconut harvesting and the training of farmers to maximize their overall productivity. With plans to implement new regenerative farming methodology and agricultural management training for Thailand farmers, ReCAP considers many aspects of the harvesting process other than just the coconut’s quality.

Sustainable Farming and Education for Farmers

The main aspect of the project is to reinvent coconut farming and produce more eco-friendly efficiency. Harmless Harvest aims to implement new sustainable coconut harvesting practices by utilizing cover crops, which then increases the soil’s water absorption and reduces soil erosion during heavy rainfall. Other methods such as intercropping, bee-keeping and organic inputs were included in the coconut farm regeneration in efforts to promote clean farming.

The project also seeks to provide farmers with education in farm management and innovative agricultural practices that target longevity and resistance against climate change. By teaching farmers new strategies to increase biodiversity and resilience, sustainable coconut harvesting becomes a stepping stone to transitioning modern farming to regenerative agriculture. The brand’s overall goal is to rediscover a more environmentally sustainable and resistant farming methodology while also promoting farmers’ wages by the end of 2023.

Addressing Poverty Through Coconut Farming

Harmless Harvest’s project ReCAP shifts the coconut industry and other farm-dependent brands away from chemical-laden monoculture crop farming, which is susceptible to climate change and is inefficient environmentally. The project alleviates ecological stress and utilizes a more efficient system of production, which corresponds with Harmless Harvest’s overall mission of ethical practices. ReCAP seeks to encourage new methods of sustainable coconut harvesting and aims to increase the income of farmers by 10% or more by the end of 2023. From celebrating zero coconut waste in September 2020 to up-cycling and utilizing all parts of the coconut up to the husk, the brand continues to introduce techniques to better the planet and help farmers lift themselves out of poverty.

– Linda Chong
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Empowerment in ThailandIn Thailand, chief executives of 110 companies have signed an important pledge that agrees to the implementation of U.N. principles regarding women’s empowerment in its economy and businesses. Some of these principles include equal pay for equal work, improved workplace conditions in terms of safety and inclusivity as well as gender equality with a heavy emphasis on executive positions.

The Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs)

This pledge is known as the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs), which was founded by the U.N. Global Compact and U.N. Women in 2010 and is funded by the European Union. The aim is to push businesses to be responsible for women’s empowerment and gender equality. The pledge is part of a wider movement established by U.N. Women, known as the Promoting Economic Empowerment of Women at Work in Asia (WeEmpower Asia) Initiative.

The WEPs are made up of a total of seven principles. These principles encompass several key areas which include gender equality in corporate leadership, equality, respect of human rights, nondiscrimination, health and safety of all workers including women, training and professional development of women, equality through advocacy efforts and the public reporting on the progress of these principles.

WeEmpowerAsia

Currently, the movement is working towards helping private businesses and organizations increase women’s participation in leadership positions with an overall aim of gender equality. Currently, the WeEmpowerAsia Initiative is working in a number of Asian countries including India, Thailand, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia.

Another country that is participating in the WeEmpowerAsia Initiative is Malaysia. The Initiative is being led by a company known as LeadWomen. LeadWomen’s partnership with U.N. Women has cemented its work toward increasing women’s representation in leadership in Malaysia. As per the pledge, LeadWomen will be running webinars for the 300 Malaysian companies that signed. LeadWomen will also be providing support to these companies in order to make sure that the WEPs are being implemented in all aspects. In Malaysia, over 30% of women in public sector companies are in executive positions.

In Thailand, approximately 24% of CEOs are women, which makes them the third-highest in the world in terms of the percentage of female CEOs. This is comparatively better than both the Asia-Pacific average and global average which stands at 13% and 20% respectively. Thailand also has the world’s highest percentage of female CFOs, which equates to 43%.

Female Inequality Issues in Thailand

Even though Thailand is doing well in terms of female representation in executive roles, that is not the case in government administration, including parliament and judiciary. Only about 24% of executive civil roles are filled by women. In rural areas, female equality is even worse. Many rural women, especially those that belong to ethnic minorities, deal with poverty, exploitation and discrimination, according to the Commission on the Status of Women. Employment of women in these areas is mostly in the informal sector where they hold vulnerable jobs with only a handful in senior positions. Moreover, violence against women is also prevalent in Thailand which hinders opportunities for women’s empowerment.

The Future of Women’s Empowerment in Asia

To combat these challenges and put an end to gender-based discrimination, U.N. Women introduced the Women Empowerment Principles under the WeEmpowerAsia Initiative. The Initiative hopes that by promoting women’s engagement in economic activities in Thailand, it will empower women and put an end to the discriminatory practices that remain in the country.

– Abbas Raza
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Thailand
In Thailand, about 610,000 people are victims of modern-day slavery. According to the Global Slavery Index, about one in 113 among its 69 million population was prey to human trafficking as of 2018. There are steps the Government of Thailand can take to end human trafficking in Thailand. While some have made progress in reducing the human trafficking trade, urgent government action is necessary to impact Thai citizens and migrant workers widely.

Challenges Eliminating Human Trafficking in Thailand

A big part of the country’s prevention efforts must involve the protection of migrants. Thailand’s population has about 4.9 million migrants – making up 10% of its workforce – according to the United Nations. Most individuals migrating to Thailand are from poorer neighboring countries such as Myanmar and Cambodia, and are, therefore, more vulnerable to trafficking.

The country passed The Royal Ordinance on Management of Migrant Workers in March 2018, which requires employers to cover recruitment fees and transportation costs for migrant workers in Thailand. These transportation finances include the arrival and return home of employed migrant workers.

However, the country has not defined or enforced the regulations on these fees well. According to 2019’s annual Trafficking in Person’s Report from the U.S. Department of State, several recruitment agencies and brokers still required workers to pay for their recruitment fees and transportation costs. Four of the “67 migrant worker recruitment agencies” that the government reviewed were still violating the law in 2018.

The Government of Thailand’s Efforts

Due to the rise in human trafficking in Thailand in recent years, the Government of Thailand is making significant efforts to meet the standards for eliminating human trafficking. Key strategies include more victim identification, as well as normalizing more anti-trafficking policies. Other important factors involve training officials in victim identification and using interview techniques that allow victims to have a safer environment to report to. The government also increased efforts to raise awareness of the issue, organizing campaigns through all forms of media – newspapers, television, radio, social media, billboards and handouts – to alert the public about the seriousness of the issue.

The Ministry of Social Development and Human Security (MSDHS) created hotlines for citizens to report human trafficking in Thailand anonymously where operators spoke 12 different languages. In 2018, the MSDHS prosecuted 63 cases from the 161 calls related to possible trafficking crimes.

The Government of Thailand has policies in place to protect victims of human trafficking. People identified as trafficking victims are viable to receive help from the Thailand government, which includes staying at a shelter and receiving compensation through a state fund. Victims also qualify for legal aid while awaiting trial to give evidence or returning home. In 2019, The Government of Thailand provided legal and social services to 12,857 migrant workers who were vulnerable or otherwise affected by human trafficking in Thailand.

The USAID Thailand Counter Trafficking in Persons Project

Other programs work with the Government of Thailand to reduce human trafficking in Thailand. The USAID Thailand Counter Trafficking in Persons Project “works to decrease trafficking and better protect the rights of trafficked persons in Thailand by reducing demand for using trafficked labor and strengthening protection systems for survivors.” One of the key goals of the organization is finding and removing barriers in identifying victims of human trafficking, which it partners with the Government of Thailand to accomplish.

The International Labor Organization (ILO)

The International Labor Organization (ILO) is an NGO that works with countries on several workplace-related issues, including human trafficking in Thailand. Since its creation in 1919 at the Treaty of Versailles, the organization has set out to set labor standards and create programs for all.

Over the past years, the ILO has joined forces with the European Union and the Government of Thailand through the Ship to Shore Rights Project to support the Thai seafood and fishing industries in complying with international labor standards, offering protection from illegal labor. According to its 2020 report, it has stepped up its work with the Project and has implemented an approach to address major gaps, including the improvement of representation for Thai workers.

In January 2019, the Royal Thai Government ratified the ILO Convention on Work in Fishing, which provides standards for recruitment and placement to work onboard a fishing vessel, as many people in Thailand undergo trafficking for the seafood industry.

Thailand became the first country in Asia to ratify the law, reflecting the organization’s belief that people can accomplish universal and lasting peace only if it is based on social justice. Though it may be easy to focus on the negative, it is important to note that steps are emerging to reduce human trafficking in Thailand. Thailand still requires improvements, but one should not ignore its efforts.

– Celia Brocker
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in Thailand
Thailand is a country of hundreds of islands in Southeast Asia with a population of nearly 70 million people. Thailand has a history of political instability and economic uncertainty along with rising poverty rates. However, the country has made great strides to improve its healthcare. Nearly 7 million of Thailand’s citizens live in poverty and a wealthy few control a large majority of the country’s wealth. With one of the most extreme wealth gaps in the world, universal healthcare in Thailand creates a meaningful movement toward equality for all its citizens.

Switching to Universal Health Coverage (UHC)

In 2002, Thailand made the transition from a combination of various healthcare policies to an all-encompassing, universal health coverage (UHC) system. Under the UHC system, every Thai citizen is entitled to health services — including preventative, curative and palliative care, at any age. Under this system, financial protection for high-cost services also improved.

Challenges in Financing the UHC System

Though universal health coverage in Thailand has allowed increased access for all ages and classes of citizens, the country still faces challenges with funding the program. The UHC system is a predominantly publicly funded program, meaning that it functions mainly through taxation. Because the nearly 7 million Thai citizens live no more than 20% above the poverty line, the UHC budget coming from taxes is relatively inflexible. Therefore, funding the growing demands for healthcare in Thailand often requires reaching into other public funds.

Access to preventative medicine has decreased the rates of many illnesses by keeping them from occurring in the first place. However, medical expenses in other categories are on the rise. As the average age of the population increases, healthcare in Thailand faces an influx in elderly patients needing more care. Unsafe road conditions and unenforced traffic laws in many regions also contribute to high rates of road accidents and result in excessive trauma cases. Also, air pollution in cities and extreme weather conditions in various regions across the many islands contribute to increased utilization of the UHC system. For the UHC system to be an equitable, effective and sustainable service for the country, other avenues of funding must be explored.

Challenges and Looking Ahead

Healthcare in Thailand has had many positive improvements since the national transition to universal coverage in 2001. Yet, like any system, it often faces continued challenges. The system is considered popular among lower-paid citizens that did not previously have access to care. Albeit, higher-income communities hold some distaste for the system due to increased access leading to more crowding in hospitals. Universal healthcare in Thailand has created a much more inclusive environment for the Thai people as it helps to bridge the immense wealth gap. A gap between the nearly 7 million living in poverty and the wealthy 1%.

Positive Impact of the UHC System

This alteration of the previous healthcare system has led to an increase in the utilization of health services and decreased the prevalence of unmet needs in the country. Overall, healthcare in Thailand is improving. Not only did rates of care increase with the introduction of the UHC system, but other metrics of improving healthcare also rose.

Life expectancy from birth rose from 71.8 years before the introduction of the UHC system, to 77.2 years in 2020. Infant mortality rates similarly fell from more than 100 per 1,000 births in 1970 to 7 per 1,000 births in 2020. As citizens have been able to access preventative care and more expensive intervention at lower personal cost, out-of-pocket spending on healthcare needs have decreased. Meanwhile, household savings increased. Though the switch to universal healthcare certainly faces challenges, it has created quantifiable positive change for millions living in Thailand.

Jazmin Johnson 
Photo: Unsplash

Rural Poverty in Thailand
Although modern civilization could not exist without it, agriculture persists as one of the most impoverished industries in the world today. While many continue to make significant strides towards reducing global poverty as a whole, recent data has revealed that rural communities feel its most severe economic and social pressures. One can observe evidence of this trend across multiple continents, but some of the clearest illustrations of this phenomenon are Central and Southeast Asia, where rapid regional growth has noticeably failed to translate into a substantial decrease in rural poverty. In places like India, Pakistan, Thailand and other Asian countries where significant proportions of the labor force continue to work in agriculture, many producers and communities have seen inconsistent poverty reduction despite the decreasing of overall poverty rates. For some, the solution to this problem is technological, with companies like Ricult Inc. dedicated to alleviating rural poverty in Thailand and Pakistan by providing farmers with the modern tools to work smarter rather than harder.

Ricult’s Vision

Four MIT graduates founded Ricult in 2016 to bring the benefits of modern technology to farmers and smallholders in Pakistan and Thailand. Since then, the company has worked to develop mobile technologies designed to aid farmers in developing countries through remote satellite monitoring of crops and analytics which allow them to sow, fertilize and irrigate crops more efficiently. Farmers can also use Ricult’s system to track weather patterns and even for financial services such as loan applications. These and other features not only empower farmers with powerful data but also facilitate more transparent and efficient relationships between producers, creditors and suppliers. The entire suite of services is easily accessible via the Google Play Store and Ricult reported crossing the 150,000 users threshold earlier in 2020.

Rural Poverty in Thailand

Over the past 20 years, Thailand has been successful in lowering its national poverty rate with the introduction of new industries, but much of this growth has not trickled down to the bottom of the economic ladder. Instead, conditions have worsened for the country’s agricultural sector since 2013 due to growing investment in the competing manufacturing and service industries. In addition to these trends, Thailand’s current lack of modern agricultural infrastructure has made many farmers vulnerable to drought and other natural phenomena. With nearly 35 million people still dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods, technological development in the sector is paramount for keeping many communities above the poverty line.

Digitizing Thailand’s Agricultural Sector

As CEO of Ricult Thailand and co-founder of the company, Aukrit Unahalekhaka has set out to combine the agricultural advancements of developed economies to smallholders across the country. In 2018, Ricult reported a nearly 40% increase in profitability among farms and smallholdings which use its platform, resulting from a 50% increase in yields. In a 2018 statement to MIT News, Unahalekhaka stressed the importance that such growth can have on small farmers and their families, explaining that it may have the potential to provide rural children with quality education and health care.

Recently the Thailand branch of the company reached a seed funding milestone by partnering with several of Thailand’s major banks, securing $5 million which it plans to use to expand its operations across the country and continue to digitize farming operations. In addition to this domestic growth, Ricult has also announced future intentions to expand into the nearby countries of Indonesia, Laos and Vietnam. In keeping with the company’s guiding mantra “those who feed us, need us,” Ricult continues to offer its platform free of charge to smallholders and producers in order to alleviate rural poverty in Thailand.

– Matthew Otey
Photo: Flickr

positive covid-19 storiesThe COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly changed the world. While many countries have been devastated, three countries have positive COVID-19 stories: New Zealand, Thailand and Vietnam. Here are their positive COVID-19 stories and the lessons they learned from their experiences.

New Zealand

The pacific island nation of around 5 million people had a couple of different strategies in its response to COVID-19. In particular, unity within New Zealand and the nation’s neighboring countries played a big role in the country’s success against the virus. New Zealand offered to help its neighboring countries to prepare for the pandemic. To do so, the country offered health training and made sure that its island neighbors had supplies to fight the virus. Importantly, this unity in New Zealand bridged across political party lines when needed. This resulted in a massive stimulus package passed just weeks after the country’s first case. The stimulus totaled NZ$12.1 billion, around 4% of the country’s GDP. Included in the stimulus package is support for businesses, support for testing and health services and payments to those who couldn’t work because of the virus.

Caution also plays a big part in New Zealand’s success against the virus. The first case of the virus was detected on 28 Feb. 2020. Even before that, however, the government took measures to limit the possible damage of COVID-19. When New Zealand only had 283 cases, the government ordered all non-essential workers to work from home to limit the virus’s spread.

Moreover, the government came up with a four-level alert system to help people know how the virus is spreading. Level one means the disease is contained in New Zealand and level four means community transmission is happening and the disease is not contained. Given how much time the country has spent in the lower levels, its represents one of many positive COVID-19 stories that the whole world can learn from.

Thailand

Thailand is one of the countries that have positive COVID-19 stories. The Asian country of almost 70 million people was designated a success by the WHO. The economy of Thailand is one that is heavily built on tourism, with one-fifth of GDP coming from the tourist sector. However, since the virus has spread, the government of Thailand has had to make economic sacrifices to protect public health. The country had to close its borders to certain travelers, including many Chinese provinces. In addition, Thailand postponed many sporting events and held them without fans to slow the spread of the virus. In particular, Bangkok was in a partial lockdown with only essential services remaining open. Slowing down activity does hurt the economy, but it eases the blow of the virus.

Thailand has also mobilized more than 1 million health volunteers to help respond to the virus. In addition, the government’s health officials have taken the side of precaution throughout the pandemic. This includes rigorous hygiene and wearing face masks at all times. Moreover, Thai people have generally followed the advice of medical professionals, which has contributed to the Thailand’s COVID-19 success story. The Thai government also has one centralized administration, which helped with communication and organization throughout the pandemic.

Vietnam

Vietnam is also among countries with positive COVID-19 stories. Vietnam’s actions to deal with the virus came early and were aggressive, taking place before the virus even entered the country. This early and decisive action is one of the measures that helped Vietnam early on and controlled the virus’s spread. In early January 2020, Vietnam was already preparing for drastic action before there was a recorded case in the country.

Vietnam enacted travel restrictions, closed schools and enacted a rigorous contact and tracing system, while also canceling public events. Governmental communication was upfront and transparent. Consequently, this helped with public compliance to slow the virus outbreak. Vietnam has been one of the best countries in regard to wearing a face mask, which helps slow the spread of the virus. A coordinated media effort throughout Vietnam has also helped the public and government be on the same page in response to the virus.

Another reason Vietnam has been successful in limiting the spread of COVID-19 is its testing. The country tests everyone in quarantine whether they have symptoms or not. This helps slow the spread of the virus, because not everyone who is infected shows symptoms. As a result, younger people who may be infected but don’t have symptoms don’t infect those who may be at higher risk of death to COVID-19. While there was no nationwide lockdown, Vietnam did impose containment on certain areas to reduce the spread of the virus. In February 2020, when a small handful of cases were in the area of Son Loi, the government sealed off the area to prevent the spread of the virus.

What We Can Learn from These Countries

These three countries show positive COVID-19 stories despite a situation that has turned negative in so many countries. A few similarities have emerged between the countries and their success. One is the unity between government and people, which is important to building communication and trust. When citizens trust their government and can easily access clear guidelines, they are more likely to comply with health measures to reduce the spread of the virus. Another similarity between these countries is that it’s better to be cautious rather than reckless. This helps to slow the spread of the virus and make it easier to track. With all the hardship and destruction brought on by COVID-19, these countries with positive COVID-19 stories show how to keep as many people as safe as possible.

Zachary Laird
Photo: Pexels

tourism and COVID-19COVID-19 has caused major disruptions for travel on a global scale. The tourism industry has already experienced a loss of over $300 billion in the first five months of 2020, and that number is projected to increase to as much as $1.2 trillion due to the pandemic. Additionally, 100 to 120 million jobs associated with tourism are at risk. Tourism and COVID-19 have struggled to co-exist amidst the turmoil of 2020, especially in three major tourist countries. However, organizations are working to protect the future of the travel industry.

Global Tourism and COVID-19

Tourism is considered the third-largest export sector. It is an essential component of the global economy, comprising 10.4% of total economic activity in 2018. Some countries rely on tourism for 20% or more of their total GDP. Many countries rely on capital from tourists, ranging from small, low-income island countries to larger, high-income countries. However, according to a U.N. policy brief, there will be an estimated 58-78% decrease in tourists in 2020 compared to 2019. Three countries that have been especially affected by COVID-19 and tourism are Spain, Thailand and Mexico.

  1. Spain: Spain experienced the second-largest overall economic loss in tourism due to the pandemic, behind the United States. The country lost $9.7 million in revenue due to travel restrictions and decreased tourism. Because Spain is a high-income country and has various other contributors to its economy, it is expected to recover with greater resilience than similarly impacted, lower-income countries.
  2. Mexico: In 2018, Mexico gained a total of 7.15% of its GDP from tourism. However, Mexico’s income from tourism in April 2020 was a mere 6.3%. Additionally, the tourism sector accounts for approximately 11 million jobs in Mexico alone, many of which are now at risk.
  3. Thailand: Thailand has lost nearly $7.8 million due to travel restrictions since the start of the pandemic. The country has taken these limitations seriously in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, this action has come at the cost of earning a ranking as one of the countries hit hardest by economic losses associated with tourism. The tourism sector is responsible for about 10% of the country’s total GDP.

Government Response to Tourism and COVID-19

Although COVID-19 has introduced an unprecedented economic strain on a global scale, governments are working to help countries recover. Spain released an aid package allocating €400 million to the transport and tourism sectors, €14 million to boost the local economy and €3.8 million for public health. Mexico’s government is distributing 2 million small loans of 25 thousand pesos (about $1000) to small businesses. Lastly, Thailand has approved three tourism packages to assist the local economy and small businesses.

NGO Policy Response to Tourism and COVID-19

With government and NGO action, experts predict that the travel sector will return to 2019 economic levels by around 2023. Many organizations are stepping in with policy solutions, providing hope for the industry’s revival. The U.N. World Tourism Organization released the COVID-19 Tourism Recovery Technical Assistance Package, highlighting three main policy areas: “Managing the crisis and mitigating the impact,” “providing stimulus and accelerating recovery” and “preparing for tomorrow.” Similarly, the International Labour Organization released a policy framework with four main pillars to protect workers, stimulate the economy, introduce employment retention strategies and encourage solutions-based social dialogue.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development provides “Travel in the New Normal,” a series of six policy areas. These include helping businesses to implement “touchless” solutions, sanitation supplies, health screenings and other protective measures to prevent COVID-19. The OECD states that domestic travel will be vital for the recovery of tourist nations, contributing to 75% of the tourism economy in OECD member countries.

These efforts, along with other policy strategies, are vital to the recovery of the tourism industry. They will be particularly important for small- and medium-sized enterprises, industry-employed women and the working class as a whole. These policies will also further U.N. Sustainable Development Goals like No Poverty, Reduced Inequality, Partnership, Sustainable Cities & Communities and Decent Work & Economic Growth.

The tourism sector has suffered major losses in response to COVID-19, with a significant amount of revenue and jobs lost or at severe risk. Countries of all regions and income levels have been affected by the pandemic, including Spain, Mexico and Thailand. However, these setbacks provide unique opportunities to both transform the tourism industry and promote the Sustainable Development Goals.

– Sydney Bazilian
Photo: Flickr