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 Songkhram River Basin, Thailand
Wetland Livelihoods in the Lower Songkhram River Basin

Communities located on or near the Songkhram floodplain exhibit a high degree of reliance on wetland derived products for their livelihoods. Villagers generally are engaged in multi-component livelihoods, which vary by season and availability of particular wetland products. Agriculture is of less importance locally than is generally assumed by outside agencies, thus leading to inappropriate development priorities and mis-allocation of resources. In particular, local people are engaged in a mix of the following wetland dependent activities:
  • Capture fisheries : Large numbers of families are dependent on fishing for both subsistence and income. Up to 90% of households in some villages have members who are involved in fishing to a greater or lesser extent, with most being part-time or seasonal fishers. At certain times of year, when fish are migrating upstream or downstream off the floodplain following the rainy season, a significant artisinal fishery exists which generates significant local wealth. Up to 85 different fishing gears were used in the past, many of which were made locally, supporting a secondary industry. High value fish are sold fresh, while lower value fish are processed.

  • Fish processing : Because of the surplus of fish at certain seasons and the difficulties with transporting fresh fish to market, there is a healthy fish processing industry developed in riverside villages, although not all of the raw material is derived from the Songkhram River these days, with much of the fish being used in pla som (fermented sour fish) being derived from the Central Plains. Some villagers process large amounts of salted fermented fish in clay jars (pla daek) or dried fish (pla haeng), both of which have a reputation for quality from the Songkhram communities.

  • Harvesting wetland products: A vast range of wetland products, both terrestrial and aquatic, are harvested on a seasonal basis by local villagers and people from outside the basin who travel in to take advantage of the abundance of natural resources. Villagers from as far away as Khon Kaen and Kalasin are reported to come and gather mushrooms and bamboo shoots from the paa boong paa thaam during the early rainy season for sale in their home provinces. Other commonly harvested products include wild vegetables, red ants eggs, tubers, fuel wood, wood or vines for making household implements or fish traps, medicinal herbs and reeds for making mats.

  • Agriculture: Traditional forms of agriculture are now increasingly scarce, as more intensive forms oriented towards external marketshave taken over from subsistence farming. Wet paddy rice is the most commonly grown crop (principally glutinous rice varieties), plus smaller areas of cash crops such as sugar cane, tomato, melon and maize. Rice is mostly grown in the wet season without irrigation, but significant areas may be lost due to flooding when grown on the floodplain or lower terraces. Dry season rice cultivation has long been promoted by the government using centralised irrigation systems, but the majority have failed and are now abandoned. However, small scale systems using farmers own pumps or flood recession trap ponds, have proven sustainable over the last 20 years. There are still instances of traditional mixed crop farming systems using terraces on riverbanks or small cleared areas in the paa boong paa thaam, but they are increasingly rare.

  • Livestock Raising: This is a livelihood activity of great importance to households in the Lower Songkhram Basin, especially raising cattle and buffalo. In the dry season the livestock are driven into the flooded forest or areas of open grassland to graze, while in the rainy season when these areas are inundated, the livestock are taken to higher areas of dipterocarp forest known as “dawn” to feed. The buffalo are superbly adapted to the wetland conditions, having splayed hooves for walking on marshy land and being good swimmers. In the past they were used as draft animals, but nowadays are used as a source of animal manure and sold for ready cash when the family is in need e.g. a member requires medical treatment. In this sense, they are a form of insurance and social security for local villagers, who are less likely to fall into debt than villagers who have sold all their large livestock.