From Businessman to Conservation Hero
Mr. Banjong's grandparents emigrated to Thailand from China to seek a new and better life. The family led a quiet existence in the rural area of Trang Province in southern Thailand as subsistence farmers and modest shop keepers. As with migrants worldwide, all wished that the next generation would be more successful, and the family placed great emphasis on education, thus Mr. Banjong studied to become an engineer.
He started off working in the industrial sector including the operation of aquaculture shrimp farms. The late 1980s to 1990s was a boom time for shrimp farming in Thailand such that this export industry allowed Thailand to be the world's largest producer of tiger shrimp from the early 1990s. However, the uncontrolled growth of the industry meant exploitation and thus degradation of mangrove habitats.
Coming from a rural coastal area of Thailand, Mr. Banjong could see that the industry would not be sustainable if the actions continued unabated. Before the practice could spread to the Andaman coast of Mr. Banjong's hometown, he knew that he had to take action to protect the natural ecosystems of his home. He returned to Trang and initiated conservation practices. These included convincing his fellow villagers and the local government to engage in ecological connectivity to protect the coastline to the coral reefs. Mr. Banjong started by educating the communities on ecological conservation, teaching them that running a sustainable business of "clean" fish farms surrounded by healthy stands of seagrass and mangroves would provide revenue and help to regenerate habitats and marine organisms. He helped to establish the "Bohin Conservation Group (Bohin Farmstay)" with the objective to create alternative livelihoods for the community and promote coastal conservation activities. The Group comprises four livelihood enhancement components: 1) Women's Group - prepare meals for visitors, produce local handicrafts for sale; 2) Rubber plantation; 3) Aquaculture and Fisheries Group; and 4) Small Enterprise - small grocery that also sells locally-made fish products and batik and tie dye products. The Farmstay also provides a venue for community meetings, accommodation for tourists, and environmental educational programs for school children, government agencies, and tourists.
The village has designated its own rules and regulations for the management and sustainable use of marine resources. It engages in ecological connectivity by planting mangroves and seagrass so the habitats are healthy for aquaculture and fish nurseries that the locals use for their livelihoods. Villagers also conduct voluntary patrolling to check on mangroves to make sure no one is illegally harvesting the wood. At the Farmstay, strict rules for recycling and a ban on plastic water bottles are implemented. Eco-tours are provided by the community for snorkeling, dugong watching, and seagrass planting.
The various groups survive at subsistence level and villagers have to engage in more than one income-generating activity. Thus, 3C is helping the Women's Group improve their handicraft skills to produce higher quality and more varied products. In this way, the women will be able to sell their products for more income to support their families through a more secure livelihood.