Friday 28 April 2000

DY5 Bulletin 4:

The walk continuues

The next morning (28th), we walked up the beach to Wat Mai for breakfast. The walk was beautiful as the sun mounted in the east and the cool sand was delightful to the feet. Along the way, we met some friendly fisherfolk, both Muslim and Buddhist. The meal at Wat Mai was hosted by a friendly abbot under a large Bodhi tree beside a lotus pond. Afterwards, we followed sandy roads paralleling the beach. We passed many "farms" that bred the Tiger Prawn fry that are so devastatingly raised throughout the South. These farms appeared clear and may not pollute much themselves, but their spawn are raised to market in much less happy surroundings, which we were soon to see.

We entered Sating Phra town from the back and came to Wat Jating Phra, a 1000 year old temple with a Singhalese style Stupa containing a Buddha-relic brought from Sri Lanka and a 500 year old Sleeping Buddha from the middle Ayuddhaya period. Today was a day for learning about the ancient history of this area. Tomorrow we will return to the lake.

From Wat Jating Phra, we headed east towards the lake, leaving the traffic noise of last night behind. Rain clouds were up, so the walking was pleasant, and the asphalt never got hot. Only a few drops of rain fell.

Once back on the west side of the Sating Phra peninsula (only 6-7 km wide at this point, we entered Khu Kuud township (9 villages) which we had landed in & walked through on the 25th. As we passed into Klong Ree township to the north of Khu Kuud, an important difference became obvious. The Local Administration Organization (LAO) of Khu Kuud, under pressure from many of its people and local activists, has forbidden tiger prawn farms within its area. Once we entered Klong Ree township, we saw many tiger prawn farms.

Tiger Prawn Farms & Local Politics 

The word we have been hearing from many of the locals is that the local LAO is dominated by people with tiger prawn interests. The Kamnan (traditional head of the township, now elected) owns a tractor that digs the ponds and sells inputs to the prawn cultivation. The village headmen of some villages are middlemen in getting local farmers to sell their land to outsiders. (This is a phenomenon we saw repeated in tiger prawn farming areas during the first & second walks (1996 & 97).)

Historical, structural note: The LAOs replaced the Township Councils that were made up of each township's (tambol) Kamnan, the Headmen of the villages (Pooyai Ban) within the township, and a councilor from each village. (The Kamnan and Headmen were & still are under the control of & serve the central state bureaucracy.) In the transition period to the new system, the Kamnan and Headmen are automatically on the new LAOs for the first term of 4 years, along with 2 elected councilors from each village. After the first transition term, the Kamnan and Headmen revert to solely administrative functions under the state apparatus (although elected by the people) and the LAOs will be made up of councilors elected solely to serve on the LAO. The first townships began this transition about 4 years ago, while the last have just begun.

While LAOs are directly elected now, rather than automatic, they tend to be dominated by the same old interests. Further, the purpose of their creation was not really "decentralization & democratization," as claimed by national politicians at the time (1995). Actually, they were a clever ploy for the political parties and the big business interests they represent to shift a lot of power from the bureaucracy in particular the Ministry of the Interior which has controlled the Kamnan & headmen to themselves. As LAOs were first formed, the political parties quickly moved in to establish their control. The result is that most are under the influence of local MPs and "influential persons."

The people who have been whispering their complaints to us are upset that their rice fields are being harmed by pollution from the tiger prawn farms. The way that tiger prawn cultivation has been promoted here relies on intensive cultivation that relies on high stocking rates and heavy inputs requiring a lot of investment. Salty or brackish water is used to help control diseases. After each batch is harvested, the ponds must be flushed clean and the waste water is dumped back into the lake, streams, and the sea, as well as neighbor's lands. (Remember that many of the tiger prawn farms are owned by outsiders.) This waste water is salty and is full of antibiotics, chemicals, and prawn feces. All of these are harmful for lake and rice field ecologies. In the areas were tiger prawn cultivation was first established, the ponds had to be abandoned after 5 years, sometimes less, due to accumulated pollution. Afterwards, nothing could be grown for many years. After old ponds are abandoned, new mangroves and rice fields must be taken over. It is a voracious vicious circle chasing after profits without regard for posterity, Nature, or Dhamma.

Due to the involvement of "influential persons," who are often inseparable from local politicians (including MPs), the rice farmers are afraid to speak out publicly or to take any action. They feel that doing so would threaten their lives. Yet another example from the real world of "democracy Thai-style" in action. I wonder if this is recognized as a human rights issue in the circles that debate such things.

Walking up the road towards Tha Kura (breakfast) and continuing past it, the east side of the road is all rice fields & Danot palms, much as they've been for centuries. To the west, between the lake 2-300 meters away & the road, modernity has inserted itself blatantly. Except for a village every kilo or so, and the occasional rice field of a local farmer who doesn't want to sell out, it's prawn pond after prawn pond. Many Danot trunks are piled in the ditch next to the road. The Abbot from Tha Kura commented that thousands have been cut down. The once beautiful view to the lake is now more industrial than natural. (Notes from previous walks go into more detail about tiger prawn cultivation and the associated problems.)

Mutual Causality

The contrast between east & west reflects chains of mutual causality. Why is the west side so much different? Due to over fishing in the lake & gulf, often with destructive methods, shrimp & fish populations are way down, depriving many families of food & livelihood. Government policy keeps rice prices depressed, which is common throughout the world with staple crops & probably represents World Bank-IMF policy. During the bubble economy (before the famous crash), land speculation was rampant & rice fields were bought up for reasons the farmers didn't understand (the ponds weren't dug until the last year or two, some as we passed by). The government's export policy (again, encouraged by World Bank-IMF, that is, the West) depends on unsatisfied greed among the people.

These conditions support the development of tiger prawn farming and tiger prawn farming in turn locks in these structures on the local level. The mutual causality between causes & effects means that effects are also causes & vice versa. Understanding this complex web of mutual causality or inter-relatedness (idappaccayata) is crucial to find strategies for improving the situation. The challenge is to find strategic interventions that undermine the above chains of mutual causality and encourage healthier patterns of inter-relationship. I will explore this more fully in one of the final bulletins.

Thank you for your interest. Feel free to share these bulletins as widely as you like. Fax, reproduce, email, and publish them as much as you want. Please do not edit them in any way that changes the meaning or intent of the author, and accredit them to Santikaro Bhikkhu on behalf of "The Dhamma-Yatra for Songkhla Lake" 2000.

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Created 3 May 2000 Evolution/Liberation