Where have the crabs gone?
Sufficiency Economy Philosophy or SEP is a guiding principle for Thailand’s path on development, evidently indicated in its 12th National Economic and Social Development Plan. It emphasizes on moderation, reasonableness and self-immunity. In short, the essence of the philosophy is how to strengthen our resilience in times of unexpected crisis. When one is always prepared for the worst, it enhances the opportunity to survive. Many communities in Thailand and abroad have experimented applying this development concept to their daily life and achieved positive outcome.
Laem Klad, a compact village of fisherman in Chantaburi, is one of the success stories of community management based on SEP. Decades ago the area was abundant with fish, crab and shell, and fishing was the only source of living and income for locals. However, residents started to notice and raised alarming concern about the diminishing catch throughout the years.
A flagship project in Laem Klad that is inspired by the Kung Kraben Bay Royal Development Study Centre is the ‘crab bank.’ To maintain the number of ‘blue swimming crab’ in the bay, fishermen are encouraged to donate any mother crab with eggs whenever they could catch one to the crab bank instead of selling it in the market. The crab bank will look after the mother crab until the eggs have developed into ‘zoea’ or tiny young crabs which will be released back to the sea. To increase their chances of survival, artificial sea grass made from unwound nylon ropes are placed on the sea bed so that young crabs could take refuge. Additionally, 4 areas are designated as no-fishing zone to allow the crabs to grow. Each mother crab lays about 500,000 eggs and the rate of survival is 1%.
Although the operation of the Crab Bank is going on quite well, the Laem Klad villagers still plan to be less dependent on fishing and strengthen their level of self-immunity, which is one of the important elements of the SEP. An option is to plant some crops; such as, cashew nuts and coconut. Moreover, the village has promoted Laem Klad as a sustainable tourism destination. Activities have been designed for tourists to take part in making artificial seagrass or releasing crabs back to the sea.
“Fishing remains our major source of living, but tourism is extra income. This way the community could have earning without solely relying on the budget from the government” says Phuyai Somnuek, who is the village chief and an active practitioner of the SEP in the community. To enable villagers to better manage their financial matters, the system of keeping a household account was also introduced. This allows any payment to be made reasonably and prudently, avoiding expenses on unnecessary and wasteful items. In addition, 3 savings cooperatives were set up in the village to provide sources of funding.
Today, Laem Klad Village has become one of the model communities of development. The key to their success seems to be the determination of the local residents to protect their own community and livelihood. But as the case of the Crab Bank has shown, determination alone is not enough and should be complemented with knowledge. In terms of self-immunity, financial matters are often a deciding factor in many families and that is how a household account has proved itself necessary and beneficial. Evidence from many successful communities has demonstrated that a household account contributes to proper financial management and reduced risk of bankruptcy.
There are many paths of development in this world without a one-size-fits-all model. So, it all depends on the community to know their capacity and decide what is best for them. The story of Laem Klad could be an inspiration for many others to start exploring and experimenting with locally initiated ideas for the common good of the locality. Although the best outcome could not be guaranteed, at least a participatory approach like this is a good start towards being a self-empowered and resilient community.
From humble beginnings in 2005 when the village just hoped to increase the amount of crabs in the bay, Laem Klad has made impressive and rather comprehensive achievements in community development. Currently, there are regular meetings every month to assess what still needs to be done. Locals are satisfied that they could maintain their living without having to relocate elsewhere. Is there anything else that could make them happier? “We want our children and grandchildren to be happy in settling in the community and make their living here” replied Phuyai Somnuek with a smile.