How a village’s desserts broke a cycle of bad debt

Chai Nat is a small province in the heart of Thailand. The Tha Chin River and fertile soil make it ideal for growing rice, but foodies also love its Taengkwa pomelo, whose thin, slightly grained peel holds treasures of tart sweetness. Despite this bounty, farmers are locked in a cycle of debt and increasingly affected by climate change.

dtacblog spoke to Tipwan Netnak, the first female head of Ban Tha Samrong, a village in Chai Nat’s Sankhaburi district. To grow new income streams for her community–and with a little help from dtac Net for Living–she is harnessing the power of mobile connectivity to turn around Ban Tha Samrong’s fortunes.

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“Our hometown used to be so abundant. Each year, we could grow three harvests of rice. But things began to change about eight or nine years ago when the first severe drought hit Chai Nat. As water became scarce, we could only grow rice just once a year. This means our income has also dropped,” said Ms. Tipwan.

Fighting Poverty

As Ms. Tipwan became village chief around that time, things were off to a rocky start. “Being the first female village head, I was blamed for bringing bad luck to the village. They claimed things went wrong because a woman served as their head,” she said.

But Ms. Tipwan did not give in. First, she worked with local temples to improve children’s access to food. But as the drought dragged on, she began to seek out new sources of income for her community. She suggested that they market the desserts villagers were making according to age-old recipes.

“Villagers would make orange sheets and sun-dried bananas and I would drive them to Bangkok to sell them at Or Tor Kor Market. Sometimes, it was hard to sell these products. But I took it upon myself to sell everything before heading back home. I knew that was the expectation from my people,” Tipwan said with a spark of firm determination in her eyes.

Her efforts finally led to the formation of the Inter Housewives Community Enterprise.

The Cycle of Bad Debt

Talking about poverty in her area, Tipwan said, “All locals are farmers. We have worked in paddy fields throughout our life. I am a rice farmer. Does farming improve our lives? My answer is no. Of 100 rice farmers, just two are debt-free and can earn a decent living.”

Farmers will borrow money to buy fertilizer. But if there is no rain, that harvest is lost and the debt cannot be repaid.

“We don't make any money growing rice. We just keep working on the farmland because it's our way of life,” Ms. Tipwan said.

Breathing New Life into Community

dtac’s Net for Living team scours the country in search of local produce that could gain traction nationally–or even internationally–with the right online presence.

When they discovered Ban Tha Samrong and its unique desserts, they were hooked. Their favorite, khao niao na kwai lui translates to “sticky rice trampled by buffaloes” a deliciously rich and sweet indulgence.

Green beans and taro are mixed with coconut milk and palm sugar, then stirred until it looks like the muddy pool that buffaloes love to indulge in. While the name and look may be off-putting, one taste and you’ll be hooked. And dtac Net for Living at once recognized this treat could be a hit online.

“I completely ignored the online world," said Ms. Tipwan. "But dtac Net for Living stepped in and advised us on how to market our treats through social media. Today, everyone knows about Khao Niao Na Kwai Lui. Most of our customers are hotels. They order the dessert for their coffee break. Sometimes, the demand is so high that we cannot keep up!"

dtac Net for Living’s mentorship covers all the steps needed to turn a local product into an internet sensation: packaging, photography, social media. And the community has since expanded its dessert range to many more local delights, from pandanus pudding in coconut cream to cakes and coconut dumplings.

Ms. Tipwan credits the initiative with improving the village’s finances–and no one dares accuse her of bringing bad luck to Ban Tha Samrong anymore!