Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Oxfam Project Visit - Prachuap Khiri Khan

Part of the reason I joined the Cycle Strongman Expedition is to help my friend Chris raise $100,000 AUD for Oxfam Australia. Oxfam need your support, so please donate, and for those of you who have already supported us so far, thank you for your donation!

If you have ever wondered if your donation makes a difference, I can tell you that it does. Last week we were privileged to spend some time in a fishing village just north of Prechuap Khiri Khan. For a number of years, the people in these communities have witnessed rising sea levels, increased pollution in the oceans, and depleted fish and crab resources - which they depend on for their livelihoods. As a result, the local people have taken the situation into their own hands. They realize that if they are to continue living and depending on the sea for their income, they have to start looking after their environment and investing in their future.

I was particularly humbled by a project called the Crab Bank (“Tannakarn Booo” in Thai), which has been established with the assistance of the Federation of Southern Fisherfolk (a Thai NGO), and is funded by Oxfam GB.

The people in Ao Noi village are, for the most part, crab-fishing families. As little as five years ago they were able to fish from their boats only 100 metres from the shoreline, but now they are forced to go way out to sea to catch the same amount. The main reason for this is because the near-shore resources have been destroyed by large commercial fishing boats (from outside provinces) that are equipped with destructive fishing gear such as bottom trawlers, and smaller mesh sized gill nets. These boats took all the fish and crab resources from the bay and left nothing behind for the local fishermen. The community could no longer rely on coastal resources, nor afford the expensive fuel prices to go beyond their usual spots for long periods of time.

As a result, the local community members decided they would set up a reproduction system to bring their crab resources back home, by encouraging the fisherman to donate the gravid mother crabs and their eggs (outside the shell) to the Crab Bank, so that they can reproduce in a controlled environment. The new crabs are later released back to the sea, meaning that the crab population will eventually increase and that their natural habitat will be rehabilitated.

Since the Crab Bank was established two years ago the fisherman are again able to catch swimmer crabs (the size of your palm) along the coast each time they go out and are actively participating in the rehabilitation of their local environment.

In addition, this project encourages community members to invest part of their earnings to a community Fishing Cooperative - allowing them to purchase new fishing supplies, fuel, rice and other household items at wholesale prices as well as keep the Crab Bank project running efficiently. The community also established their own Savings Bank - where members get interest on their savings, don't have to pay bank fees and can learn about saving money for their future.

P’Pet, the manager of the Crab Bank, is a woman in her sixties but I was amazed by her passion and energy. It is not an easy task to convince local people in the community to change their fishing habits, but she is someone who really believes that the Crab Bank project is going to help them in the future.

I was very lucky to stay with P’Pet in her house on the beach, and before going to bed she said to me in Thai with a big smile “Even though I might be poor, my body might be old and my eyes may look tired, my heart still has energy”.

Chris and I are extremely grateful to the wonderful people at Oxfam GB - Bow, Nuch, Took, Kang, and Baljit - who have helped us to organize visits to various Oxfam projects during the course of our ride through Thailand.

If you would like to support Oxfam Australia to continue to fund more projects like these please sponsor my ride to Pai...Straight Up.

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