Senator Somchai Sianglai, Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee for People in the Southern Provinces, heard the news first-hand while talking with villagers on Koh Maphrao (Coconut Island), off Phuket’s east coast.
Koh Maphrao has an area of more than 2,000 rai. The island is home to some 180 households, and has a population of over 700 people.
Of note, Baan Koh Maphrao is one of the villages off Phuket that has needed the support of the One Phuket initiative and the Living Waters Phuket Foundation in providing “Life Bags” of essential household items to villagers in need. The island, under the administration of Koh Kaew Municipality, lies less than 500 metres off the east coast of Phuket.
Before the pandemic, 80% of the villagers on the island earned income from tourism due to the abundance of natural attractions, fresh seafood from fishing, the villagers explained at a meeting set up under the shade of a large tree beside one of the idyllic beaches on the island.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the people of the island suffered. Without tourism, the villagers had no market to sell their catch, produce and wares, Senator Somchai was told.
Baan Koh Maphrao is one of a handful of villages that was singled out for special support under a project launched by Phuket Governor Narong Woonciew. The aim of the project was to help the island become sustainable through focussing on four aspects: the people, the island’s economy, the infrastructure and the environment, explained Mukda Limnukulpattanakan.
Suban Rakthong, of the Phuket Provincial Agriculture Office, pointed out that his office had provided support through a B248,400 project to assist 52 farmers on the island by promoting their produce and increasing the efficiency of agricultural production.
“The project included two prototype plots as learning centers so that people can develop them as supplementary occupations,” he said.
Yet, the villagers still suffered under the current economic pressure, Senator Somchai heard yesterday.
Mr Somchai praised the efforts of the ‘Coconut Island Model’ of self-reliance based on the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy. “But from listening to the villagers, it was found that tourism has to support them. There is an obvious dependency,” he said.
“Therefore, it is recommended that government agencies prepare the data set based on the principles according to the needs of the villagers according to the current reality so we can create awareness of the situation, and we would like to see [government agencies] helping villagers in terms of community development and agriculture in Phuket,” he said.
Mr Somchai did point out that the villagers had a specific advantage in how they continue to live their lives according to their traditional lifestyle.
“Coconut Island can make a valuable difference, it has a valuable soft power,” he said.
At a meeting at the old Provincial Hall on Narisorn Rd in Phuket Town on Thursday (Apr 21), Senator Somchai was especially welcomed to Phuket by Governor Narong so the senator could see first-hand the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on local livelihoods.
“In 2019, Phuket province generated more than B442.9 billion in income from tourism. From the COVID-19 situation, that income [from tourism] has been reduced by more than 96%, causing people to suffer from acute poverty,” Governor Narong said plainly.
“Phuket Province must adjust its five-year provincial development plan to be in line with the 13th National Economic and Social Development Plan and the economic and social conditions to be able to continue living without relying on the one-way economy that comes from the tourism sector,” Governor Narong said.
“In addition, Phuket is ready to push Phuket to be the centre of not just tourism, but also education and service innovation at an international standard, and working towards sustainable development by upgrading the grassroots economy so that people have the chance to be aware of changes to their sources of income,” he said.