Posted on 22 May 24 in KHT News and tagged with culture farming karenpeople land rural thailand

The Karen are subsistence farmers and farming is vital to their survival and is also a significant part of their culture and traditions.

The Karen have a very special relationship with the land and the natural resources around them not only provide food but also shelter, medicine, beautification and clothing. The Karen’s traditional ways of farming and using the land are in threat from both internal issues linked to poverty and also external obstacles such as climate change and government policies that have restricted their access to their own land.

The landscape across Mae Hong Son are intricate mosaics of rice, corn, garlic, soy bean and other crops. Whilst rice is the most important crop for the Karen, there are many plants, trees and flowers have have other important uses for daily life. This can include fern, which is eaten in soups, seeds that are used as beading and also plants that are used for the treatment of ailments or as natural sunscreen.

Water is vital for the survival of the Karen, both in terms of drinking water and managing the water throughout the seasons for their crops. KHT’s work is heavily informed by the foundational needs of the Karen and we have worked with them to provide water and irrigation systems that not only improve health but also help them grow rice and other food and prevent crop loss.

The Karen’s cultural dress also pays homage to the land in the use of colours found in the landscape, materials that are hand dyed and woven as well as the famous Karen bags that men and women use when out and about.

In recent years, the implementation of government forestry laws and national parks has meant that many Karen people cannot access land they used for foraging, or are forbidden from cutting trees to build homes or dams. Whilst it is important to protect the natural environment, this hasn’t been done in consultation with the Karen in many places, meaning their indigenous knowledge has been ignored and their needs left unmet.

Rotational farming is a traditional form of farming that protects the integrity of the land and makes it useful in the short term and long term. Whilst there is some discussion that slash and burn techniques and rotational farming are damaging forests, there is a lot of evidence to show that they can also be beneficial for farming and this is what the Karen have been keen to stress.

The Karen are also keen not to use chemicals in their farming, however due to demand and other issues chemical fertilisers are becoming more common. Insecticides are also increasingly being used that contain harmful chemicals. This can run off into water sources such as well and streams and clean water sources are now sought higher up in the hills away from farmland, but many villagers cannot access them without support and struggle to find clean water.

The Karen’s connection to their land is apparent in how they live and farm, however having to care for families, coping with poverty and other everyday needs mean that many Karen are also moving away from agriculture. Many of the farmers we speak to have encouraged their children not to stay in the villages to be farmers as they recognise that is can be a difficult life.

Being able to visit Karen villages and learn about how they farm is truly a privilege, and KHT is keen to ensure we listen to their needs and whatever obstacles they face, we provide them with the most appropriate support. You can help us continue our work by donating today!