Woven out of the economy
A village in Rayong known for handicrafts limps along with tourism grounded
Ban Map Lao Cha On village has long been famous for cross-body bags and large baskets made out of krajood, or saltmarsh bulrush, an abundant natural resource found in the village in Chak Pong sub-district, in the Klaeng district of Rayong.
Local artisans weave krajood into patterns using innovative colour schemes to create interesting products. The village's bags were offered by the national carrier, Thai Airways International, as special travel kits to Royal First Class and Royal Silk Class passengers in October last year.
But after the outbreak frightened away visitors from Rayong, the villagers fretted as their revenues fell by as much as 90%.
"Our lives are in a very bad condition," said Swat Chan-La-or, 60, a member of Ban Map Lao Cha On Handicraft Group. "We used to earn 9,000 baht a month or 300 baht a day before the pandemic, but my monthly income has plunged to only 1,000-2,000 baht a month. We have to survive on vegetables, fish and other foods available from a nearby reservoir.
"We would like the government to speed up reopening the country to foreign visitors and beef up promotion of domestic tourism," she said.
The number of visitors to Ban Map Lao Cha On dropped to only 100 a week in August and September from about 1,700 a week before the virus crisis, said Mrs Swat.
Mrs Swat has worked with saltmarsh bulrush handicrafts for more than 13 years, learning with her parents and later members of the group.
The group was established in 2001 by 17 founding members who have experience in woven bulrush mats. Saltmarsh bulrush weaving is a traditional skill passed down among Ban Map Lao Cha On villagers.
Their weaving history goes back hundreds of years, since late in the Ayutthaya Kingdom.
According to Mrs Swat, her group began with weaving mats and sugar sack products for home use, later expanding to make handicrafts with the assistance of the Pikul Thong Royal Development Study Centre initiated by His Majesty King Bhumibol.
She said whenever villagers are have free time from gardening or farming, they make woven products from saltmarsh bulrush.
Montree Yamyueam, chief of the Otop network for Rayong province, said the group has 40 members, with each member earning an average of 6,000 baht a month.
Some can earn up to 15,000 baht a month depending on their capabilities, he said.
The group makes three product categories: bags and baskets; boxes; and other miscellaneous items such as vases, shoes and hats.
The government's agencies and academic institutes have in recent years supported imparting knowledge about product development and marketing.
Woven products are exported to Asia and Europe under the brand Baan Kawee Weaving.
The group generated about 6 million baht last year, half of which was from exports, mainly to the US and Japan. Because of the outbreak, the group projects sales will drop to only 2 million baht this year.
Mr Montree said the group recently submitted a petition to the Community Development Department to promote state agency and private firm purchases of Otop products for use in their activities.
Danucha Pichayanan, secretary-general of the National Economic and Social Development Council, said the government is allocating some funds from the 400-billion-baht spending plan for social and economic rehabilitation to agencies to organise marketing events for Otop products. He said the government would allocate about 20 billion baht through the National Village and Urban Community Fund Office to promote community tourism, community businesses including Otop, and job development.