LIVESTOCK, FISHING AND FISH FARMING IN THAILAND: PIGS, CHICKENS, WATER BUFFALO, FROGS AND SHRIMP

LIVESTOCK IN THAILAND

Cattle: 6.1 million; chickens: 231.9 million; sheep: 43,139; pigs: 7.6 million; goats: 380,277. [Source: 2013 World Almanac]

Animal husbandry accounted for about 13 percent of the gross value of agricultural production in the early 1980s. Large numbers cattle and water buffalo are raised in the Northeast. Most of the animals are sold to middlemen who then sell them to slaughterhouses. They are not sold directly to slaughterhouses by farmers because of Buddhist beliefs about bad karma arising from the killing of large animals.

Tame elephants remained important to the forest industry in until commercial logging was banned in 1980s.They were used primarily in harvesting teak, where the use of mechanical equipment was economically prohibitive because of the wide dispersal of individual trees (See Elephants). Weather conditions are generally unsuitable for using horses except in the North, where the common variety has traditionally been the so-called Yunnan pony mainly valued as a pack animal.

Into the 1980s, livestock reproduction rates were low because most animals were bred only when it did not interfere with work. In addition, debilitating diseases, including foot-and-mouth disease, were endemic to all regions except the South. These diseases retarded expansion of the national herd of livestock, which was reported to be growing at only about 2.5 percent annually in the early 1980s. Shortages of meat in Bangkok in the early 1970s led to student demonstrations and the establishment of export quotas in early 1974 (in early 1979 the quotas were 35,000 head of cattle and 15,000 of buffalo annually). Several commercial dairy herds and smallholder dairy cooperatives furnished some milk for sale. Demand for fresh milk and dairy products had grown, especially in Bangkok. [Library of Congress]

According to the Thai government: Nowadays the dairy, pig, and chicken farming industries employ modern farming technology based on sound technical principles, not traditional, peasant farming as in the past. Animal husbandry in Thailand has progressed to become an integrated enterprise that combines the ready-to-eat food industry, canned food, retail and wholesale operations, and exporting in one package. [Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department]

Water Buffalo and Cattle in Thailand

Into the 1980s water buffalo and cattle remained the chief draft animals for cultivation, although tractors were playing an increasing role in some areas, as in the maize-growing regions of the central plain. Buffalo, predominantly of the swamp type well suited to paddy culture, were estimated at between 5.5 and 7.2 million. Able to flourish on coarse fodder and roughage indigestible by other livestock, buffalo were found in all farming areas; even very small paddy farmers usually had at least one animal. After maturing, buffalo were used as draft animals for five or six years, or until too old to work, when they were slaughtered and sold for meat. [Source: Library of Congress, 1987 *]

Cattle, numbering between 4.9 and 5.5 million in the 1980s, were used mainly for upland plowing and hauling carts. About 70 percent of all farms had cattle. Although 30 percent of farms had three or more head, there were few herds of more than 10 animals. Cattle also were slaughtered for meat once their usefulness had ended. *

About 40 percent of the cattle and 55 percent often water buffalo are raised in the northeast. Dairy farming is mainly found in Muak Lek district, in Saraburi province; Chiang Mai province; Phra Nakhon Sri Ayutthaya province; Nakhon Pathom province; Nong Pho subdistrict, Ratchaburi province; and Prachuap Kiri Khan province.

Poultry Industry

Thailand has one of the world’s largest poultry industries. It was the world’s forth largest export of chicken in 2003 when it shipped $1.5 billion worth of chicken. The industry employs hundreds of thousands of people. Before Thailand was struck by bird flu in the mid 2000s, about 60 percent of the country’s chicken exports went to Japan. It also exports large amounts of chicken to the European Union. Heavy chicken farming areas in Thailand include the Central Plains and the western region, such as Ayutthaya, Suphan Buri, Lop Buri, Chachoengsao, Nakhon Nayok, and Chonburi.

Almost all smallholders raise some chickens and ducks for eggs and meat. The commercial production of chickens grew dramatically in the 1970s, and nearly 65,000 tons of frozen chickens were exported in 1986, of which 95 percent went to Japan. A considerable number of commercial operations had flocks of over 20,000. Select breeding stock was used, and modern operational practices were followed. Commercial duck farms were almost entirely Chinese operated. [Library of Congress, 1987]

The largest poultry producer in Thailand is Charoen Pokphand Foods. A huge food conglomerate and Thailand’s biggest exporter it controls a large chunk of the Thai poultry market and holds a 60 percent share of the export market for shrimp. The company employs a vertical integration system, producing 80 percent of its chickens at its own farms using feed it produces itself. It employs a tracking system that traces every phase of chicken production from eggs to finished products.

Thailand’s billion dollar industrial poultry industry was devastated by bird flu. At home panicked consumers shunned eating chicken. In early 2005 domestic sales plummeted to one third of their previous levelss Thailand banned exports of raw chickens. Massive quantities of unsold chicken piled up in cold storage facilities, Things were a little better by late 2005.

Chicken Meat : Top Producing Countries: (Production, $1000; Production, metric tons in 2008, FAO): 1) United States of America, 18989434 , 16280100; 2) China, 12957495 , 11108773; 3) Brazil, 11948791 , 10243987; 4) Mexico, 3004190 , 2575565; 5) Russian Federation, 2318678 , 1987859; 6) Iran (Islamic Republic of), 1830434 , 1569276; 7) Indonesia, 1775825 , 1522458; 8) Japan, 1592220 , 1365049; 9) United Kingdom, 1508098 , 1292929; 10) Argentina, 1352114 , 1159200; 11) Turkey, 1266757 , 1086683; 12) Spain, 1206571 , 1042777; 13) Colombia, 1191460 , 1021468; 14) Thailand, 1187831 , 1018356; 15) France, 1183916 , 1015000; 16) Canada, 1166420 , 1000000; 17) Malaysia, 1162769 , 996870; 18) South Africa, 1135679 , 973645; 19) Peru, 1025395 , 879096; 20) Australia, 938247 , 804382.

The top exporters of broiler chickens in 2005 (metric tons): 1) Brazil (2.7 million); 2) the United States (2.3 million); 3) European Union (740,000); 4) China (331,000); 5) Thailand (240,000). [Source: U.S. Foreign Agricultural Service]

Pig Farming in Thailand

Pig farming in Thailand mainly serves domestic demand, amounting to 98-99 percent of the production in the 1980s, with only 1-2 percent available for export, which is restricted to Asian countries. Pig farming is concentrated in the Central Plains and the western part of the country, particularly Nakhon Pathom and Ratchaburi provinces, and is also spread out evenly, though to a lesser extent, throughout the other provinces and regions of the country. [Source: Library of Congress, 27]

Pigs were an important source of meat, and there were about 5 million in the early 1980s. Most farmers raised one or two, and an estimated 150,000 families were engaged in commercial pig raising.

Pigmeat: Top Producing Countries: (Production, $1000; Production, metric tons in 2008, FAO): 1) China, 47774428 , 47177631; 2) United States of America, 9638402 , 9518000; 3) Germany, 4516303 , 4459886; 4) Spain, 3575649 , 3469198; 5) Brazil, 3053255 , 3015114; 6) Canada, 2874331 , 2838425; 7) Viet Nam, 2501407 , 2470159; 8) France, 2258209 , 2230000; 9) Denmark, 2078970 , 2053000; 10) Netherlands, 2045284 , 2019735; 11) Russian Federation, 2034451 , 2009037; 12) Poland, 1947123 , 1922800; 13) Philippines, 1627112 , 1606786; 14) Italy, 1576696 , 1557000; 15) Japan, 1264193 , 1248401; 16) Mexico, 1164318 , 1149774; 17) Republic of Korea, 1069455 , 1056096; 18) Belgium, 1017115 , 1004410; 19) Thailand, 826098 , 815779; 20) United Kingdom, 700753 , 692000.

Labor and Human Rights Abuses in the Thai Fishing Industry

A report released by the the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in September 2013 slammed Thailand’s fishing industry for "serious abuses" such as forced labour and violence against employees, most of them immigrants from Myanmar and Cambodia. The report, "Employment Practices and Working Conditions in Thailand's Fishing Sector", is based on a survey conducted among 596 workers in four of the main fishing provinces - Samut Sakhon, Rayong, Ranong and Songkhla.

The Nation reported: “Ten per cent of the respondents reported being severely beaten on board vessels and more than a quarter said they worked or were on call for 17 to 24 hours a day. A quarter of respondents said they'd been deceived or coerced into working at sea. The survey also found that living and working conditions on long-haul vessels are worse than on boats that regularly return to shore. "This study does find serious abuses within the sector," said ILO senior programme officer Max Tunon. [Source: The Nation, September 5, 2013 ==]

“Thailand has been under international pressure to respond to reports of its labourers being forced to work as virtual slaves under brutal conditions. In May 2013 the Environmental Justice Foundation, a UK-based non-profit organisation working to defend human rights and protect the environment, released a report entitled "Sold to the Sea: Human Trafficking in Thailand's Fishing Industry". It revealed "evidence of human trafficking, labour abuse and routine violence including murder". ==

The situation is a main concern expressed in the US State Department's own "Trafficking in Persons Report", released in June 2013. A large part of the section about Thailand concerned problems in the fishing industry. "Weak law enforcement, inadequate human and financial resources, and fragmented coordination among regulatory agencies in the fishing industry contributed to overall impunity for exploitative labour practices in this sector," the report said. ==

The ILO report recommends that buyers of Thai seafood products "continue to advocate for and develop means for the monitoring of stricter regulatory standards to prevent and eliminate forced labour and other unacceptable forms of work from occurring within supply chains". The authorities must strictly enforce the law and arrest and punish those who abuse and otherwise violate the rights of workers in the industry. The labour laws must be fairly applied to all workers in the fishing sector, although an obvious obstacle is that many workers are illegal migrants, without written employment contracts. Perhaps it's time to consider registering such workers and improving their working conditions in order to address the severe labour shortages in the sector. ==

Frog Farming in Thailand

In 2006, AP reported: “The economy of this frog-farming village nearly croaked when the price of its plump product slumped on the international market. But Bo Talo may leap back from financial ruin with an innovative product: frog-in-a-can. People in the central Thailand village have long raised muddy brown-coloured, bumpy-skinned frogs for export to places like Taiwan, where frog legs and frog soup are favourites.But in 2000, the price of live frogs fell. So the people of Bo Talo invested $US15,200 ($A20,066.01) and started producing canned, ready-to-eat frog meat - under the Big Frog brand. [Source: AP, January 19, 2005 ]

"Our product's been well received because no one's ever done it before, so it's quite strange," says Yupa Sangnet, who came up with the idea and heads the group of villagers working on the project. "If you're the kind of person who doesn't like your frog fresh, you can have it in a can." The frogs are raised in large cement pools, slaughtered and cleaned, and then deep fried and tossed with two different sauces: spicy chili and sweet and sour. The chopped-up meat can be eaten with rice or as a snack with beer, much as fresh-cooked frog is consumed by Thais.

It's still a small-scale operation for the village of about 100 families, with just 15 workers. They produce only about 1,000 cans a day, paste on blue labels with a yellow cartoon frog licking its lips, and sell each can for 25 baht (less than $1). Things are looking good - all cans were snapped up at the launch in December, and a Thai businessman in the United States is talking about an export deal.

So, how do the frog farmers persuade the public to buy? It helps that Thais sneer at very little when it comes to food. No city, town or village is complete without its fried insect vendor. Even in hip, modern Bangkok, a bag of crickets, water bugs or larvae goes down like a treat. Big Frog is also pushing its wholesomeness, at a time when Thailand's chicken and duck industries are still fighting the blight of bird flu."No offence to those other producers, but our food's completely organic, and it's high in calcium and low in cholesterol," Yupa says. "We've done our research on its nutritional value. Our food's not just any food. It's healthy food, too."

Fishing in Thailand

Thailand ranks among the world's top ten countries that engage in deep-sea fishing in terms of catches. Thailand's main coastal waters for fishing activities are in the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea. Its ubiquitous network of streams, swamps, canals, and basins provides a constant source of freshwater fish for the locals. The southern coastal waters of the Gulf of Thailand on the east side of the panhandle and of the Andaman Sea on the west make for a further source of marine fauna.

Fish catch: 3.1 million metric tons (2013 World Almanac). Top fishing nations (1997, annual marine catch in millions of tons): 1) China (11.6); 2) Peru (8.9); 3) Chile (7.4); 4) Japan (5.9); 5) the United States (5.2); 6) Russia (4.3); 7) Indonesia (3.5); 8) India (3.3); 9) Thailand (3.0); 10) Norway (2.5); 11) South Korea (2.3).

Thailand, the world's third-largest fish exporter by value, with estimated sales of Bt210 billion, The main fishery exports are shrimp, squid and fake crab. Shrimp account for a large percentage of Thailand’s marine products exports. That industry was was hurt by 17 percent duties imposed by the United States on shrimp against six foreign countries for selling shrimp at below market prices.

Thailand supplies bluefin tuna to Japan and is the largest supplier of canned tuna to the United States. Most of the tuna is caught in the world richest tuna fishing grounds between the Philippines and Indonesia. Thai Union Frozen Products is a major tuna canner. It owns the Chicken of the Sea tuna brand. Sales in 2004 were $1.15 billion, The company benefits from high tuna prices and increased demand for tuna around the globe but suffers from high oil costs. Thai Union is also a major shrimp exporter.

Fishing Industry in Thailand

In the 1980s, the fisheries sector was of major importance to the economy as an earner of foreign exchange, marine products accounting for about 10 percent of total exports in 1986. Fish also accounted for about three-fifths of the protein in the national diet and an even higher proportion among the poorer rural population. Until the early 1960s, the country had been a net importer of fish. This situation completely changed with the introduction of trawl fishing, which resulted in a dramatic rise in the marine catch from 146,000 tons in 1960 to 1 million tons in 1968 and 2.1 million tons in 1985. Thailand became the third largest marine fishing nation in Asia after Japan and China. Of Thailand's 40,000 fishing vessels, nearly 20,000 were deep-sea trawlers, many with modern communication and navigation equipment and refrigeration facilities. [Library of Congress, 1987 *]

By 1980 large-scale fishing operations, based largely in urban areas, were responsible for 88 percent of Thailand's annual catch. The fishing industry was the economic backbone of many Thai coastal cities. The increase in the catch of shrimp was particularly notable, and shrimp exports became a major source of foreign exchange earnings. By about 1972 maximum exploitation of demersal (bottom-dwelling) and pelagic (open-sea) fish appeared to have been reached in the Gulf of Thailand and in the Andaman Sea. In the early 1980s, production remained relatively static, and there was growing concern that these areas were being overfished. *

Government control of fishing was limited. The use of certain kinds of fishing gear within three kilometers of the coast was banned, but there appeared to be no restriction on trawl net-mesh size, and undersized commercial food fish were being caught and dumped in with trash fish in the production of fishmeal. Moreover, during the 1970s neighboring Cambodia claimed territorial waters extending to 200 nautical miles from its coast. This reduced the area in the Gulf of Thailand available to Thai fishermen and increased the intensity of fishing off the coast of Thailand. Similar claims by Burma had also restricted Thai fishing in the Andaman Sea.*

“Inland fisheries, which included both freshwater and brackish water fish, officially reported annual catches of about 160,000 tons in the early 1980s. The actual catch--principally freshwater fish from flooded rice paddies, swamps, irrigation and drainage ditches, canals, reservoirs, rivers, lakes, and ponds--was estimated to be much higher. It was believed, however, to be declining as population growth resulted in overfishing and as increasing water pollution from industrial waste, insecticides, and siltation caused by forest destruction took its toll. *

Overfishing and Fishing Violence

Fishermen use nets, scoops, spears, baskets and hooks. Overfishing has consumed a once-plentiful fish supply in the Gulf of Thailand. The tsunami disaster in December 2004, devastated the west coast fisheries industry. India, Malaysia, Pakistan and Thailand are angered by a United States rule that prevents them from exporting shrimp because their shrimp fishermen don't use nets that allows turtles to escape.

Because Thailand’s coastal waters are overfished, Thai fishermen often venture into Vietnamese and Burmese waters, where they occasionally get shot at by paroling boats. Fishermen have been killed and imprisoned. By one estimate 400 Thai ships fish in Myanmar waters and take about $1 million worth of fish everyday. Because Myanmar is so poor it doesn’t have the resources to effectively patrol its waters and deter illegal fishing.

In the mid 1990s Thai fishermen were shot dead by Vietnamese maritime authorities for fishing in Vietnamese waters and Malaysian authorities fired on a Thai trawler, killing the captain and his 14-year-old son. Three Burmese fisherman were killed in dispute with Thai authorities over illegal fishing in the Andaman Sea. The Burmese government responded by closing its border with Thailand and demanded million of dollars in compensation.

Fish Farming

Commercial fish farming first started to be exploited in Thailand in the 1980s as fish yields began to decline. Aquaculture included the raising of fish, shrimp, and various mollusks, such as mussels, oysters, and clams. According to the Department of Fisheries, about 4.5 million hectares of inland water areas, mostly rice paddy fields, were suitable for aquaculture. Another 1.3 million hectares, including estuaries, mangrove swamps, and tidal flats, were also usable. [Library of Congress]

In rural areas, fish ponds are dug in rice fields. During the planting season the fish live in the flooded fields consuming insects that otherwise might damage crops and they fertilize the soil with their waste thereby saving the use of fertilizer and insecticides. In the dry season the fish live in the pond.

Fish farmers, in Singapore, Bangkok and Hong Kong dominate the freshwater tropical fish trade. The Philippines, Thailand and India are the largest exporters of seahorses. In the 1980, Thai fish farmer learned how to breed redtail sharks.

Shrimp Farming in Thailand

Shrimp farming nations in terms of weight: 1) Thailand; 2) China; 3) Indonesia; 4) Vietnam; and 5) Bangladesh. In 2006, over 30,000 farms produced 280,000 tons of shrimp. Exports to Europe, Japan and the United States earned more than $2 billion.

Thailand is a major shrimp and prawn producer. It’s shrimp industry is the third largest in the world. The United States is Thailand’s top customer, accounting for a third of the country’s annual shrimp exports. Thailand was the largest shrimp producer until 1993 when it was surpassed by China. Exporting shrimp and prawns cane be lucrative businesses. The devaluation of the baht 1997 economic crisis was boon for shrimp farmers.

Charoen Pokphand Food is Thailand’s largest food and meat exporter. It earns about $2.5 billion in revenues a year and is the world’s largest exporter of frozen shrimp. It made huge profits as demand for shrimp and prices rose.

There are many shrimp farms on Phang Nga Bay on the Andaman Sea. Paddle-wheel aerators circulate and oxygenate the plankton-green water.

Shrimp Farms

20120515-shrimp farm Construction_Pekalongan.jpg
shrimp farm construction
One quarter of all the shrimp produced is raised on shrimp farms. Most are raised in giant, man-made rectangular shrimp farming ponds and pens that are filled with coastal sea water directed and controlled by dikes. The shrimp are fed shrimp feed that is produced on industrial levels. The shrimp are harvested about twice a year

Until recently, exporting shrimp and prawns was lucrative businesses. Black tiger shrimp are often the preferred species. But today many are raising white shrimp, which cost less to produce and are immune to certain diseases.

Thailand, Ecuador and the Philippines were shrimp farming pioneers. Now shrimp farming is a major industry in Brazil, China, India, Central America and throughout Southeast Asia.

Indoor shrimp ponds have been developed with temperature and water-quality controls. These are seen as the future because the shrimp can be harvested five times a year and are shielded better from viruses and many environmental problems are reduced. Production is also more consistent and predictable.

Shrimp farming is being threatened by oversupply. Farmers are sometimes unable to sell all their catch. So many shrimp have been raised prices have collapsed. Farmers are working much hard to raise fewer shrimp. On top of that viruses devastated farmed stocks in Ecuador and China in the mid 1990s and Thailand in the early 2000s while farmers have been hit with tighter restrictions on the use of antibiotics.

Environmental Costs of Shrimp Farming

20120515-ShrimpFarming_Honduras_L7_1987-99 1.jpg
Coastal area of Honduras in 1987
There are a number of environmental problems associated with shrimp farming. Shrimps ponds often have no lining so salt water percolates through sandy soil, contaminating fresh water ground water supplies and aquifers. Waste water from the farms are fed into canals that empty into rivers used for drinking water and into the sea. Diseases caused by overcrowding at the farms are often treated with chloramphenicol---a powerful antibiotic with no known safe level of human consumption. In some places, particularly in Thailand, shrimp farms generate so much pollution that the farms are abandoned and the land is unable to produce anything else.

Many mangrove swamps have been destroyed to make way for shrimp farming ponds, degrading places where many young fish live. This, consequently, has harmed fisherman by reducing the number of fish they catch. Huge, export-oriented prawn and fish hatcheries have destroyed some local fishing operations.

20120515-ShrimpFarming_Honduras_L7_1987-99.jpg
Coastal area of Honduras in 1999
after shrimp farming
Forests have been cleared and wetlands and agriculture land have been appropriated for shrimp farms. One environmentalist told the New York Times, “This is basically a cut-and-kill system. They buy up the land, create dikes, use chemicals, and kill everything off. Then when they are done, they leave and move up and down the coast, looking for more land.”

World Heritage sites in Bangladesh and the Philippines have been cleared to make way for shrimp farming ponds. A report by the London-based Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) called the pollution and deforestion problems related to shrimp farming to be a “shocking environmental crisis.” Acknowledging the economic importance of the shrimp industry, many environmentalists are pushing for environmentally-friendly versions of shrimp farming rather than categorically condemning the practice.

Problems with Shrimp Farming in Thailand

The environmental impact of shrimp farming is enormous. Scores of mangroves, which protect coastlines from storms and erosion and provide nurseries for valuable fish, have been destroyed to make way for aquaculture.

Dams and shrimp farms have driven away the fish and made life difficult for fishermen. Overfeeding and the use of chemical to increase yields but harms the environment and cuts the lifespan of the farms themselves.

Viruses devastated farmed stocks in parts of Thailand in the early 2000s. In the Mae Klong region south of Bangkok shrimp ponds have been abandoned and have become rocks pits full of weeds. In the late 1980s, one virus wiped out nearly the entire Taiwanese shrimp industry.

Shrimp farming is being threatened by oversupply. Farmers are able to sell a portion of the catch. Charoen Pokphand Group’s profits have crashed as prices have dropped 50 percent. Thailand has been accused of illegally dumping shrimp in the United States.

Pollution from Shrimp Farms

Ioannis Gatsiounis wrote in the International Herald Tribune: “Sunton Chantong, a local fisherman and environmental advocate, gestured toward the Taseh river shore. Two years ago, dolphins swam up from the sea, but as a result of industrial shrimp farming and oil palm cultivation, he said, fewer big fish, crabs and jellyfish can be seen in the area. Shrimp ponds have become the most recognizable symbol of coastal degradation in Trang, a southwestern Thai province bordering the Andaman Sea. Shrimp thrive in brackish waters that are also home to mangroves, or "rainforests by the sea." [Source: Ioannis Gatsiounis, International Herald Tribune, March 21, 2008 **]

“Villagers in the area have depended on the mangroves’ rich biodiversity – including crabs, mollusks, numerous fish species and shrimp – for centuries. But during the 1990s, government subsidies and rising world prices for tiger prawn spurred a boom that some locals called "shrimp fever." Environmental concerns became overshadowed by the prospect of getting rich quick. Villagers tell of a time when literally every second family was digging a pond, and there was a new pickup truck in every driveway. **

“But many farmers released polluted pond water into the Andaman Sea and, as the number of farms rose, polluted water migrated back to the ponds, contaminating future harvests and the mangroves. Now, according to Earth Island Journal, an estimated half of Thailand’s mangroves on the eastern and southern coasts have been destroyed. Many villagers say shrimp fever has taught them a lesson – more shrimp ponds in and near mangroves mean fewer crabs and fish for local consumption. Even those who choose to ignore the consequences are often dissuaded by rising production costs, including higher prices of feed, biodiesel, and antibiotics, and falling world shrimp prices. **

Alternatives to Shrimp Farms in Thailand

Ioannis Gatsiounis wrote in the International Herald Tribune: “Yadfon, an environmental group started in 1985, is working with Sunton to wean the villagers off shrimp production by introducing sustainable forms of agriculture and small fisheries. To restore the coastal ecosystem, Yadfon – whose name means raindrop in Thai – has encouraged converting shrimp ponds back to mangrove and reintroducing plants like nipa and sago, palm species naturally found in and around mangroves that shelter the life forms that small fisherman depend on for survival. [Source: Ioannis Gatsiounis, International Herald Tribune, March 21, 2008 **]

“Nipa stems can be used to make household wares like baskets, while Sago meal is part of the traditional local diet. In the mangroves near Pakron, a local village, 50 percent of the former shrimp farms have been restored to Nipa, sheltering fish that Yadfon is trying to persuade the government to buy. **

“Yadfon is also assisting villagers in organizing and protecting their rights. As local fishermen have pulled back from shrimp farming, large-scale conglomerates have filled the void. Behind the small concrete houses in the one-road village of Bat Hoi Lok, backhoes are digging out shrimp ponds as far as the eye can see. Villagers say there will be 100 ponds in total, working for Charoen Pokphand, an industrial conglomerate based in Bangkok. **

“Jeit Libmud, the village leader, worries about how the ponds will affect villagers’ livelihoods once they begin operating this year. He makes 6,000 baht, or $190, a month from harvesting nipa palm and fish from local canals, enough to support his wife and three children. Pollution from the ponds could destroy that income.” **

Cheap Labor and the Thai Shrimp Industry

Jason Motlagh wrote in the Washington Post, “ Burmese migrants are the backbone of a Thai shrimp industry ....Rights groups say that overseas demand for shrimp products in greater volume has fueled a culture of exploitation in the Thai industry. They insist that the failure of foreign companies to sufficiently verify the origin of the shrimp they import allows abuses to persist. [Source: Jason Motlagh, Washington Post, September 19, 2012<>]

“If you look at the cost of shrimp overseas, it’s very, very cheap, and that comes from the exploitation inherent in the shrimp industry,” says Andy Hall, an expert on migration at Mahidol University who tracks Burmese labor in the Thai seafood industry. Brisk business with major U.S. retailers such as Wal-Mart, Costco, Sam’s Club and Red Lobster pumps more than $1 billion in revenue each year into the Thai economy, the second largest in Southeast Asia. As Thai living standards have risen, a shortage of unskilled labor has attracted tens of thousands of Burmese migrants looking to escape the poverty and job scarcity that has gripped their homeland for decades. <>

“Most head to Samut Sakhon province, the heart of the processing industry just south of the capital, Bangkok, where modern facilities line the highway alongside fast-food chains and car dealerships. The more prominent factories are the size of football fields, with neon signage and billboards that feature smiling children. But there’s a darker side behind the scenes, activists say. Of an estimated 400,000 migrants at work in the province, only about 70,000 are legally registered. The rest are employed illegally in anonymous peeling sheds that supply the larger companies that must fill massive orders from abroad. At this lower end of the supply chain, according to migrant activists, crooked brokers and employers trap scores of Burmese in abusive conditions tantamount to slavery, particularly in the shrimp industry. <>

“The small factory owners know that most of their workers are undocumented, so they can control the workforce however they want — such as locking workers in until they finish their work,” says Sompong Sakaew, a labor activist based in Mahachai, the provincial capital. “There are also teenagers between 12 and 17 years old in the workforce.” <>

Exploited Labor in the Thai Shrimp Industry

Reporting from Mahachai, Thailand, Jason Motlagh wrote in the Washington Post, “At an age when she should have been in a classroom, Thazin Mon discovered her knack for peeling shrimp. To help support her Burmese migrant family, the 14-year-old pulled 16-hour shifts, seven days a week, for less than $3 a day. “I am uneducated, so I work. I have to work bravely,” she says. Although she was the best peeler in the factory, speed was never enough. Mon was beaten if she slowed down, she said, and when she asked for a day off to rest hands swollen with infection, her boss kicked her and threatened rape. [Source: Jason Motlagh, Washington Post, September 19, 2012<>]

“Problems for Burmese migrants typically start as soon as they link up with brokers who promise steady work and a decent salary, only to sell them into a nearly inescapable cycle of debt bondage. Min Oo, 28, a Burmese farmer who lost his home in a flood, said he paid a broker the equivalent of $500 to smuggle him across the border to Samut Sakhon, with the guarantee of a minimum-wage (about $10 a day) factory job. Instead, he said, the broker sold him into a waking nightmare, with 18-hour workdays in a shrimp-processing factory and net earnings of no more than $20 a week, leaving almost nothing to send home. <>

“In some cases, migrant workers and rights groups allege, police officials or their relatives hold an ownership stake in unregistered peeling sheds. More commonly, the critics say, the authorities or those they protect shake down undocumented workers for bribes to supplement their incomes, knowing that the migrants would rather pay up on the spot than be deported to Burma. <>

Combating the Use of Child Labor in the Thai Shrimp Industry

Jason Motlagh wrote in the Washington Post, “Despite occasional police action and robust anti-trafficking laws, Sakaew, the labor activist, estimates that fully a quarter of the 1,200 to 1,300 factories in Samut Sakhon province are unregistered and, therefore, ripe for abuse. With so much profit-induced apathy on the Thai side, activists say reform pressure must come from Western companies whose trade partnerships drive the shrimp industry. [Source: Jason Motlagh, Washington Post, September 19, 2012<>]

It is difficult to establish precise links between the larger Thai companies that process shrimp of dubious origin and the Western companies whose consumers increasingly demand ethical sourcing. To do business overseas, Thai companies must qualify for membership in the Thai Frozen Foods Association, which adheres to globally recognized codes of conduct and carries out unscheduled inspections. Spokesman Arthon Piboonthanapatana asserts that anyone found guilty of labor abuses would be expelled. In more than three years of inspections, he said, this has never happened. <>

“If the shrimp is from TFFA members, I can 100 percent guarantee” that it is produced without labor exploitation, he said. But critics say that until the Thai shrimp industry requires larger factories to provide records of lower-level suppliers and follows through with random inspections, the shrimp it exports will remain tainted by human trafficking and labor abuses....The State Department has given Thailand a poor grade on human trafficking, citing it among countries that do not fully comply with the minimum standards for efforts to combat the problem. After the release of the department’s report in 2012, Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said his country would improve its performance by strengthening cooperation among agencies tasked with fighting human trafficking. <>

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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