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Behind the Land of Smiles

northeast thailand

The northeast region of Thailand, known as Issan, is rich in both culture and natural beauty. Issan culture is a blend of Thai, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and China. It also has the highest poverty rate in Thailand.

Nestled up next to the border of Laos along the Mekong river and tucked in around mountains and waterfalls lies Buengkan, Thailand. Buengkan is a small provincial city in the Northeast, relying primarily on the growth and production of rubber as it’s main industry.

Due to temporarily record high agricultural prices, Issan economy boomed up until about 2012. The average price of rubber peaked at about 90 baht/kg for the farmers harvesting it.  People were celebrating a life out of the fringes of poverty with higher wages and better stability. With this economic boom came a high influx of rubber plantations, and soon rubber output began to far exceed demand. The once profitable industry for hundreds of families in rural Thailand struggling to live above the poverty line all but collapsed. Today the average price of rubber is only 18 baht/kg, forcing many families once again into poverty.

Such widespread poverty in the Issan region of Thailand has yielded an increase in malnutrition, poor dental care, addiction, developmental delays, mental illness, and infectious diseases such as HIV.

Quick Facts

Unemployment in Thailand is recorded at an impressively low 1.4%. Impressive, right?

HOWEVER, amongst those recorded as employed, 51% of them are in part of the “informal economy”, made up primarily of self-employed or unpaid family workers.

Out of the 35 million workers in the informal economy, 40% of UNPAID family workers stem from the agricultural sector.

Rural Northeast Thailand is primarily agricutual.

  • Unemployment Rate 1.4% 1.4%
  • Employed Workers in the “Informal Economy” 51% 51%
  • Unpaid Family Workers 40% 40%

What this means is while unemployment appears low, in reality poor families in the rural areas must work together to survive, often forcing children out of school at a young age and into the family business…thus continuing the cycle of poverty.