UNDP initiative boosts business for women in Thailand's South

UNDP Thailand : Muslim women in Thailand's South make a coconut-based snack that has boosted their incomes and their spirits, as a result of a UNDP project aimed at improving the livelihoods of women.

In the Southern Thailand province of Pattani, daily life can be difficult. Ongoing violence has made widows of women, and has compromised local livelihoods. Life for women in the coastal provincial sub-district of Lampo, provides testimony to their everyday challenges.

“Our main incomes came from fisheries. We had many storms and our men could not take their boats out, so we lost income,” said Sareeha Waheng, 47.

Her husband had to go to work in Malaysia. She had to sell snacks to send her children to school. Despite her struggles, Waheng persisted. She talked with relatives and formed group to make a local snack to make additional income. 

She recruited a group of local women, both widows and orphans.

Key Results

  • The STEP project has equipped 65 low-income Muslim women from seven local entrepreneurial groups in Pattani province.
  • UNDP also facilitated three local Muslim women groups to attend a Halal food training workshop organized by the Halal Standard Institute of Thailand and the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Office (SBPAC) to obtain Halal certification for their products.
  • Local Community Business has not only improved the livelihoods of local people but also enhanced social cohesion in the community.

“In the beginning, we collected 300 baht from 12 people and used the money to buy raw materials and ingredients. We brought our own utensils from home.”

Not too far away in Yamu sub-district, other women were facing similar issues.

“[We] worked in factories far away from home, leaving early morning and returning late at night. The family members hardly see one another,” said Manunya Yago, 62.

The local women in Yamu did something similar. They formed a small group and learned to prepare local snacks after attending a local workshop.

We experimented with recipes, adding extra ingredients but using local materials.”

Yago and her group had no assistance when they first started.

“We brought our own utensils from our houses, as we had no money to buy new ones. Then each of us put in 1,000. We used our first 10,000 baht to buy raw materials and a few things.”

But things began to change for both groups in 2011, when a group of students from Prince of Songkla University, Pattani Campus asked them to participate in a Local Community Business programme. It was then where they got involved with UNDP’s Southern Thailand Empowerment Project (STEP).

One component of the STEP project aims to improving livelihoods for vulnerable groups in underserved areas, promotes initiatives to enhance access to markets and product development in Thailand’s southern border provinces. The “Local Community Business” initiative equipped local women’s entrepreneur groups in Yaring District of Pattani with product and package development training, improving business plans to increase the quality of local products.

The results were near immediate. After participating in study visits and workshops in the region, Yago and her group more than doubled their income.

“Before, [our] average income was 600-700 Baht per person per week. Now we manage to earn up to 1,800 Baht per person per week,” Yago said.

“Now we are able to use the knowledge to create sustainable incomes and to expand our market to other provinces and into Malaysia.”

UNDP also facilitated three local Muslim woman groups to attend a Halal food training workshop organized by the Halal Standard Institute of Thailand and the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Office (SBPAC) to obtain Halal certification for their products.

“The Halal Certification helped a lot in the market expansion. We think Halal Certification is very important, as the majority of people in the southern border provinces are Muslim. It increased our sales in the area,” Yago said.

Waheng had similar results. The STEP project invited them to join the Local Community Business initiative and provided them the same knowledge as Yago.

“We had the opportunity to display and introduce our product at exhibitions in other districts and provinces. Now there are about 9 people in the group and our income has doubled to 6,000 to 7,000 baht per week,” Waheng said.

The project has equipped 65 low-income Muslim women from seven local entrepreneur groups in Pattani province. Although still in the pilot phase, STEP aims to forge a close relationship between the local entrepreneur groups and the Pattani Provincial Office of the Non-formal and Informal Education.

“Violence in the southern border provinces has left many children and women without a father, a husband or a bread winner,” said Vipunjit Ketunuti, UNDP’s STEP Project Manager.

“As more and more women need to take up the role of the head of household and rely more on themselves, providing the skills to double their incomes really makes a difference.”

But the STEP Project has not only benefited women.

“Local Community Business has proved to not only improve livelihoods of local people but has also enhanced social cohesion in the community. Not only do the local women entrepreneur groups benefit but also many people from the community benefit from this initiative,” said Dr. Humdia Mudo, Faculty of Communication Sciences of Prince of Songkla University.

“Raw materials can be found within the community, creating more income in the community. Some women have even quit their day-to-day jobs in other districts and returned to their communities to work on their local businesses.”

Recent update

While the first phase of the Local Community Business initiative is now complete, its impact continues to be felt in the wider community.

The experiences of these 75 women – some of whom now sell produce as far afield as Malaysia - and the lessons learnt, now form the basis of a colorful step-by-step guide. Designed by Laila Boonpis and Dr Hamdia Mudor, both lecturers at Prince Songkla University’s Faculty of Communication Science, the guide aims to transfer the skills gained and good practice to other women’s groups in conflict-affected communities. Advice ranges from product and package development to pricing strategies and market access.

“It went so well that we decided it would be a good idea to produce a handbook for individuals and transfer good practices to other women groups interested in establishing small enterprises,” said Vipunjit Ketunuti, of UNDP in Thailand.

Some 2,000 copies have been published and distributed to local business groups, authorities, government agencies, academic institutes and public libraries in Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat. A six-part documentary series, distributed to community schools and libraries, aims to do likewise.

It is hoped that the achievements of these women, who are based across two pilot business learning centers in Pattani’s Yaring and Lampo districts, will prove to communities and authorities that sustainable community business is possible through local initiatives and participation.

Meanwhile, in a bid to keep youths safe and engaged in the community, a 10-minute animated film – produced by the same university faculty – provides handy information on how they too can contribute to local business initiatives.