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Wealth distribution has been an increasing source of social unrest in Thailand. Many observers attribute the recent "Red Shirt" protests in the nation's capital to the growing divide between the urban rich and rural poor.
Farmers have fallen victim to rapid inflation, even as climbing prices severely cut crop profitability in recent years. But one village in the country's impoverished northeast has taken matters into its own hands, with inhabitants setting up a unique scheme to keep cash-flow circulating within the community as a means of closing the gap.
Struggling to make a living off the land. Rice farmer Mun Samsri hoes the small field behind his home. The jasmine rice that he grows here is the families only means of income. But this year he hasn't even been able to plant his seedlings. The field is dry and dusty it should be flooded The worst drought in 40 years means there might not even be a rice crop.
Mun Samsri, Rice Farmer, said, "This year is the worst I've ever seen. The drought is so bad we don't even have any fish."
But all is not lost. After years of struggling on his own, Mr. Mun got together with other farmers in his village and formed a co-operative. Now they have rice in reserve. When they want to sell, they can negotiate a higher price and if the price drops like it has this year, they can hold back till the market improves.
And the village didn't stop there. This market may not look special, but it is unique. The villagers use their own currency to buy vegetables and other products grown locally a currency unique to the village. That way they can protect themselves from rising prices and ensure their wealth never strays too far from home.
This woman told me she got more value for her local notes than she did from using normal money. But the butcher says he has to use Thai baht, because his meat is bought from outside And in the village shop, the local currency in worthless. Anything purchased from outside the community can't be part of the barter system.
"The local currency helps to keep valuable resources from the village within the community, but unfortunately for the villagers, they've incurred the wrath of the government. This unsecured looking building is actually the local bank."
Inside a safe with the reserve of local currency. The government says this is illegal, and the money is not properly regulated. Although they turn a blind eye, they've warned the villagers not to try and extend the scheme to other areas.
Pranee Srimunta, KUT Chum Bank President, said, "We used to have five villages using the currency when it started, but the government started questions and people got scared, so now it's only in two villages."
But things are looking up for the collective heavy rainfall overnight has irrigated the fields. It's not as much rain as they'd like, but at least they have the chance to get their seeds in the ground And even if the crop fails, they know they can rely on their neighbors for help.