Help Thai farmers go digital before it is too late

Thai farmer digitalThe COVID-19 pandemic has not only taken its toll on people’s health but has also created a global economic downturn. Many people are struggling financially and forced to sell or wind down their businesses. Certain consumer behaviors have changed, perhaps forever. People have been locked down at home and unable to visit their usual shops and leisure places. Transportation became irregular, and a curfew was imposed, which impacted logistics. Large, well-capitalized businesses are likely to have sufficient cash flow to cope, and agile businesses have been able to adjust their strategies. However, Thailand is still a largely agrarian society, with about 40 percent of the population working in agriculture-related jobs. So, how will this segment of the population adapt to the “new normal” and continue to distribute their produce? This is a challenge that needs to be urgently addressed to avoid agricultural products and peoples’ livelihoods being thrown on the scrap heap.

The lockdown resulted in a surge in internet usage, as many places were closed, so people spent considerably more time at home. Trends suggest that this may leave a lasting legacy, which presents an opportunity for small businesses that are able to adapt. Take the example of purchasing mangosteen, a very popular and delicious Thai fruit. Typically, one would take a trip to a local shop or supermarket, however during the lockdown many farm produce sellers used social media channels to create a farm-to-table experience, an emerging trend that was accelerated by the lockdown.

According to the Thai government, about 10 million farmers are applying for the government COVID-19 relief package. These farmers were not able to sell their products because of the lockdown. They didn’t know that selling online could be an option; instead, many farmers decided to throw away their products.

During the lockdown, many organizations created their own marketplace pages on Facebook where they let business owners promote their page/stores for free. By acquiring essential knowledge and tools, these farmers would have been able to use channels like this, take their goods and services online, and contribute meaningfully to economic growth.

According to the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, Thailand’s burgeoning digital economy, driven by the Thailand 4.0 policy, has a market value of the 2nd largest in ASEAN, representing 17% of Thailand’s GDP.

In Thailand, 90% of internet users access social media and online services through their smartphones. The most used social media platform is Facebook, with 94 % coverage. YouTube also covers 94 % of the population, and Line is the third most used platform with 85 % coverage, according to GlobalWebIndex. These platforms allow MSMEs to cost-effectively reach global customers

Kenan Foundation Asia is working in partnership with Facebook to help Thai MSMEs improve their digital marketing and reach target customers. The project will also develop Thai lead trainers who will embed the curriculum into their existing programming to support small businesses, thereby creating a powerful multiplier effect that can be sustained for years to come.

The next challenge for Kenan is to turn Thai farmers into MSMEs and equip them with digital literacy.  Farmers developing essential business skills will benefit their families and communities across Thailand.

To learn more about how Kenan is building last communities, visit www.kenan-asia.org/lasting-communities

Kenan Asia