It’s been more than seven years that researchers from Walailak University led by Associate Professor Dr. Rungrawee Jitpakdee, currently the Director of Walailak Botanic Park and a lecturer of the School of Management; and Assistant Professor Prachya Kritsanaphan, the Acting Vice Dean of the School of Architecture and Design, working on this incredible community enhancement project by adding value to Nipa Palm products produced by the locals in Khanabnak Sub-district, Pak Phanang District, Nakhon Si Thammarat Province.
Khanabnak Sub-district is known for being Thailand’s largest area of Nipa Palm plantation, with an area of around 4,576 rai or 732 hectares. The majority of the local people have relied on this plant as their primary source of income for generations, more than 200 years. Different parts of Nipa Palm can be used to make products such as Nipa Palm sugar, vinegar, and syrup from Nipa Palm sap; and Nipa Palm handicraft from Nipa Palm leaves and stems.
Associate Professor Dr. Rungrawee said: “Walailak University has many researchers working on projects in Pak Phanang District. Our team talked to the locals and found out they want to see a difference in their community and improve their quality of life.”
As time goes by, society is changing. New generations start moving to big cities to study and work, leaving mostly the elderly in the area. With the hope to bring people back together and able to make a living more sustainably, Dr. Rungrawee and her team together with the locals and business sectors held workshops to figure out a way to add more value to the Nipa Palm products produced in the community.
With local wisdom from people in the area, creativity, and effort from many sectors, Nipa Palm products are now turning into something unique and special; portraying the identity of Pak Phanang. Nipa Palm sugar, which was previously sold in large containers and was difficult to reach buyers, is now sold in smaller sizes with unique packaging that is more appealing.
Handicraft, traditionally made as pot rests, has been developed and redesigned into other appliances such as tray and tissue box inspired by fishing boat; and hanging lamp and table lamp inspired by Nipa Palm flower, Nipa Palm fruit, Swallow, and Rice Mill Chimney.
“When we talk about value, we don’t only mean product price; we also mean the pride that people get from doing this,” Associate Professor Dr. Rungrawee explained.
This project also advances Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by the United Nations in 2015, namely SDG1 No Poverty and SDG2 Zero Hunger for generating more sustainable income and improving quality of life, SDG8 Decent Work and Economic Growth for creating jobs and distribution of Nipa Palm products to proper markets, SDG12 Responsible Consumption and Production for conserving and restoring Nipa Palm plantation as well as cultivating new ones each year, and SDG17 Partnerships for the Goals from collaborations with many private and government sectors.
“Now, we become like family. We work together and help each other solve problems,” Associate Professor Dr. Rungrawee added. The community lives more sustainably. Nipa Palm products can now be purchased both online and onsite. And more importantly, young generations start to come back, preserving this precious local wisdom.
Photos by Associate Professor Dr. Rungrawee Jitpakdee
Article by Settaboot Onphakdee