Interaction between Material Resources and Cultural Resources in Contributing to Well-being in Rural Thailand

Awae Masae


Thailand’s rapid changes towards modernization in the last few decades have brought about various impacts on rural livelihoods. Following this model of development has led local people to change their ways of life induced by the market mechanism and consumerism. At the same time it has brought the in modes of agricultural production from the traditional mode to a more modern mode based on mono-cropping and high cost technologies.

As the majority of the country’s population remains in rural areas, the availability of lands and other natural resources is crucial to livelihoods and well-being of rural population. The increasing demand of land as well as other natural resources with conflicting interests has induced the change in patterns of natural resource utilization and allocation in favor of powerful groups of the country’s population. This forces rural households to live under limited natural resource conditions.

Better connections to the market economy have led rural people to change their mode of production and patterns of consumption driven by the market forces. Consequently their demand for cash has increased to serve their modern mode of production that usually involves high investments and their changing styles of living. High costs of production together with high costs of living have caused many rural people to face hardship. Although many rural households own considerable amount of material resources to facilitate their changing living styles, their overall well-being seems to be uncertain. This is mainly due to their declining access to lands and other natural resources that support their production and other aspects of livelihoods. Ownership of high-value durable assets does not necessary reflect their overall wealth and well-being. Many rural households may purchase these assets to facilitate their changing life styles while they may owe a high debt incurred as a consequence of changing patterns of consumption.

However, it is argued that rural countryside has not faced with a completed transformation. Hence, remaining cultural values are still strongly influential on rural ways of life. In the midst of several forces brought into rural communities as a consequence of modernization, it is observed that many rural communities have been striving to survive based on their own culture which is known as “community culture.” More importantly, the remaining cultural resources play a significant role in securing rural livelihoods during the time of recent economic crisis. Various cultural values that remain conserved have been later revived and applied in more integrated manners to fit with changes occurring in each community. Strong kinship relations and cooperative values help greatly to relieve deprived households and members in the time of hardship. Beliefs and ritual acts function to support their psychological needs and organizational arrangements to fit local contexts. Various aspects of indigenous knowledge and local wisdom have been applied to support economic and social activities. Several traditional skills, especially those related to arts, have been brought back into practice and further developed to meet market needs.

Successful efforts of rural people to secure their livelihoods based on local culture have called various organizations including related government agencies and NGOs to pay more attention on a cultural-based development approach and the importance of local rights and people’s participation in development process. Recent various development schemes promote development activities and movements based on the participation of local people, and integration of local culture and indigenous knowledge.

In conclusion, it can be said in the midst of several forces from outside, many rural communities in Thailand have been striving to secure their livelihoods by seeking alternative approaches of development to deal the continual decrease of lands and other natural resources. Considerable applications of belief, cooperative values and traditional skills contribute greatly to various forms of organizational arrangements that function in the development of local-based social and economic activities. This enables rural communities and households to survive and secure their livelihoods in the face of strong outside forces. By combining both natural resources and cultural resources in an integrated manner, the improvement of well-being in rural Thailand should be more promising.