By Thai Newsroom Reporters
Sisaket – Farmers in the capital district of the lower-northeastern Isaan province are tending to a special occupation with an optimum use of towering, sturdy trees grown in their backyards in peculiar relation to an upcoming general election.
A variety of indigenous hardwood trees, mostly of Yangna and Payom genuses, may be as tall as a four-story building on the open, parched earth rising high above rice farms for half a century or more without being otherwise felled by the farmers who may either have grown them with their own hands or simply have had the valuable natural resources passed onto them by their ancestors.
Now that the general election is coming up, the Isaan farmers know how to get extra earnings with tree trunks and limbs processed into long, narrow slats of wood which may be literally used as structures for roadside campaign signs.
Farmer Chamnian Wongchan prepares workers and equipment for the special task of cutting down some Yangna trees in his own backyard to be processed into sturdy wooden structures for those ubiquitous campaign posters. The farm hands are nobody but his relatives and neighbours all being native of Sum subdistrict, barely 20 kilometres from the capital district seat, whilst the indisposable equipment is his heavy-duty chainsaw to cut down the trees, mostly aged no less than 40 to 50 years.
Each of the hardwood trees can be cut into an average of 500 slats of wood which is 2.50 metres long. Each of the roadside campaign signs uses four horizontal slats and two vertical slats as its wooden structure embedded one metre deep in the ground and supported by unprocessed limbs, mostly of eucalyptus and mango trees.
Chamnian does not personally know any canvassers, let alone those running for MP in his constituency or elsewhere, but the farmer looks commercially smart enough to say the later his timber is sold, the higher the price, thus prompting small-time middlemen to come around and book for his natural goods.
A 2.50-metre-long slat which is today selling for a range of 10 to 15 baht per metre could probably bring the price up to as high as 50 baht per metre next month.
Puyai Chot, a village headman of Nong Kaeo subdistrict, has become one of the small-time middlemen, buying up in advance a number of hardwood trees which have not yet been felled by the villagers who may have squarely claimed to own them. The farmers’ ownership of farmland where they mostly grow rice as their once-a-year cash crop automatically manifests their possession of the trees grown in it.
The village headman tells the farmers-turned-lumberjacks to wait until orders have been placed with him. In the meantime, he offers a down payment in cash for them to rest assured that their natural resources will certainly be traded and a good profit coming their way.
A fully-grown Yangna tree is selling for a range of 3,000 to 5,000 baht for the time being. The price may vary in proportion to the height and width of the tree, which means a different volume of timber to be produced from one tree to another.
Puyai Chot divides his time seven days a week between running errands for people ranging from Kamnan or tambon headman, Or Bor Tor head or the subdistrict administrative chief and Or Bor Tor councillors to his own villagers and looking for canvassers or businesspersons in town who may be interested to invest in the construction of roadside campaign signs with the use of his freshly cut timber.
As Puyai Chot has been literally stockpiling his merchandise, farmer Vera Mungkan has offered to do the job of turning chunks of his tree trunks and limbs into slats of timber for use with campaign posters.
The farmer suggests one could practically save the processed timber whose price will sooner than later increase as contesting parties are stepping up their electoral campaigns by not only using the processed wood but unprocessed tree limbs as part of the structure for a campaign poster.
The top part of two vertical slats of a wooden structure could be an unprocessed limb of a eucalyptus tree and the bottom part could be processed timber with wires to tie both parts together, thus saving roughly half the expenses on the costly processed wood. Eucalyptus or mango tree branches are as tensile to blowing winds as Yangna ones, the farmer concludes.
Each unit of wooden structure and support including the wage of workers erecting it is locally selling for a range of 250 to 300 baht, depending on the purchase quantity.
The temporary trading business with trees and timber may look sluggish for the time being but it is speculated to pick up and turn lucrative after all candidates have officially applied to run and electoral numerals have been given. Innumerable campaign signs will certainly mushroom along the roads throughout every constituency.
Finally, those slats of wood will be useless and thrown away after the race to parliament has ended unless they are chopped into fuel logs for use in the kitchen of the villagers.
Top: Farmer Chamnian Wongchan and one of his workers putting finishing touches to slats of wood.
First insert: A towering tree growing in Sisaket.
Second insert: The wooden structures of some roadside signs in Sisaket. All photos: Thai Newsroom Reporters