November 13, 2012
Bannang Sata has become synonymous with terror attacks in Thailand, having witnessed successive assaults by insurgent groups.
Local entrepreneurs, however, are trying to turn around the district's image by producing a range of healthy halal snacks made from plantains. Soon, they hope, people will associate it less with militant violence and more with a distinctive culinary speciality.
Wild plantains, known in Thai as kluay hin ('stone bananas') thrive along the banks of the Pattani River as it flows through the district. Snacks made from them are proving popular, bringing economic benefit to the area's residents.
"I started my business back in 1997 with a 200,000 baht ($6,500) investment. But thanks to a good market response we have been able to invest an additional 300,000 ($9,750) to 400,000 ($13,000) baht since then," Kamonluk Saimuang, proprietor of the S. Wichit plantain chip factory, told Khabar Southeast Asia. She said her product is sold throughout the kingdom.
Wamenoh Talah, president of a housewives organisation that lends supports to women affected by the insurgency, got her start working for S. Wichit, but has since opened her own business in the subdistrict of Talingchan. She employs around 20 people.
"Bannang Sata District has developed a negative reputation but the plantain chip business has been a good way for widows and people in general to earn income," she told Khabar.
"We hope our product will help improve the image of our hometown, so that when people eat our delicious chips they will drown out all the negative news stemming from the unrest," she said.
Assistance from the government's One Tambon One Product (OTOP) programme has helped many local individuals – who otherwise might never have the resources to start a business – get their break in the plantain snack business.
Factory worker Armeenoh Lubohluwah is one of them. "Before this I was a housewife, but joining this OTOP project gives me a source of income," she told Khabar. "I think projects like this not only create jobs for local people, but they also keep us busy so that we don't dwell too much about the violence in the area."
At the same time, locals remain worried about the ongoing insurgency, which they say poses a danger to their safety.
"The unrest affects my business," Kamonluk said, explaining that workers have to travel into potentially risky areas in order to cut down the kluay hin plants and bring the plantains back to the factory, located outside Yala Town. "We always worry about the possibility of violence," she said.
Khunjai Thammaro, a housewife and plantain factory manager, told Khabar that militant intimidation has cut a dent in working hours and incomes.
"The unrest does affect my job here because almost all of our staff will stop work on Fridays even though they don't want to," she told Khabar.