Just as modern society is changing, the hill tribes of Thailand today are facing growing social and economic problems. As hill tribe villages once located in remote mountainous areas are brought closer to urban Thailand through improved roads, infrastructure, and technology, this is all having a huge impact on their way of life. Below are some of the problems they face today:
As education standards improve in villages, the younger generation of hill tribes are now moving down from the mountains to find skilled work in the towns. However demand for jobs is high and they face stiff competition from Thais also seeking jobs so many end up as labourers, beggars or prostitutes.
Loss of Tradition
With the movement to urban areas and integration into Thai society, younger generations are now forgetting their roots and disregarding their traditions and customs in thinking that these ways are no longer worth preserving.
Poverty/ Low standard of living
As hill tribes are brought closer to the lowlands and Thai way of living, they are becoming more consumerist as they see and want many of the material things their Thai counterparts have. Now it is very common to see mobile phones, motorbikes and computers in villages, nobody would think this possible 30 years before.
Agricultural policies also mean that hill tribes are paid a minimal price for their crops, their handicrafts are now copied by factory versions which sell for much lower.
Whilst they may produce a variety of high quality products such as coffee, vegetables, fruits and handicrafts they often lack the knowledge and technology to effectively market and sell their products themselves, and therefore have to rely on middle-men.
A key reason why the Royal Project/ National Committee for hill tribes was set up was to tackle the problem of deforestation – an issue which still remains today. Their traditional practices of swidden farming mean that they will clear land in order to grow new crops leading to deforestation and deterioration of highland watersheds.
During March and April every year wide scale forest burning goes on where hill tribes burn land in order to clear it and replenish the soil. The smoke and smog from forest fires is a severe pollution problem, and air quality during this time is very bad. Overuse of pesticides is another problem that causes health problems for them, and lowland Thais that buy and consume their crops.