LAMPLAIMAT, July 17 – They are the epitome of the barefoot entrepreneur.
Years ago, Khun Sombat received nine acres of rice paddies as a dowry. Water ran off the property, rendering it unproductive and leaving Khun Sombat with a choice: leave the land fallow and wait for help or figure out how to make the most of his misfortune by reviving the land.
Today, the farm is so diversified and the land so productive that Khun Sombat and his wife, Khun Poy, need to shop only for cooking oil and the occasional spice. They grow everything else.
Bamboo, chili, eggplant. Catfish, tadpoles, tilapia. Chickens, cows, pigs. Corn, kale, coconut. Oranges, pumpkins, snails. Kraton, polamai, taro. More fruit than the English language can describe.
And, of course, rice. Lots of rice. Two methods of growing rice, one for greater quantity and the other for better quality. Plantings on the walls of the manmade pools whose floors grow the rice provide room and soil for additional farming.
Most of all, though, what Khun Sombat and Khun Poy have is patience and a hint of business intuition. They understand the rewards that waiting can reap. They know, for example, that spending 3,000 baht (US$90) on baby catfish now will mean 10,000 baht (US$301) in catfish sales in three or four weeks. A little patience and trust earns them 7,000 baht, a fortune in a region where the daily minimum wage is 148 baht (US$4.46) and the average annual income is 15,500 baht (US$467).
Khun Sombat and Khun Poy have sent their two daughters to college, a rarity in rural Thailand. They can afford to move to the city but prefer to live in their traditional Thai house, three walls and a roof covering a wooden floor hoisted a few feet off the baked red soil.
Others know that Khun Sombat’s farm is a model for success, but they have yet to copy it. Hesitant to wait for income, they prefer short-term profit and immediate cash. They illustrate the example Khun Mechai described to us last week, of people who sell at a loss just to produce income. They are precisely the population that we hope the Barefoot MBA can help.