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May 16, 2023  

On the evening of Tuesday, May 16, a public talk event with a group of residents of Ranong Province, Thailand visiting Japan was held at a meeting room in Gotanda, Tokyo. This event was attended in person, along with the 22 visiting Thai residents party, by about 25 persons including Minister Counsellor Romdej Phisalaphon, from the Royal Thai Embassy in Tokyo, and other officials, Ms. Etsuko Nakano, OISCA President, Mr. Yasuaki Nagaishi, OISCA Executive Director, and other OISCA staff.  The event was made available online and 120 people watched it online.

   At the outset, a video on the mangrove forestation project was shown. After the video show, Mr. Toshimichi Yoshida, OISCA Director in charge of Global Sustainability Mission, opened the meeting briefly introducing the purpose of the event.  He said that Ranong Province, is located on the Andaman Sea coast in south-west Thailand. In the past, Ranong used to be rich in mangrove forests, but since the 1980s mangrove forests were getting sparsely forested due to excessive tin mining, shrimp farming, over-exploitation for getting charcoal, illegal logging, etc. On top of that. The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami caused a sharp decline in fish catches, which combined with the departure of young people from the area, had a serious impact on the fishing industry, the main industry in the region, and disaster prevention and mitigation in coastal areas.

   Since 1999, OISCA in cooperation with the Thai Government, Ranong provincial government agencies, local residents as well as donations from many Japanese private corporations and individual members, has been tackling the reforestation of mangrove forests.

As of 2023, its area has reached approximately 2,000 hectares.   

 From 2021, OISCA decided to move from the project that focused on “afforestation” to the second stage that aims to further improve the livelihood of people living with mangrove forests, with the support of “Grant Assistance for NGO Projects” of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

   In order to further enhance the program and ensure sustainable development after the completion of the project, a delegation of local residents from Ranong came to Japan to learn from the recovery of Natori City, Miyagi Prefecture, which was devastated by the tsunami disaster in March 2011 and is currently implementing a long-term plan for the restoration of coastal disaster prevention forests through the cooperation of government, NGOs, and citizens, and has much in common with Ranong Province in terms of its agricultural, forestry and fishing industries.

   Afterwards, Mr. Romdej Phisalaphong, Minister Counselor of the Royal Thai Embassy, took the podium to make an address. On behalf of the Thai Government, he expressed a deep gratitude to OISCA for its longstanding reforestation and other activities in Surin, Kon Khaen, Ayuthaya, Lampoon, Chiang Rai, and Ranong.

   Then, Ms. Tomomi Kasuga, Resident Representative of OISCA in Thailand, made presentation on the history of OISCA’s activities in Thailand and an overview of the project in Ranong. She emphasized that the area covered by the project is equivalent to 590 “Tokyo Domes”. ECO DRR is not a simple tree-planting activity. We want to protect people’s lives and livelihoods from disasters. The people who will create forests in this project are local residents who understand the significance of the project. They are taking steps to address climate change at the community level. The area has a large Islamic population.

   Subsequently, the resident leaders of the Ranong areas: Ngao Subdistrict, Sinhai Island and Lao Island, where the different programs of the projects are carried out, made specific presentations one after another. The Thai speakers delivered the presentations in Thai language and Ms. Samai, OISCA Thailand staff who studied at OISCA senior high school in Hamamatsu, translated into excellent Japanese.

A gentleman from Ngao Subdistrict said the forestation activities has been going on with the Thai government support and OISCA. Japanese volunteer groups have visited about 100 times. The registration process of the mangrove forest as a UNESCO World Heritage site has begun. Many residents are now raising goats as a group.

A lady representative presented the activities of the housewives in utilizing mangrove vegetation. They are manufacturing tea, soap, medical cream and vegetable dyeing, and are selling their products. They are implementing “One Village One Product Campaign”. The women group has been through trial and error and has achieved about 70% success.

A young man from Lao Island talked about his own life. Before he was making shrimp sauce. But after the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster, shrimp catches decreased significantly, so he stopped fishing and got a job on land. With the start of the OISCA project, he returned to fishing again and is now producing shrimp sauce and dried fish products.

A resident from Shinhai Island which is located between Thailand and d Myanmar said that the population of the island is only 1,800 persons and 95% of the inhabitants is engaged in fishing and 5% in agriculture and small business. Following the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster, the marine environment has changed greatly. The catches of sardine, crabs and shrimps have decreased significantly. Many residents had moved elsewhere as their lives became difficult due to loss of their jobs. With the support from the Thai Natural Resources and Environment Ministry, local government agencies and OISCA, fishing gear lending associations have been organized. They are taking initiative in carrying out their own activities.

   The lady project leader who is also OISCA staff, said various stakeholders, including government and private organizations, are involved in the project and try to work with a smile. Many discussions are held to get everyone’s consensus. Currently, they are promoting ecotourism that is canoeing though mangrove forests.

   Then, a comprehensive presentation was made by Mr. Khayai Thongnunui, who is Director of Ranong Mangrove Research Center under the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, and concurrently, senior official of OISCA Thailand. He said that 74 kinds of mangrove tress are growing on the seashore in 24 provinces of Thailand. In Ranong, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and OISCA are carrying out the forestation activities. Through the project which covers 2,000 hectares of land, exchanges between Thai and Japanese peoples have been promoted. The resident representatives gained confidence through the study tour in Japan. The project implemented in a village and 3 islands could be a model case for other areas.

   Following the specific individual presentations, the Thai tour members shared their impressions from their respective field visits to Natori, Miyagi Prefecture. They learned, through the meeting with Mr. Sakurai, President of the Morning Market Co-operative at Yuriage Port, the area struck by the 2011 tsunami disaster, that in carrying out recovery projects, it is OK with failure and the important thing is not to give up and to keep going and to keep trying. They have also realized that cooperation is essential.

   Before concluding the event, Minister Romdej of the Thai Embassy who is incidentally from Ranong Province, stated his impressions that through the video shows and talks, he learned a lot. For its part, the Thai government would continue to support the OISCA projects.

He was deeply impressed by the 48 long years of cooperative activities that OISCA has continued in Thailand.

   Lastly, Ms. Etsuko Nakano, OISCA President, delivered her concluding remarks. She was thankful for the visit of the Ranong resident group to Japan and they took valuable time out of their busy schedule and was so delighted to learn that the local residents are the key figures of the projects.