Central Thai - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities . Wet-rice agriculture dominates the Thai economy, with about 80 percent of Thailand's population living in rural agricultural communities. Ordinary rice is produced both as a dietary staple and for cash sales. Agriculture is not widely mechanized in spite of development efforts, and plowing is still done mainly with a single metal-shod plow drawn by bullocks or water buffalo. The crop is harvested by hand. Thai farmers also grow maize, yams, chilies, cassava, eggplant, and beans. Commercial crops beyond rice include sugarcane, tobacco, rubber, coconut, and cotton. Each household catches fish, an important source of food, using nets, scoops, spears, baskets, and hooks. Domestic animals include pigs, chickens, ducks, cattle, and water buffalo.

Industrial Arts. Most villages have part-time or seasonal specialists such as sewing-machine operators, blacksmiths, and boat builders. In some areas there are brass, pottery, and charcoal manufacturers and silk- and cotton-weaving home industries. For the most part, though, industrial and commercial tasks are performed by the Chinese, while the Thai farm and govern.

Trade. Small stores, peddlers, and markets are found throughout rural Thailand. Women bring home-grown produce to the market for sale or to supply other merchants.

Division of Labor. The Central Thai are notable for the near absence of a division of labor by sex. Theirs is one of the few cultures in the world where women as well as men plow and harrow. Both sexes also fish. The traditional home tasks are assigned to women, but men also cook, tend babies, clean house, and wash clothes.

Land Tenure. Since the emergence of the commercial rice market in the mid-nineteenth century, the population has grown steadily. The amount of land devoted to rice cultivation has increased, although there has been little modernization of agricultural technology. The combination of population growth and the increasing production of rice has resulted in landlessness for growing numbers of people. The nonavailability of land has produced a class of laborers who cannot expect to gain their subsistence from the land. Since traditional Thai culture is based on self-sufficient rice agriculture or individually owned land, this situation is producing major changes in Thai society, including permanent or seasonal migration of men to the large cities for wage labor.

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