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FEATURE STORY September 21, 2017

Food for Thought: Curry Helps Promote Peace and Development in Thailand's Deep South



  • Conflict in the three southernmost provinces of Thailand have claimed over 6,000 lives and injured 12,000 since 2004 due to ethnic and religious separatist insurgency.
  • Communities in these areas face many challenges including accessing finance, relying instead on informal mechanisms such as loan sharks, often putting them in deeper debt.
  • Through the Community Driven Development project, 33 community savings groups have been established with nearly 3,000 members, providing interest-free loans so that villagers can use funds to start small businesses.

"In the past many people had to borrow money from loan sharks. Now everyone can borrow from the community. With these funds, they can improve their livelihoods and start small business that make their families live happily compared to before."
Community Savings Group Member

Mouthwatering dishes entice onlookers into Nuriyah’s popular curry shop, the spicy aromas of freshly cooked, brightly colored curries filling the air in the deep south of Thailand.

Customers stop their motorbikes and cars by the sidewalk, waiting patiently in line to sample some of the town’s finest local cuisines. The wide variety of succulent dishes wouldn’t look out of place in any local Thai restaurant in Bangkok. But this is Pattani, which has infamously suffered from an ongoing conflict since 2004, which has claimed over 6,000 lives in Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat, the three southernmost provinces of Thailand.

Despite this, 51-year-old mother of two and owner of Kaya Curry Shop, Nuriyah Mahama seems unfazed, going about her daily life with the zest a young entrepreneur half her age would exult in.

Even with heavy rain she seems undeterred getting up at the crack of dawn, she climbs aboard a large motorbike sidecar, to get to the bustling local market to literally grab hold of the freshest ingredients for her homegrown secret recipes - much of which have just been caught from the nearby coastline. 

Nuriyah is one of nearly 3,000 members who are part of one of the 33 local Community Savings Groups started by the Expanding Community Approaches in Conflict Situations (ECACS) of the Southern Thailand project. Since 2009, with the support of the World Bank, the project has helped to develop culturally appropriate approaches to local development that are creating opportunities for increased interaction among confl­ict-affected communities and between communities and the state.

Indeed, Nuriyah’s curry shop exemplifies the project through community-led development, which brings together different people to interact, helping to a small extent to build mutual trust, peace and development over a tasty bowl of curry.

Through the Community Savings Group, Nuriyah was able to borrow 10,000 baht ($285), which has made a real difference to her homegrown family business. “My life has changed a lot. In the past, I worked boiling anchovies where I earned only 50 baht ($1.40) a day, while my business now can get 150 baht ($4) within 3 hours.”

Previously, she borrowed money at high interest rates from loan sharks. The interest-free loan through her local Community Savings Group helped Nuriyah expand from humble beginnings in a remote village where she sold curries from her house  to scale up and move to a larger town in late 2016. She has used the loan to invest in her curry shop’s expansion, upgrading her cooking equipment and restaurant facilities for customers. So far she has repaid the initial loan and has subsequently taken out two further 10,000 baht loans and successfully repaid them to help with further expansion of her family run business expanding from 10 dishes to over 28 dishes on the menu.

“In the past many people had to borrow money from loan sharks. Now everyone can borrow from the community. With these funds, they can improve their livelihoods and start small business that make their families live happily compared to before.”

Further testimony to her success, she has helped to employ a total of six staff including some of her relatives - who help with the painstaking preparation of the various dishes - which not only adds to the authenticity of the local flavors but also gives Nuriyah, and her staff, a sense of empowerment.

The loan has not only helped to increase Nuriyah’s financial security, but has helped bring her family and community together. She elaborates, “My children do not need to go to Malaysia because I can hire them to work with me. As my shop is running well, I can also hire other workers who are all from our own community. People have jobs, and the community can be more developed.”

Community members discuss and brainstorm about the project in Pattani, Thailand


One of her customers is local ECACS facilitator Donya Salaemae, who is one of 18 facilitators helping to implement the project at both the village and sub-district levels. Donya enthusiastically recalls how the Community Savings Groups are making a real difference not only on an economic level but also socially helping to build trust.

This project helps improve relationships among different community members. They work closely together so they better understand each other. In addition, they improve their skills through training and study tours which helps them not only to grow, but also understand other points of view from people outside their own community,” he said.

To date the project has provided Community Block Grants totaling over $2 million to 27 villages in six participating sub-districts (tambons) and three municipalities, in Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat.