Friday, February 21, 2014

Farmers Head to Bangkok

Don't adjust your monitor. This is supposed to be black and white. A Thai farmer on Highway 32, the main highway leading to Bangkok

The government of Yingluck Shinawatra has a new headache. Rice farmers and agriculturalists from north of Bangkok, traditionally the base of the Pheu Thai and Shinawatra family politics, are angry because they haven't been paid for rice the government bought from them under the rice pledging scheme

The scheme was a populist measure meant to ensure farmers got a decent price for their rice. The government bought the crop at a well above market price with the intention of warehousing the rice until prices went up and then they would sell the rice on the international market at a profit. 

Except rice prices went down as new crops in India and Vietnam came online. Now the Thai government owns warehouses full of rice and is having a hard time paying the farmers. 
A farmer relaxes in a hammock on the side of the highway. 

It's been a months since the last checks went out and as rice growing season approaches farmers find themselves unable to buy food and staples let alone seed and fertilizer. So they did what has become traditional in Thailand. They marched en masse for Bangkok. 

About ten thousand farmers in more than 1,000 tractors and farm vehicles from the provinces north of Bangkok headed to the capital. At first it was thought they would head to the Ministry of Commerce, where a small group of farmers have camped out demanding payment. Then the farmers said they would go to Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok's main international airport, which raised the spectre of of an occupied airport and memories of the crippling airport occupation in 2008

Government officials went out to meet farmers on the highway south of Ayutthaya, about two hours from Bangkok. After some back and forth, farmers announced they would go home and the government announced checks would go out next week. Farmers added that if checks don't go out they're going straight to the airport. Crisis averted. For now. 
Farmers sleep on the highway while their leaders negotiate with the government

I started the day at the airport. My intention was to be there when the farmers arrived. When I got word that the farmers were not leaving Ayutthaya until noon, I jumped in a taxi and headed up country to photograph the farmers on the highway.

I made the decision when I left my apartment that I was going to photograph the farmers in black and white. An effort to mix things up a little and it seemed to me that the farmers were an appropriate subject for black and white photography. 

There are more black and white photos of the farmers in my archive. Color photos are available from ZUMA Press

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts.