The Thai Ministry of Agriculture and Agricultural Co-operatives is preparing to propose the inclusion of the raising of Thailand’s water buffaloes in the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS).

Agriculture Permanent Secretary Thongplew Kongjan said today (Monday) that, in order to qualify for inclusion, certain criteria must be met. These include food security and the wellbeing of the animals, agricultural bio-diversity, local wisdom, culture, value system and social organisations, landscape and marine landscape.

He said that inclusion in the GIAHS will benefit the raisers by encouraging more tourists to visit the Thale Noi non-hunting area in the southern province of Phattalung, thereby increasing revenues from tourism.

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According to Paitoon Sirilak of Taksin University, the beasts are swamp buffaloes, because they feed in swamps and wetlands.

There are about 4,000 water buffaloes raised by about 300 people in the Talay Noi area, covering about 2,800 hectares around Songkhla Lake.

They raise the beasts by setting them free to feed on grass in the wetlands around the lake. Then, in the evenings, they will walk back to their shelters on the higher ground to escape flooding, which is a normal annual event.

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According to Paitoon, the beasts walk back to their shelter without being herded, and this has been the way the people around Thale Noi have been raising buffaloes for generations.

During the flood season, some owners will bring grass for the beasts, let them feed on seaweed in the lake or on flooded grass in the grazing grounds.

That is how the name “water” buffaloes came about, as the buffaloes at Thale Noi are known to be capable of adapting to their habitat.

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The wetland was recently hit by three major floods, inundating the grazing areas, depriving the animals of enough grass on which to feed. The water level in the lake has also risen. About 200 buffaloes were reported to have starved to death or drowned.

The buffaloes are raised to be sold in cattle markets in the three southernmost provinces of Thailand for their meat. A 300kg buffalo can fetch up to 15,000 baht, according Paitoon.

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