Bangkok farmer refuses to sell land and wants to turn farm into inner city retreat

Sompot Tubcharoen, 60, cultivates rice plants at his farm in Bangkok, Thailand August 28, 2018. Picture taken August 28, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

Housing estates, office buildings and traffic-clogged roads are fast encroaching in the area surrounding the farm. Image: REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

Alex Gray
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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This Thai farmer could be a millionaire by now, but he’s turning his back on the chance of big money and taking a different path.

Sompot Tubcharoen has been offered up to 33 million baht ($1.01 million) by property developers to sell his farm in Bangkok. The developers are keen to capitalise on the Thai capital’s growing urban sprawl and surging demand for housing and office space.

Building boom

 MahaNakhon Tower, one of the highest hotels in the capital of Thailand
Image: Reuters

A few years ago, Mr Tubcharoen quit his job as a university researcher to run the family farm, located 30 km (19 miles) northeast of central Bangkok.

 Sompot Tubcharoen, 60, rides his motorbike at his farm in Bangkok
Image: Reuters/ Soe Zeya Tun

He looks after three riceberry paddies and hundreds of melon trees on eight hectares (19.8 acres). Housing estates, office buildings and traffic-clogged roads are fast encroaching in the area surrounding the farm.

According to CBRE, a global property services firm, developers are competing fiercely for prime sites in the city, driving up prices to record levels. Prices for apartment buildings and office rents are also at record highs.

It’s not only domestic pressures pushing up prices. Bangkok is one of the world’s most visited cities. In 2017, approximately 20 million visitors made the trip to Bangkok.

Keeping Bangkok green

The farm is the type of green oasis that has become increasingly rare in the Thai capital. Over half the country’s population now lives in an urban area and pockets of farmland are being swallowed up to build the infrastructure to support rapid urbanisation.

 Over half of Thailand's population lives in urban areas.
Image: Statista

Mr Tubcharoen has pumped several hundred thousand dollars into the farm. He sells the rice and melons grown on his farm, but says he has yet to break even. Still, the lure of easy money isn’t enough to make him abandon his project.

“Every year people keep offering to buy the land from me and the price keeps going up,” he tells Reuters. "Last year it was 20 millions baht, this year is 30 millions baht (per rai), but to me I don't need that much money."

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Mr Tubcharoen plans to open a retreat on the farm where people can escape the city.

"Bangkok life is stressful and people yearn for nature," he said. "They can come for one or two days, rest, and go home refreshed. "It makes me happy just to wake up and hear the birds chirp. Life is more comfortable this way."

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