How a former farmer turned human-elephant conflict into an economic opportunity

Farmers load pineapples into a truck in the foreground with pineapple fields in the background

It takes almost two years to grow a pineapple before it’s ripe and ready for harvest. For rubber trees, it can take at least six years before latex can be collected. So you could imagine the frustration and heartbreak of seeing the fruits of a farmer’s patience and dedication destroyed in a matter of minutes. This has been the harsh reality for those living around Kui Buri National Park, where some of Thailand’s largest populations of Asian elephants roam.

Worravoot Kassame stands in the middle of a pineapple field with the sun hanging low in the sky

Worravoot Kassamee works on his pineapple plantation and, like Nichakan Pongsarikit, serves as a tour guide.

For years, these farmers have toiled to make a living from their crops, only to witness it all crumble under the footsteps of the wild giants. But the elephants are not to blame; with their usual foraging spots now converted into farmland, there is little left for them to eat—except the bountiful fields of tempting, easily accessible juicy fruits, all lined up like a continental breakfast buffet.

Amidst the rage she felt from her damaged crops, farmer Nichakan Pongsarikit saw an opportunity that the majestic creatures offered. Embarking on a journey to become a local guide, she began learning more about the animals and their behavior, movement, and habitat, along with foreign language skills, with the support of the Kui Buri Conservation Association and WWF-Thailand.

“I used to never want to encounter the elephants,” she said, now entering her seventh year as a guide. “Now I want to see them every day.”

Like her, other affected farmers have also found innovative ways to embrace the situation. Some are now making handmade souvenirs from elephant-related products, such as natural dye and ‘poo poo’ paper from elephant dung, and selling them to tourists who come to visit the elephants in their natural habitat. While it does not come without challenges, this transformation demonstrates the economic benefits that conservation could bring to communities, and the vital role communities play in conservation.