Thai farmers cash in on rodents

BAAN PLAI NAM, Thailand (Reuters Life!) - Once struggling to make ends meet in pest-infested villages, Thai rice farmers are now making money out of the very scourge that has gnawed at their finances -- rats.

A villager places a trap in a rice field in Suphan Buri province, 120 km (75 miles) north of Bangkok, November 1, 2007. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang

Thailand is the world’s biggest rice exporter and roasted bandicoot rat has become a popular delicacy at roadside stalls despite costing twice as much as pork or chicken.

About 100 people in Plai Nam village, in Suphan Buri province 120 km (80 miles) west of Bangkok and at the heart of the rice-growing region, have taken up rat catching full time as it pays more than working on someone else’s farm.

Once looked down upon in the village for not owning land, these farmers turned rat hunters are now eagerly sought out.

“Many rat trappers have bought pickup trucks or motorcycles with rat money,” said Sompong Namkaew, 46, who was once unemployed but now makes about 400 baht ($12) a day from catching 10 kg (22 lbs) of rats.

“I no longer have to work myself to death like in the past and I can live close to my wife rather than have to travel to seek work,” Sompong said.

Sawai Tasakul, 38, and his wife -- both now rat trappers -- now earn double what they used to earn in Bangkok as a motorcycle taxi driver and a garment factory worker, Sawai said.

They now start their day by stacking up as many as 60 baited traps on the back of a motorcycle, then ride along the fields to set them on rat trails.

They have much of the rest of the day free, but wake up at 3 a.m. to head back out into the fields to check their catch.

Arriving home when the sun rises, they drown the rats, boil them to make skinning them easy, then gut and clean them ready for sale to wholesalers or food vendors. One kg (2.2 lb) of roasted rat meat sold along the Bangkok-Suphan Buri highway costs 150 baht, compared to 70 baht for roasted chicken, Sompong said.

“Rat meat is firmer and tastes better than chicken or pork because they eat rice and snails,” Sompong said.