Who are the Akha?

The Akha are a mountain people in Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, China and Vietnam. They are originally from Mongolia and Tibet and have slowly migrated into southwest China over many centuries. Their population of 600,000 people straddles these five countries. The Akha language is a Sino Tibetan language and according to Akha tradition has only been spoken for many centuries, but never written until the last 100 years.

The Akha are excellent mountain farmers, living above the 1,000 meter level in the remote mountains of SE Asia. Their political and social rights vary from one country to the other. In Myanmar, China, Laos and Vietnam the Akha have national ID cards while in Thailand only a percentage of the Akha have Thai ID cards, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation and unable to travel to engage in work, education or access health services.

The Akha have adapted to some market conditions and have become producers of coffee and tea. However, government mono crop programs have removed much Akha farmland from use, in order to grow non-native pine species. Prior to this, the Akha did rotational farming on a 4-7 year cycle.

As a result of land seizures and forced village relocations many Akha have ended up in lower lying villages or have been displaced to Thai towns.

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