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Cashing Out: A Return to Organic Practices

2012 March 15
by The Isaan Record

YouTube Version

MAHASARAKHAM – In 1996, a group of government officers from the Agricultural Land Reform Office (ALRO) proposed an alternative to the reigning model of chemical farming. Buoyed by their idealism and Japanese funding, they initiated a pilot program that trained and established a small network of organic farmers. The result is a community of 900 farmers in four Isaan provinces who now farm a far greater diversity of crops, reject agrochemicals altogether, and are equipped with the skills to package and market their organic goods locally.

In the last few decades, Thailand has implemented a series of government policies that incentivize farmers to produce cash crops like rice, cassava, rubber, and sugarcane. Now an international leading exporter of rice and rubber, Thailand has successfully stimulated its agricultural sector, helping reduce the national level of poverty dramatically. But with this increase in cash crop farming has come a heavy dependence on chemical fertilizers and pesticides – agrochemicals continue pouring into the country and Thailand’s fertile soil is slowly drying out.

High levels of agrochemicals found in Thailand’s crops last year have also brought international attention to Thailand’s farming habits. Last year, the EU threatened to ban Thai exports on many vegetables, citing dangerous levels of pesticides. In the last ten years, imports of pesticides have more than tripled in Thailand and many worry that without an official monitoring system in place, farmers are likely overusing agrochemicals in attempts to increase their yields and fill their pockets. Concerns for consumers’ health and Thailand’s environment are rapidly rising.

Making a switch back to organic practices in Thailand, however, is far from simple. For one, agribusinesses can offer high prices for exportable goods and farmers are easily enticed by the promise of a greater income. In addition, the government protects its cash crop farmers far better than its organic farmers who diversify the crops in their fields. According to the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives, every administration since 1995 has implemented policies that offer insurance to cash crop farmers and price guarantees for their crops. Farmers who opt to farm a variety of crops, on the other hand, are left with far more risk in a country prone to natural disasters.

With these concerns in mind, the Agricultural Land Reform Office (ALRO) contacted farmers in Sakon Nakhon, Mukdahan, Mahasarakham, and Khon Kaen. Over many years, the ALRO succeeded in teaching former cash crop farmers the benefits of going organic. Though Japanese funding has now run out, these farmers are nearly self-sustainable. They share tasks with one another in co-ops, work together to standardize suitable prices, and sell their goods at local green markets.  And they have found that with farms as diverse as the local supermarkets, debt is no longer a concern nor income a worry. The current administration, however, has shown no intention of expanding the program further.

To learn more about the program, the Isaan Record met with farmers who had worked with the ALRO to return to organic practices. Sakhon Thabthimsai, an organic farmer in Borabue district of Mahasarakham province, tells his story in the video above.

The ALRO’s project is just one of many efforts in Northeastern Thailand to rethink and reform the kinds of agriculture being practiced in this part of the country. For more information, visit the Alternative Agriculture Network’s website here.

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3 Responses leave one →
  1. March 15, 2012

    Neo-liberal Shinawatra II will view self-determination and strong communitiies like this as a threat to their dominance from the center, just as the neo-liberal Democrats would. There will be no more funding or encouragement for this sort of thing from ‘the government’.

    Do you think it was ‘accidental’ that the program was begun and financed by foreigners?

    Didn’t Sakhon compare media, technology and government propaganda to cancer?

    I hope I’m wrong. I’m waiting to hear. Please follow up…

    PS. The non-youtube feed works great! Hope youtube dies a google-tracking death… in an agony of disregard. I realize I ‘demanded’ the youtube feed earlier. I’m very gratified to see a real alternative.

  2. March 15, 2012

    Good news can’t be made in a vacuum! The Isaan Record ought to have inteviewed more than just one farmer and one gov’t bureaucrat if they are trying to talk about the future of organic farming in the region. Organic farming in Isaan is a lot bigger than 900 farmers in 3 provinces. Khon Kaen is even home to a large organic cooperative producing organic fertilizer, near Ubon Rat dam.

    The Land Reform Office is only one project working in the region, and they are currently having success in other provinces, working together with peoples’ organizations like the AAN. Further, Land Reform is a small office within the massive Ministry of Ag. Yes, the future of organic farming in Isaan isn’t clear, but there is a much bigger story that’s not being told here.

    • March 16, 2012

      Hey… don’t be shy! Sounds like you have a lot of information to share… might be professionally involved yourself? Please include a full disclosure statement with your article… listen to me, soliciting articles on someone else’s blog! Don’t mean to be presumptous, but I’ll bet the Isaan Record would be delighted if you fleshed out your references here.

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