March 30, 2015 -- Progress Thailand During a recent visit to K-Village, a venue for some of the most successful organic farmers' markets in Bangkok (located near Phrom Phong BTS Station), we talked with some vendors and organizers who have big plans for the future of organic agriculture in Thailand.
Having learned much from past years during which the organic movement has been quietly growing across Thailand, everything from how to teach farmers how to produce better quality products, to better informing consumers, to better organizing farmers' markets themselves was discussed.
Understanding the Problems
Few in Thailand don't understand the hardships of regular farmers, many of whom are still dependent on expensive chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, as well as "middlemen" who take their crops for cheap, and resell abroad raking in huge fortunes while farmers struggle either right along or deeply within debt. In addition to these financial hardships, the chemicals are dangerous for farmers to handle and have a negative impact on the health of those consuming them.
However, despite the obvious alternative of organic agriculture, farmers are unable to take the risk and make the necessary investments to switch over. Those that do take the risk, face an uncertain, underdeveloped market alien to those used to simply passing off their crops to middlemen.
For now, those taking the risk are those who can afford it, farmers or people from the city who are not in debt, have had the time to study at length organic agriculture and have been able to establish for themselves reliable markets where they can sell their crops. These organic farmers are building the road hopefully all others follow, and they are building that road carefully in the hopes that indeed, all farmers can and will.
Building this road requires informing the public about the benefits of organic agriculture, in terms of our health, the environment, and for a more balanced society. It also requires building trust between farmers and consumers through transparent certification methods. And finally, it requires a method of helping farmers transition from chemical-based agriculture over to organic agriculture, and helping them find new markets that meet or exceed their previous income.
Building the Organic Movement
The group at K-Village, Thailand Farmers' Market, seemed to unanimously agree with the way forward for Thailand's organic industry. The creation of Thailand Farmers' Market is meant to serve as a starting point, giving existing farmers a place to regularly connect with consumers, raising awareness of not only their own products, but of the organic philosophy and techniques behind their cultivation and processing.
Rather than a mere "market," the group is more like a vendor collective who pool their resources and coordinate together to organize each market event. While these events are currently held at K-Village (the next being on April 11-12), there are plans to expand the number of venues, including at locations owned by Central, and The Mall.
Beyond markets, the group expressed interest in conducting workshops for everything from the actual technical processes involved in adding value to organic crops, to teaching farmers how to use social media to promote their crops to potential consumers and retailers, to even an entrepreneur workshop to give city-dwellers with families who farm upcountry the knowledge to help their families make the transition to organic agriculture and how to find buyers for their products.
Before long, these workshops could form the foundation of a permanent knowledge center based in Bangkok to help disseminate knowledge regarding organic farming to the provinces by educating people working here who can then bring the knowledge back with them to the provinces several times a year during holidays.
Making the Transition
We were told that the process of switching from chemical-based agriculture to organic agriculture is not easy. It can take up to 3 years or more to make the transition, which includes getting organically certified which is a difficult and expensive process to go through.
We discussed several possible ways of helping farmers make this transition. First, the Thailand Farmers' Market collective seeks to give real farmers going organic free space at their events. Also, members of the collective reiterated how important it is to connect people with their food through educating them of the dangers of eating chemically produced food versus organic. They also highlighted the need to give more exposure in the media of successful organic farms and share their story to encourage and inspire others to follow.
There was even mentioned an innovative peer-to-peer online certification scheme being worked on by one vendor, Raitong Organics Farm.
We also talked about the prospect of demonstrating how a farm could be transitioned with less risk and greater benefits reaped by farmers almost straight away. Taking even a single rai (40x40 meters) of land and using it to grow organic could give farmers a taste for success and an alternative to their regular crops to shore up income when markets fluctuate.
Toward an Organic Future
Building an organic future requires those in the community now to help build a safe and wide road for others to follow on. It means assessing the various communities already interested in organic products today, both expats and Thais, and bringing them together to ensure this trend evolves into a paradigm shift rather than giving way to chemical-based agriculture making a comeback as market forces stabilize.
For Thailand, particularly in Bangkok, the idea of growing your own food is catching on. There are rooftop gardens and other urban agricultural projects trying to raise awareness of both the value of farming and accessibility to it that current public perception might obstruct.
Proving that farming can be a successful, fulfilling, profitable pursuit, done both for the benefit of the individual and for the community and surrounding environment can help more people either join in and contribute, or at least join in by supporting their community's farmers.
The Thailand Farmers' Market collective is one of many trying to make this happen. If you are interested in getting involved in the organic movement, drop by the farmers' market this April, 11-12 at K-Village and follow the Thailand Farmers' Market group on Facebook here. This is a group eager to share their knowledge, all you have to do is ask!
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