Organic Farmer Chompoo Nampop, 42, proudly displays his chemical free sugarcane
LIAM DIXON (CIEE Khon Kaen) – March 3, 2010
BAN DONG DIP, THAILAND — “Try this,” Chompoo Nampop offered, extending a piece of brown sugarcane. “This is the real thing,” he explained, “No chemicals.2”
Indeed, the rows of sugarcane that line Nampop’s farm are grown in a rare way–organically. According to Dr. Buapan, a professor at Khon Kaen University, only 0.05% of all produce grown in Thailand is done so without the assistance of chemical fertilizers.
Yet, only recently did Nampop decide to grow his crops organically. Five years ago he was just like the majority of other farmers in Thailand. He would spray herbicides, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers hoping for high yields.
Today, Nampop’s farm is run very differently. Instead of relying on man-made chemicals, Nampop uses natural materials to help his crops thrive. The nutrient-rich manure from his pigs, cows, and ducks provide an excellent base for his compost, which serves as an all-natural alternative to chemical fertilizers.
Nampop’s decision to transition from chemical farming to organic was no accident. During his childhood, Nampop witnessed the beginning of the Green Revolution, which arose in the 1960s as the answer to world hunger[i]. The logic was simple. Increase the amount of food produced and more mouths will get fed.
Promoted by the World Bank, the Green Revolution encouraged farmers to adopt an entirely new way of farming. Farmers were pushed to plant “improved” varieties of seeds that were said to increase yields. As a caveat to planting these seeds, however, the farmers were required to invest in irrigation equipment, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides. Unless these chemicals were applied and the irrigation systems installed, the improved seeds would not produce the high yields claimed1.
Nonetheless, farmers throughout Thailand began to convert their farms. They went from planting diverse crop varieties to mono-cropping. From organic to chemical. And from small-scale to large-scale.
By the 1980s the Green Revolution had taken off. Crops quickly became a commodity with an exchange rate, and the name of the game was high yields.
However, such intent focus on increasing yields led to many unintended consequences. The Green Revolution indirectly encouraged farmers to chop down forests to make room for crops, pollute water sources with chemicals, and degrade soil with pesticides1. Furthermore, the Green Revolution did not help solve world hunger1. In fact, it contributed.
Small farmers were bought up by bigger farmers. With no means of subsistence, many of these farmers fled to the city in search of jobs. Sadly, few farmers found employment, and thus could not afford the food promised to fill them1.
Unfortunately, swept up in the craze of the Green Revolution, Nampop’s father decided to make the switch.
Today, Nampop only has memories of the forest that used to border his father’s fields. “During the rainy season,” Nampop shared, “I used to love going out and looking for mushrooms. 2”
Although Nampop may never see those forests restored, he has begun down a path that sets him on the right track, and he knows it. “Look at the worms,” he explains, “when I use chemicals they are gone…I start farming organically and they’re back! 2” Nampop goes on to say, “You don’t need to do scientific research to know there’s an issue. 2”
Indeed, Nampop is well aware of the issues that chemicals pose. He reflects, “With chemicals, people were getting sick–rashes, infections. Some people even died. 2” It did not take long before Nampop realized how destructive chemical agriculture really was. After only five years he knew that the old method–the natural method–was the way to go. However, transitioning back may not be as easy as one thinks. In fact, there is a five-year process carefully designed to restore one’s soil back to its greatest potential.
Fortunately, in 2005 a Non-Governmental Organization known as the Alternative Agriculture Network (AAN) visited Nampop’s village. The AAN hosted a training session for farmers interested in organic agriculture. Nampop jumped on the opportunity.
Nearly five years have passed and Nampop has successfully made the transition. Having restored his land, Nampop has begun looking toward the future. He envisions a culture where consumers will accept organics, where farmers will be healthier, and where the environment will be better.
To realize such a vision Nampop highlights a number of necessary measures. First, he notes, “Developed countries need to stop producing and selling chemicals. 2” Second, “There must be an organic label, or standard so that the consumers know what they are buying. 2” And thirdly, “Farmers should exchange ideas about organic farming to gain techniques. 2”
Nampop has made this final measure part of his life. He has become a leader within his village, often setting aside his own personal time to promote organic agriculture and help others to make the transition. Ultimately, Nampop would like to see the whole village growing organic produce.
Fortunately, this vision looks brighter than ever. Farmers across the region are starting to realize the devastation that chemical agriculture has caused. Furthermore, they are starting to mix their own compost, make their own natural pesticides, and begin growing their crops the old way.
However, much more can be done. As Dr. Buapan noted, a very slim percentage of farming is done organically in Thailand. For this reason, the fight has only just begun. Vital to the success of this campaign is the work of Nampop, the AAN, other local leaders and groups, and you.
Get to know where your food comes from. Volunteer on an organic farm. Instead of planting flowers in your backyard, plant tomatoes. And if you grow enough, share. Buy organic produce. If a store doesn’t carry organic, ask for organic.
Do these things, and maybe more worms will start to come back.
[i] Rosset, Peter, Joseph Collins, and Frances Madut Lappe. “Lessons from the Green Revolution.” Tikkun Magazine Mar. 2000. Print.
2 Nampop, Chompoo. Personal interview. Translated: Haynes, Bennett. 24 Feb. 2010.