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Archive for August, 2009|Monthly archive page

Reform and Development

In Network Events on 29/08/2009 at 2:13 pm

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Agriculture in central Thailand has changed tremendously – for Kim-Ang, a leader of the Farmer’s Debt Network – within her lifetime, agriculture has changed from a small-scale producer-based approach similar to northeastern Thailand to an industrialized, export-oriented system.  Central to this change has been the irrigation systems developed over the past 20 years.  Kim-Ang explained a cycle: seeds are bought and broadcasted, chemical fertilizers are applied, and because the soil is turned over by a tractor 3 times a year, herbicides are necessary to kill weeds as well as pesticides to kill the insects living in the paddies.  It is a cycle of high investment costs and debt – “rice has become like people – addicted to chemicals and poisons.”  Villagers need to use the government’s SML funds (intended for community development) to buy rice for household consumption – as all rice is sold to mills and after paying off debts, farmers are left with no money to buy rice themselves.  Kim-Ang’s Farmer’s Debt Network works to support food security and negotiate debt repayment with farmers in 14 central provinces.  Yet land remains in the hands of capitalists, the BAAC or Panit Bank.

Representatives from the Northern Corn Farmers Network – Nan province, southern Thailand’s Fisherfolk Network, the Southern Alternative Agriculture Network, and the Alternative Agriculture Network – Esan gathered on August 20 for a seminar titled “Reforming the Agricultural System for the Development of Farmers’ Rights.”  The morning-long event approached the question: Is the farmers’ Congress a space for small-scale farmers of just an opportunity for Agribusiness? Read the rest of this entry »

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Indigenous Seed Renaissance: A Network Research Update

In Meetings, Research on 24/08/2009 at 8:18 am

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Indigenous seed preservation and expansion is an essential part of AAN farmers’ sustainable agriculture practices.  Local varieties have a role not only in farm biodiversity, but in community culture and traditions.  A number of varieties have also been found to have unique health benefits and medicinal properties.  These are good enough reasons to plant them, but unfortunately most conventional farmers no longer do: many are in debt and need to continue planting jasmine rice for the mills or lenders they are indebted to (and often need to purchase back low grade rice, after selling their entire crop), others may grow only enough to feed their household and grow cash crops on the remainder of their land, and finally, some farmers are simply not interested in these “low-yielding” or “stiff and un-fragrant” seeds.  The first two cases are examples of the pressures of a market-export-oriented agricultural system.  The last case represents a change in farmers’ mentality and culture about agriculture – there is a dearth of knowledge about these seeds and their characteristics, fear of low-yields and a high value placed on Jasmine 105 rice.

But we don’t seek to rant here about the impacts of Thailand’s Green Revolution.  The AAN has actively supported a small indigenous seed renaissance here in northeastern Thailand for more than ten years.  As this movement has progressed, AAN farmers groups have created local, indigenous seed resources, and invited their communities to join them.  At our meeting in Mahasarakm on Aug. 21, farmers’ groups from Kalasin, Petchabun, Ubon Ratchatani, Roi Et, Yasothon and Mahasarakam provinces gathered to review the past season’s activities and plan for the coming season’s indigenous rice campaign. Read the rest of this entry »

An Oil Palm Predicament

In Research on 18/08/2009 at 6:37 pm

Growing cash crops like sugarcane, cassava, eucalyptus and rubber have become appealing options for struggling rice farmers throughout the northeast.  Farmers can easily sign up with local mills and receive seedlings or seeds and plant these crops in their rice paddies, without much knowledge of how to grow these crops or the proper way to manage inputs.  For many, they are seen as potentially more lucrative and lower risk to grow than rice.  Yet these crops have mostly generated new debt and binding contracts with mills, while destroying farmers’ food sovereignty.  Prices for cassava and eucalyptus remain very low, and given high investment costs, it remains very difficult to generate any profit.  Unfortunately, this has also been the case for rubber and oil palm producers in southern Thailand.

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Oil palm has long been grown in southern Thailand, as the region’s climate and soils are well suited to this crop.  Researchers and farmers have developed varieties that produce yields close to those in Malaysia, a country long known for its oil palm production.  Over the past five years, these varieties have been introduced to several provinces in northeastern Thailand for research and oil production.  It’s introduction, however, has generated both opportunities and burdens for small-scale farmers.

Over the past weekend, the AAN traveled to Loei and Nongkhai provinces to learn more about the progress of oil palm in this northern part of Esan.  Is growing oil palm an opportunity for villagers?  In terms of production and markets, what are the limitations?  Where are the connections and relationships – how are seedlings getting distributed?  How is the Oil Palm Research Center in Nongkhai involved? Read the rest of this entry »

AAN Yasothon – Seed Research Update

In Farmers Groups on 14/08/2009 at 9:42 pm

How do we get more farmers to plant indigenous rice varieties?  This question underlies an important part of our network’s movement for rice seed restoration, preservation and expansion.  Farmers’ groups throughout Esan are working together during this rainy season to plant research and demonstration paddies for at least 140 varieties of sticky and non-glutinous rice.  As our collective seed bank expands, the goal to invite more farmers to plant these seeds becomes a reality.  There are still limitations on many varieties, but a number of seeds that were once commonly planted, or bear significance to local culture are now available for expansion.

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On August 11, the Yasothon rice seed research team gathered to discuss the previous years’ progress, in terms of seed preservation and educational campaigns in local communities.  Sitting together at our network’s center in Ban Kud Hin, Kudchum district, farmers exchanged their experiences and planned next steps with P’ Thoy – AAN regional coordinator based in Mahasarakm province and P’ Sit, a masters’ degree student at Chiang Mai University, carrying out research in support of the network.  I was only able to attend the afternoon session, which was highly productive nonetheless.

The network’s educational campaign – which focuses on expanding production among farmers outside of the AAN farmers’ group – follows a three-step process.  First, information is shared with those interested in local seeds and some seeds are distributed to those committed to participation in the project.  Second, the seed research group comes back together at a later date to critically examine the process – are farmers committed to planting these seeds using proper methods?  What are the seed’s strengths and weaknesses?  Third, a curriculum is developed for the learning process. Read the rest of this entry »

Farming by Bankers, Pigs and H1N1

In Uncategorized on 13/08/2009 at 7:18 am

Wanted to cross-post a piece on small-scale farmers from Harrison George on Prachathai –

“But productivity can also be measured in terms not of output per worker, but output per unit of input. And in agriculture, your biggest input is land.

Now Khun Burapa, working from a point of view that says farms operate on the same principles as factories, or banks, immediately thinks of economies of scale. Piddling little fields with a bit of this and a bit of that, mixed up with ponds and fruit trees, well, it’s just not efficient. Broad monocropped acres is the way to go.

Except that from country to country, from climate to climate, the research shows that small farms are more productive. Not if you just count the yield from a single crop. But no farmer with any sense wants to do that. Easiest way of depleting soil quality and encouraging pests. Put bluntly, in terms that banker might understand, nature doesn’t recognize economies of scale.

But the World Bankers of the 60s were as misguided as Khun Burapa and actively encouraged monocropping. So soils have been depleted and pests have multiplied. The fertile soil of Thailand that Khun Burapa takes as a given is, in what were the most fertile places, a thing of the past. Farmers need fertilizers. And since soil degradation just gets worse until you change the cropping system, you need more and more just to keep yields at the same level. Even if the price of fertilizer didn’t go up (and it does), farmers need to spend increasing sums on ever more liberal applications.” Read the rest of this entry »

Gates Opened, A Struggle Continues: Reporting From the Village of the Poor, Rasi Salai

In Our Network on 11/08/2009 at 12:23 pm

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Gathering firewood from the wetlands and making firewood.  Making organic compost, fishing nets, woven baskets, bamboo furniture and hunting traps.  Planting kitchen gardens and eating meals together.  Organizing community meetings and strategizing throughout the day.  Paw Han on the loudspeaker, keeping all informed.  Gathering in the evenings to celebrate, educate and exchange.  Fishing in the Mun river, as it flows through the gates of the Rasi Salai dam.

These are some of the things that the Village of the Poor does everyday.  In many ways, life here is a struggle – living in makeshift tents as a “mob” for human rights and a fair, just society.  Away from their families for months or weeks at a time – the oldest generations representing hundreds of villages in 3 provinces affected by this failed dam.  Yet this summer’s protest is only the most recent in a 16 yearlong fight, and the communities gathered together exude a strength and pride that cannot be defeated.  In the 2,000 people gathered here (of about 17,000  affected), many have yet to be compensated for the flooding of their farms and common wetlands.  Read the rest of this entry »

Alternative Sugarcane

In Farmers Groups on 10/08/2009 at 9:51 pm

The average Thai farmer is 51 years old.  For every 29 baht that a farmer consumes, they produce 100 baht by themselves.  In Esan, the rate is 36 baht and in southern Thailand, the rate is 3.6 baht. Yet the average farmer is 169,597 baht in debt to the BAAC.  There are a total of 38 million rai of land for agriculture in Thailand, 8 million of which will be taken over by the BAAC for the next 9 years (indebted farmers will have that period of time to earn it back). The AAN believes that this land should be put to use by farmers, but that farmers need to demand this change.  Corporations and countries from all over the Global North and Middle East are looking to buy up land in northeastern Thailand.

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The uplands surrounding Ban Dong Dip, Phon Thong district, Roi Et province is prime real estate for these kind of investors looking to buy or rent cheap land to produce rice or biofuel crops.  Though this land was forested until somewhat recently, it’s red clay soils are now planted with sugarcane, cassava and corn.  On July 28, the AAN farmers group in Ban Dong Dip currently working on organic practices for sugarcane and cassava hosted a concluding meeting on the past six months of activities.  The AAN has worked on and off in this community for more than five years, and P’ Mao – a network staff member based in Khon Kaen – continues to facilitate the group’s learning process for organic techniques. Read the rest of this entry »

ThaiHealth – Food Security Network

In Meetings on 03/08/2009 at 2:53 pm

DSC02613Local vendors at the Warin Bus Station market in Ubon Ratchatani – selling local plants on the ground, in front of the dumpster.

Several provinces in southern Esan were brought together by the Thai Health Promotion Foundation last Thursday to discuss the possibilities for forming a food security network.  Representatives from Yasothon, Surin, Sisaket, Amnat Charoen and Ubon were brought together to focus on a few key issues: resources – rights and management, food and agriculture – organic and sustainable production, and consumers – alternative markets and public movement.  The Sesa Asoke community, Kunatam rice cooperative, Community Forest Network, Ubon Green Network, Surin Farmers Support and AAN were all represented.

The meeting worked towards forming a plan for food security in these provinces, working based on the existing relationships between villagers’ organizations, local government and NGOs.  There is a concrete basis for food security in southern Esan, so the meeting focused on ways to utilize this basis for future work and expanding a movement for food security.  Regional-level research and policy-making efforts are end goals for the network as well, as these efforts can build consumer awareness and “society security” as ThaiHealth put it.  Read the rest of this entry »

Youth and Food Security

In Youth Activities on 03/08/2009 at 5:08 am

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From July 25-26, youth groups from Mahasarakam, Kalasin, Roi Et and Yasothon provinces gathered for a weekend-long camp at Don Daeng focusing on food security and local food.  Day 1 got everyone together to exchange about food – what do you like to eat?  What do you like to cook?  What do you eat the most often? were the questions asked of everyone during the morning.  We were able to conclude that Esan youth still love to eat som tam (a green papaya salad with chilis and fermented fish sauce) but when they get the chance, Korean BBQ and KFC are very popular choices.  With this in mind for the afternoon, we set the kids “free” to put together dinner.

Three groups with menus for the evenings’ meals in hand set out to three locations that were unknown to them when they left Don Daeng.  Eventually, the groups arrived at their respective “food resources”: Big C (a popular grocery store/shopping mall), the district’s fresh market and a local, organic farmers fields.  Korean BBQ was the planned menu for two groups, and for the group that visited Big C, buying ingredients was easy (though it required most of their budget).  Read the rest of this entry »

Welcome! สวัสดีพี่น้อง

In Our Network on 03/08/2009 at 2:12 am

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Welcome to the new website of Thailand’s Alternative Agriculture Network – Esan (AAN-Esan).  Our network links small-scale farmers, community organizers and NGOs together to work for a more sustainable agriculture in northeastern Thailand.  We are part of a national network and coordinate public campaigns focused on a range of social and environmental issues related to agriculture.