เครือข่ายเกษตรกรรมทางเลือกภาคอีสาน

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.  Below, a diagram presented to our group and translated into English.

thaihealth diagram

The diagram focuses on 4 major points: access, safe food, farmer livelihoods and the market system.  It’s a useful way of conceptualizing what food security looks like in this region.  Before we got to brainstorming next steps based on this diagram, we approached the current food system situation.  Along with P’ Ubon Yoowah, I gave a presentation about my food ways research with Non Yang village.  By following food from conumption to local markets, regional markets and eventually to it’s orginial source, we see an accumulation of “food miles,” excessive use of chemicals and unfair prices for the producer.  Further, consumers’ health is at risk when eating these fruits, vegetables and meats.  My presentation focused on chili, catfish and scallions – three items commonly purchased by villagers.  We are thinking of experimenting with using food ways research on a larger-scale, throughout the network, to expose problems in the food system.

Paw Bunsong Mahtkao – the current president of AAN-Esan – continued with commentary, highlighting three major problems: the “mono-think” behind production, the management of production and consumer practices.  Everyone in the village at this time of year line up at the local food shops to buy food before hading to the fields – those who have changed their way of thinking away from “mono-think” aren’t as dependent on this market system.  But most farmers are focused only on getting rice transplanted and getting it done as fast as possible, so growing kitchen gardens or other crops is largely disregarded.  The food management system is inefficient in rural communities – vendors buy crops from the district fresh markets every morning, while villagers send local crops to that same market in the evening.  It’s dependent on long-distance trucking and unnecessary use of fossil fuels, yet foods are being grown in the community and sent to the district for consumption.  Finally, consumers’ practices have change significantly – people no onger want to eat local foods, and are influenced by media and advertising to want foods from outside their community.  The AAN promotes diversity and low-cost production, how do we get those outside our network to change their way of thinking and change food security for their community?

Urban consumers make up another important part of our food system.  Those who are informed about food safety or considered “alternative” are middle-class and in the minority – creating more opportunity for change, but in a smaller part of soceity.  P’ Baramee of the Community Forest Network also made an important point – we can grow and sell all the healthy, organic vegetables we want, but we’ll also have to work on food preparation as well.  People don’t always cook healthful foods – MSG use has become the norm and cooking oil is being used too long by many small restaurants.

How do we generate a trend for local foods?  Youth in Thailand are now obsessed with all things Korean, but they don’t know very much about local foods.  A Buddhist monk attending the meeting from the Suan Tam forest temple in Yasothon suggested an Indigenous plant advertising campaign to be carried out by ThaiHealth.  It’s a great idea, but will it hold much sway with youth or adults?

The afternoon featured small, province-based sessions to map out next steps.  Yasothon will begin working on forming a green consumer club connected to the Green Market held every Saturday and develop a position for a middle-person to work with both urban consumers and producers groups.  Surin will continue focusing on food security at it’s Green Market, and has recently begn accepting applications from “lite-Green” producers (those who may still use some chemical fertilizers, and are not affiliated with SFS).  A CSA is also in the works for their green consumers’ club, providing pork, eggs and vegetables every week.  The green consumers will also begin working with the Public Health Office to inspect food safety in the city and provide a ratings guideline for restaurants and stands throughout Surin city.  Below, P Nok presents their outline for future food security work in Surin.

DSC02635

The network’s efforts in Ubon will focus on bringing together the diverse Green Markets and continue building consumer support.  There is also interest in food ways research to help build a clearer picture of the main food ways in the province – especially with so much movement through the Jalurn Sri market in Warin.  Based on this information, efforts would be directed towards creating a “safe food way” mapping project and website, for people to access information about safe food alternatives.  In Sisaket, the Community Forest Network will continue working with producers on sustainable techniques and alternatives for shallot production.  Many shallot producers will spray their crop with pesticides and herbicides 13 times during and after harvest.  P’ Ubon Yoowah suggested that they also conduct some food way research, as the Sisaket market is a hub for the national (and regional) shallot and garlic markets.  Sisaket is deeply connected with the rest of the country’s food system.

Local foods are an important response to the food security issue in Thai society.  They have a lot of potential to re-emerge in our daily diet, as consumers are taking more interest.  But the job of our network will be to connect province-level efforts, regionally and effectively campaign for consumer support of alternatives.  In the next 2-3 months we will continue preparing and beginning local efforts.  We need to start with what we have – if we want consumers to connect with the issues we’re concerned with, we need to connect them to our concrete solutions.  Beginning with Green Markets and consumers’ groups is an important starting point – it is a long-term learning process that can expand locally.

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