เครือข่ายเกษตรกรรมทางเลือกภาคอีสาน

Reform and Development

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

DSC02008

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?

Ajaan Surichai Wan-gaeo began by asking, “what’s happened here?”  Despite major obstacles, farmers continue fighting, and many small-scale farmers have never thought about how sovereignty and democracy are connected to them.  The nation views itself as industrial, not agricultural – the “Detroit of Asia” (Detroit has become one of the worst economies in the U.S.) – yet this is a crisis larger than what we can see.  What is democracy for?  There is much talk about the food crisis, but are we really seeing farmers?  China, home to a “Peasant’s Revolution” via Mao, accept today that farmers are struggling amidst “3 crises” in agriculture.  In Europe, large-scale producers also struggle, but the government sees farmers are more than just goods producing, with important roles in society, culture and environment.

“We might conceive of democracy as simply voting, and not connected to food democracy, or where our food comes from.  But democracy is about power, not about supporting fair systems of production.  Solutions need to see the value of farmers and the land that they continue to work.  If there’s no strategy regarding farmers and food, we won’t survive and there’ll be no future.”

Democracy needs a farmer’s dimension, and needs to include alternatives – a “cold foundation” in a heating-up world.  Policies must guarantee security for farmers’ rights and development, society needs to understand that this is “our crisis” as well.

DSC03143

P’ Ubon Yoowah also gave a presentation about the current situation in the agricultural system and presented examples of viable alternatives.  Farmers’ culture and way of life are rights in our society.  Is Thailand a country committed to a truly safe and health society?  Or, must these things be bought?  Technology has become a tool to control markets and destroy small-scale farmers.  Market mechanisms and actors distribute products and manipulate prices.

Greg Massa, an organic rice farmer from California spoke at Chulalongkorn University a few years ago with Greenpeace.  Ubon met with Greg in California and asked him why there are so few small farmers in the U.S. – his answer was the Farm Bill.  Thailand’s Farmers’ Congress is the equivalent of the U.S. Farm Bill, which supports only large-scale farmers.  It is creating a structure for these types of policies.  Farmers are fighting on their own for rights, while the governemtn is creating a new structure that isn’t independent, as it’s controlled by the Department of Agriculture.  There is serious concern among civil society organization and NGOs about power in this new system.  Thailand’s previous agricultural policies have not supported the lower classes, there have been Agricultural Cooperatives for 30 years and there has been no benefit for farmers.  Capitalists and agricultural corporations have benefited greatly, however.

But how do we create farmers’ authority?  Saving seeds.  We also need to create new market networks – for example, farmers in central Thailand selling their rice to laborers in Bangkok – and without government support, strong farmers’ organizations will continue to struggle for alternatives.

Ajaan Nann continued that within the government there is no critical involvement with policy substance.  Policy-makers also fail to explain their decision-making, creating an overall incomplete process.  We need to push to make reform genuine.  Participation is dependent on making the Farmers’ Congress an independent organization.  The government needs to support Co-ops, with a law controlling agribusiness investment in Co-ops.  Lastly, we need a real assembly at the base of this process; this is where the energy for the “needed” agricultural system will come from.  A process like the one employed by the Public Health system is also needed for agriculture and a budget is needed for management.

P’ Gae of Biothai added an important point – farmers rights’ need to be made concrete on the local level and we can use the newly elected district-level Tambon Administration Organizations (TAO) as a challenge to make this happen.

The exchange that followed featured the voices of many small-scale farmers.  How do we facilitate farmers’ rights becoming real?  Do we create an assembly alongside the government policy?  If not, how will the policy represent farmers’ rights?  If the Congress forms, 2 representatives from each province will be needed and they must come from a diverse background – contract farmers, organic farmers, small-scale farmers, etc.  One farmer suggested that capitalists don’t want a genuine Farmers’ Congress, as they won’t have the power they desire.  Yet even for contract farmers, the corporate pressure is so great that they can’t raise their voices.

A farmer from Yala province, in Thailand’ Deep South, spoke about his feelings of discomfort.  The government says that “agriculture is an important issue,” but the government doesn’t really care, and there are very few in the government that are interested.  These “important issues” have fallen apart before – in practice, bureaucrats put policy to work, and their thinking isn’t the same as farmers.  How do we make policy what it needs to be for small-scale farmers?  We need a mechanism for facilitating policies’ practice, locally.  A farmer from Nan province also spoke about his status as a farmer engaged in protest – the government sees the Farmers’ Network as only a protest group, but the protests are a response to the government’s failures.

P’ Baen added that one in twelve parts of farmers’ income actually comes from agriculture.  One policy won’t solve all the problems in agriculture, but this is a place to start.  P’ Gae concluded the forum – farmers’ have a vision for reform and development, which will be an important contribution to this “important” issue.  Farmers’ goals for rights – sovereignty over inputs, land, seeds, and organizations – are at the heart of this movement.  This is also about culture and way of life – the “Farmers’ Congress” is not something otherwise, and it must care for small farmers’ vision.  We will use this policy as a tool to create a participatory process and develop the issue further.  An Assembly is starting now, we don’t have to wait for the government – we will continue bringing our knowledge together and move forward.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: