เครือข่ายเกษตรกรรมทางเลือกภาคอีสาน

Turning Crisis Into Opportunity

In Meetings, Our Network on 05/11/2009 at 10:37 pm

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The mess of provincial bureaucrats sitting across the hall is a symbol of their ineptitude and the lack of political will within this system.  They have made a major mess for themselves and they look nervous and embarrassed.  The district has come to accept it’s at fault and the higher ups have had to come in and clean up this mess…

After the AAN met with the Governor of Yasothon and the agricultural departments on October 19th, the Furadan and other pesticides were removed from the Kudchum silo.  But by the 26th, the government’s deadline to properly address the situation, we had not been informed of where they had been moved to or what had been done with them.  By November 3rd, the Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives had arrived to meet with the district’s organic farmer-leaders.  It was our forum to voice our concerns and demand government accountability.

On November 3rd, the Alternative Agriculture Network – Esan (AAN) demanded:

1. Yasothon province must take measures and organize government office work plans to be appropriate to the province strategy of being an “Organic Province.”

2. Government organization budgets must support farmers’ and community organizations and recognize projects that are appropriate to the situation and problems of local communities.  This process must give power to farmers and community organizations in project budgeting and management.

3. Government organizations must support the expansion of organic farming through a process including independent farmers organizations and responsible government offices.

4. The government must allow for the inspection of projects by farmers organizations and must inform farmers of changes in their policies or programs in an organized way.

Every agriculture-related office and department has come to this community rice mill for what purpose?  They are calling this a “visit” to the organic producers in the sub-district, where the district official proclaims villagers to possess a “middle grade quality of life.”  According to their surveys, farmers here make 30-40,000 baht (under 1,200 USD) per year.  During his introduction, the district official poses the question, “how do we improve incomes?” for the poor families in Kudchum district.  His answer includes rice bran oil, cassava for biofuel production, raising “improved” breeds of cattle and chicken.

These are all products for markets in other provinces and cities, and make no mention of how local communities can be the owners of such value chains.  According to the district, the solution to monoculture-based poverty seems to be more of the same.  This week the government announced a 60 billion baht loan from the Bank of Agriculture to the Bank of Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives to support the rice insurance program.  But these approaches to agricultural problems and farmer incomes do not reach the root of our current food and economic crises.  In rural Thailand, chemicals sell better than cigarettes or alcohol, and cancer is an enormous problem that farmers alone cannot solve.

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Our answer is self-reliant, sustainable agriculture, with farmers as the basis of a food system that supports community food security and consumer safety.

The organic movement in Yasothon began 20 years ago when Manasobu Fukuoka visited with Paw Man Samsee and other farmers to teach them about “natural agriculture” techniques.  Since then, we’ve developed a network of organic certified farmers in every district of Yasothon.  There are over 500 organic farmers in Yasothon, with 225 farmers selling their rice to the Kudchum cooperative mill.  But growing organic rice is only one part of sustainable agriculture and we approach the entire food system, from land, seeds and compost, to certification, markets and consumers.

After Paw Man Samsee’s introduction, Paw Bunsong Mathkao, President of the Alternative Agriculture Network – Esan spoke with fire.  He greeted the government representatives across the hall:

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I’m happy you’re all here today.  We’ve been in different places, doing different things for a long time.  It is unacceptable for government corruption at this scale to be tolerated; we will not allow chemicals to come into our land.  This is deeply connected to consumers, and not just about our local community.  Our rice is sold to consumers in Europe who want safe, organic rice.  If we allow these chemicals to be used here, what will our local consumers think?  What will our consumers abroad think?  We are very concerned about this situation, especially because organic food is something that so many people have come to want, but the government bureaucrats refuse to accept this.  Organic farming is a solution for small-scale farmers.

There is no transparency regarding how these chemicals were brought into our community, only that they were part of a “natural disaster” project.  We will continue to monitor and prevent this kind of dishonesty and contradiction within the government.  Today is a place to start working together, not just for the government to continue un-supportive of our efforts and only have ‘strategy’ without any real work being done.  Maybe in some places, the government is ready to support organic farmers, but the farmers are not yet ready.  But here in this area, farmers are ready, but government is not.

There were a number of other farmers who shared their opinions and suggestions in the hours that followed.  The morning was our space to get a clear message across to the Ministry of Agriculture and it’s offices represented at the Kudchum mill: we demand accountability and transparency from our government and need support from the government to continue expanding and developing organic agriculture production systems.

The AAN has developed strong working relationships with some government agricultural organizations.  Thanks to the support of the Land Reform Office (Sor Por Kor), applications for organic certification have raised significantly in the district.  By working together with the Alternative Agriculture Network, the Land Reform Office  has committed to requiring that all recipients of land farm it organically, and enter training programs with Local Wiseman Centers affiliated with the AAN.

Seeds, especially indigenous varieties, have also expanded throughout our network.  We now have over 140 varieties preserved, with over 30 in use by Esan regional farmers.  State support for farmer self-reliance in seed (as opposed to corporate control to genetic resources) will be essential for the growth of sustainable agriculture in Thailand.  Farmers have become used to waiting for local bureaucrats to buy and distribute seeds to them.  These seeds are low quality and impure, which has direct impacts on the rice that consumers eat domestically or abroad, often purchased in bags miss-labeled “Thai Jasmine Rice.”  More corporate ownership over seed will destroy small-scale farmers, while farmer seed ownership will help preserve local biodiversity.

November 3rd was an important success for the Alternative Agriculture Network and our allies.  The Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives has pledged his full support for organic agriculture and ensured accountability and transparency from local agricultural offices.  The pesticides that have been removed from the district silo will not be distributed to farmers and the offending politicians will have to make good on their commitment to provincial “strategy.”

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  2. […] Agrochemicals: A Social and Environmental Crisis in Thailand In Press Release on 24/11/2009 at 8:42 am Ubon Ratchatani, Thailand, 23 November 2009 – As the 9th National Plant Protection Conference begins today in Ubon Ratchatani province, northeastern Thailand, the Alternative Agriculture Network – Esan (AAN) has prepared a statement on the current crisis surrounding the use of agrochemicals in our food system.  For more background information, please read our recent reports on Carbofuran and Kudchum District. […]

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