เครือข่ายเกษตรกรรมทางเลือกภาคอีสาน

Self-Sufficiency: The Only Way to Live

In Our Network on 25/04/2010 at 9:39 am

By CLAIRE CODDINGTON (CIEE Khon Kaen)

YASOTHON, THAILAND

It is 3 AM on Thursday morning and Meh Brat Tom Ta Na Koon is waking up to tend to her animals and farm. “I rise at 3 AM, cook rice, water the garden, release the cows, if time allows I will expand the garden, retrieve rice husks from the mill, rest during the day when the sun is hottest, herd the cows in the evening, eat vegetables I harvested that day and go to sleep by 8 PM.” Her routine may seem too scheduled for some, but for 53-year-old Meh—a mother, wife and farmer—there is nothing else she could imagine doing.

Meh grew up on the farm she works on today and raised her family in the same house she was raised in. She stopped school after the fourth grade at the ripe age of ten. It was then that she began working in the field next to her parents and developed a love for farming.

Meh met her husband, Soo-eet, when she was a teenager. They grew up as neighbors and herded buffalos together. He shares the same passion for farming as Meh does since his family also ran a farm. Meh and her husband raised two daughters who are now 25 and 17 years old and both work in Bangkok as nurse assistants.

When Meh was seventeen, her parents decided to use chemicals because everyone was using them and told her family it would be good. They used chemicals once and never again because it hardened the soil and harmed the family’s health. These two detrimental affects convinced Meh not to use chemicals when she owned her own farm. Today, when Meh has problems with insects she uses a water and vinegar solution to kill the bugs eating away at her beloved vegetables. Even during a drought Meh is not tempted. “During a drought everyone’s yield decreases, so what is the point of using chemicals?”

Today, some of her neighbors still use chemical fertilizers and pesticides. She urges them to stop using chemicals by saying, “Chemicals are harmful to both the vegetables and the farmer, but they argue that their crops are beautiful.” Meh is afraid of her crops being contaminated so she blocks the water from flowing into her field. She works extremely hard to make compost, organic pesticides and herbicides and does not want a neighbors’ poor choice to affect her vegetables.

CIEE students working in conjunction with Alternative Agriculture Network of Isaan (AAN) established the Yasothon Green Market in May 2008. The Green Market provides a space for local organic farmers to sell their produce to consumers who share the same passion for organic food. When Meh heard about the Green Market she was immediately interested in the idea of fellow organic farmers building a community. Meh hopes the Green Market will expand to encompass more organic farmers and encourage others to make the switch to organic.

Every Saturday, Meh wakes up at 1 AM to prepare her produce for the Green Market. She typically brings tomatoes, garlic, cilantro, shallots, onions, chili peppers, rice and flowers. The organic produce is the same price as the non-organic produce one finds at a market, but at the Green Market one is given more for their Baht.

Meh says that with the Green Market she generates an additional 700-800 Baht but on a really good day makes as much as 1.200 Baht. Running a farm can require a farmer to take out multiple loans leaving them with a life-long debt. Meh has a debt of about 30.000 Baht to the Bank for Agriculture and Agriculture Cooperatives (BAAC), but the extra income generated from the Green Market helps alleviate her financial situation.

Meh loves her community because everyone is completely self-sufficient. She never has to go to the market to buy food; if something is needed she can just ask a neighbor. She filters the rainwater to supply drinking water and uses ground water to use for her irrigation system on the farm. Meh truly believes that self-sufficiency is the best way to live. “If someone has land, why not grown their own food?”

I ask Meh what she thinks about those who are not self-sufficient, she responds, “Those who eat from markets all the time get sick more often and are at a greater risk of developing diabetes…People are too lazy or uneducated about growing.” I ask if she could change something about Thai agriculture what it would be, Meh laughs and responds, “ I want to see organic agriculture and self-sufficiency expand across Thailand.” This laugh indicates that the change she hopes for is not realistic, but one can always dream.

Meh says that she will not stop farming until she can no longer walk to the field in which her vegetables grow and her cows graze. Her daughters said they would return from Bangkok to take over the farm. Many youth are attracted to the city life in Bangkok and never return home to take care of their parents or continue the family business. However, Meh seems confident that her daughters will keep their word and the farm will prosper for years to come.

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