เครือข่ายเกษตรกรรมทางเลือกภาคอีสาน

Reflections Upon Return: AAN & The Thai Crisis

In Our Network on 26/05/2010 at 9:23 pm

Here is some recent writing on the current crisis and what it means for the AAN.  Your reporter is currently in the U.S. and next week will begin working for Hearty Roots Farm in Tivoli, New York.  The next few months will be covered by our new intern, Abe Levine – I look forward to seeing his writing on the local and network-level efforts carried out by the AAN.  I will continue to support this website and will be presenting on the AAN at a TEDx event in Bangkok at the beginning of September.

As I wait to fly home tomorrow, the “final crackdown” is taking place in central Bangkok.  Protesters willing to fight to the death are destroying public and private property after a week-long, violent struggle with police and military.  After working with the AAN for the past few years, I will be returning to a quiet, peaceful part of the U.S. to grow organic vegetables.  These years have also been the start of a new time in Thai politics.  Things will probably only get much worse before they get any better.

Before this week of violence began, waiting for a ride to Chiang Mai, I received a few of my daily “TheNation” text messages:

“Royal Ploughing Ceremony Thur., abundant water resources, foods predicted.”

“Govt revoked Nov. 14 general election offer, after UDDs refused to move out of Rajprasong late Wed.”

In Yasothon it has rained three times in the past six months.  Farmers who planted a second rice crop now let their cows and buffaloes graze in the paddies, eating dried up young rice plants.  This is not the picture of a healthy agro-ecological system.  Yet we are promised abundance by the royal cows.  There are many things wrong with Thailand’s food and agriculture system – small farmers in Esan face a crisis of livelihood, culture, environment and politics.  The irony of the Ploughing Ceremony is both environmental and political – as Thailand is elected to the UN Human Rights Council the government sends troops to kill Thai citizens in the streets.  As I exchanged some cash at one of the bank branches in the airport, the teller asked me how I would explain the current crisis to people in America.  I told him it would take some time to explain the background and certain complexities not reported in the mainstream media.  He responded immediately, “and tell them that these people aren’t Thais.”  This must be how the government views the Reds as well.

Of course joining with the Red shirts would be appealing or hopeful to those who saw Thaksin come out to find the people and actually enact policies.  Now, as I write, the Rajprasong area of Bangkok, a space symbolic of both Thaksin’s “CEO” approach to governance and the massive inequalities still present in Thai society, has been taken back by the government.

As people are murdered by the military, we must speak out against this injustice.  The government is staying in power through violence – a massacre is currently taking place.  Reds are responding, destroying public and private property in Bangkok, Udon and Khon Kaen.  The city hall in Khon Kaen is up in flames and villagers are fighting with the police.

As a network, movement and organization, the Alternative Agriculture Network (AAN) doesn’t yet have enough mass to change society.  We agree with the need for structural change in the government.  Thailand’s non-transparent wealth-accumulation without good governance or citizen’s equality is part of a long-term economic crisis.  This political crisis is short-term by comparison – the expansion of private capital into rural Thailand is a trend that has destroyed local peoples’ opportunity and has fueled the anger of many struggling people in Esan.

Over the long-term, this “rural transformation” has brought a response from “civil society advocates…but many of them got sidetracked by their anti-capitalist agenda and constructed an anachronistic stereotype of communal lifestyles and subsistence-oriented farming.  This compounded the middle-income peasantry’s cultural marginalization.”  Andrew Walker rightly points out that Thai civil society has lost it’s chance to be a bigger voice for social change.  But I have come to understand that the AAN orients itself towards creating sustainable livelihoods together with small farmers.  This is a process of empowerment that both political movements lack.  These farm-based livelihoods are also closely connected to alternative markets that support local, fair systems of connecting producers to urban consumers.  This is not a subsistence-orientation, but a recognition of farmers’ interdependence with markets.  AAN farmers are actively building networks and strengthening community.

Perhaps we are idealist, with little reach thus far.  But for farmers themselves to take a stand against the injustices inherent to Thailand’s economy is to actively promote a progressive agenda aimed at raising awareness in society while supporting farmers rights to food and livelihood.  In this “modern rural world of contract farming,” this is activism at it’s best – a problematic system in which agribusiness like CP has benefited and left farmers with new risk and more debt is openly criticized by small fish, sugarcane, vegetable and pig farmers and in response, sustainable practices are developed as solutions to this problematic system.  Dissatisfaction with government policy is meaningless without proposals based in concrete alternatives – civil society and Red shirts agree on the need for reform, but the AAN believes that an alternative future is possible.

A different kind of development is possible: a development that empowers local communities to participate in the political and infrastructural changes taking place, values educational institutions as civic centers for next generation of community leaders (and not private investment opportunities) and supports an integrated rural economy with a genuinely local food system.  80% of Thailand’s farmers are small scale – are we going to work to support these communities or sit back and watch this injustice continue?

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