เครือข่ายเกษตรกรรมทางเลือกภาคอีสาน

AAN Mahasarakam Profile: Chat Pakdee

By, Ilse Pukinskis (CIEE Khon Kaen)

It is easy to see another’s misstep and instruct them to fix it. It is an entirely different skill to be able to help people make these realizations and changes on their own. Chat Pakdee,  the Alternative Agriculture Network Esan (AAN) treasurer and community financial advisor is one of the lucky few who possesses such a skill.

Quiet with curious eyes, P’Chat, 40, exudes a relaxed confidence that only comes after one has settled within their self. When asked how he tries to teach villagers to fix difficult circumstances, P’Chat responds, “I don’t teach. I just ask.” The hint of a smile on his face suggests a realization many have yet to have.

Recently, P’Chat has been working with villagers in Mahasarakham Province who raise fish in the Chi River to sell to Charoen Pokphand (CP), Thailand’s largest agricultural conglomerate. With the promise of higher incomes and a break from labor-intensive rice farming, the river was soon filled bank-to-bank with overflowing fishnets.

In 2005, heavily polluted water caused all of the villagers’ fish to die, plunging them deeper into debt with CP, who had no interest in taking such environmental factors into account. It was not long after CP came into these communities, offering the first set of inputs for free and “suggesting” they begin farming fish that villagers realized they had become a part of a system that was far beyond their control.

P’Chat too recognizes the inability for any individual or small group to “control the system” because, “We have to admit we can’t fight both CP and the villages that are taken over by CP.”

Despite recognizing the financial risk of their work, many villagers are forced to continue raise fish simply to pay off their debt to CP, which holds many villager’s land titles as collateral for the money taken out to buy young fish, food and chemicals. “They already know what they are doing is wrong”, P’Chat states matter-of-factly, “They want money but they want to turn back to what they used to do.” His role is making sure these two desires can be achieved through one, sustainable lifestyle.

With P’Chat’s guidance, many villagers have managed to escape the exploitative cycle that kept them indebted to CP. He entered the fish farming villages with the simple intention of studying the impacts and allowing the villagers to do the same. “I didn’t talk directly about debt.” Instead, P’Chat attempted to, “get them to see the problems through their own work and experiences.”

He informed villagers of the detrimental effects fish farming has on the river so many villagers depend on and made suggestions about ways to improve their agricultural practices, their original form of income. After this simple education, P’Chat stepped back, letting the villagers come to their own conclusions about their current lifestyle and the changes they were willing to make. He now provides education on financial documentation and balancing accounts for the villagers who are transitioning away from fish farming. From this self-determination have come the beginnings of self-sufficiency.

P’Chat has been with the Alternative Agriculture Network for nine years now. AAN’s focus is on empowering agricultural communities through education, information and networking, making “people, their environment, their money and their culture” more sustainable, according to P’Chat. P’Chat’s vision of the self-sufficient farmer, so strongly promoted by the AAN, includes an understanding and acceptance of the power of money.

For P’Chat, there could be no better job than one that allows him to empower local communities, “I love this career. It is independent and also benefits others.” Every day, his work makes villagers more informed, allowing them to realize their own personal potential. His belief in the value of his work is clear—he is proud of everything he has worked on with the AAN.

When asked if his job is difficult, P’Chat states, “You are investing in people and providing them with knowledge.” It is obvious these facts outweigh any of the difficulties. He takes his work one day at a time, recognizing the inherent uncertainty of the future of the path of his organization and of the country.

P’Chat’s goal is simply to keep expanding people’s acquired knowledge to other communities, quietly working to give farmers the tools to live secure and sustainable lives.

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: