เครือข่ายเกษตรกรรมทางเลือกภาคอีสาน

AAN Yasothon Profile: Man Samsee

Paw Man Samsee, Kudchum Cooperative President, Yasothon Province

FairTradeTour

At age 59, Pawh Man sits outside his daughter’s house and patiently awaits his interview. Wrinkles cut deeply into his tan skin and the tranquility of his mind penetrates through his eyes. The rice farmer’s physical appearance is a testament that life does place the heaviest burdens on those of us who can bear them well. The two dark, half-moon shaped scars on each side of his stomach, are a manifesto to his strength, rather than a sign of his weakness.

As he begins, his story echoes that of many Issan people’s whose lives were changed with the initiation of the Green Revolution.  Many Thai farmers were lured by the promise of more yields for less work. However, lacking information, education and government regulation of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, the quantity and frequency of their applications was at the discretion of each farmer.

“At first the crops looked beautiful,” says Pawh Man. “I began by using about ten sacks per 50/60 rai, however, I wanted more profit so it quickly turned into 20 sacks and so on. Each time I kept increasing the amount little by little to be on the safe side.”

There soon came a time when the crops did not look as beautiful, but the vicious cycle continued. Pawh Man started to sell his cows. Their manure he had no use for anymore, and he steadily reduced his livestock number from 30 to zero. The money helped finance his chemical farming further.

As the years went on, the soil was soon stripped of its natural nutrients, and with each application it hardened. The excess chemicals were absorbed into the water. Farmers being unaware that soil had a limited threshold of nutrient and pesticide absorption, were the leading contributors to the decrease of local wildlife.

Thai rice farmers depend on frog and fish not only for maintaining soil quality but for supplementing their daily diets as well. Therefore, it was an alarming signal to Pawh Man when these animals started to become extinct in local rice paddies. The population of river fish was also on the decline. “Many fish started disappearing, some species were totally gone,” says Pawh Man. “The government tried to help but they only made the situation worse.”

The Agricultural Office in hopes of replenishing the population released large quantities of fish into rivers and fields. However, these animals were not native to Yasothorn and contributed to the near extinction of local breeds. “Our catfish and baby fish live individually and do not travel in groups,” explains Pawh Man. “The fish released by the Agricultural Office swam in schools and took much of the available nutrients, and in general did not get along with our fish.” The government supported farmer’s who raised fish and released them into the wild. However, the benefits were small and the additional cost of buying fish and feed were great.

After seeing the soil harden, local wildlife disappearing and his family go further into debt with the Bank Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC), Pawh Man decided there had to be a better way.

It took about 15 years since the integration of chemical farming into the Yasothorn for its consequences to be noticed by Pawh Man and a number of other local farmers. With a group of about 28 people, they decided to seek a solution to their problems. They traveled to provinces that had already started organic farming movements. To seek information and education they even ventured as far as the Philippines.

Despite seeing organic farming succeed on other farms, Pawh Man started slowly himself. At first, he converted less than five rai out of his 21 rais he used for rice. “I was scared of losing my yield,” admits Pawh Man.  “ Yield usually goes down before it goes up again when switching to organic farming.”

Pawh Man did not have to spend money to pay for chemicals for those rai. However, he still felt uncomfortable with a lower yield despite the indifference in profit. This phobia of a decreased yield is part of a farmer’s psyche. Pawh Man believes it is the same fear holding back many farmers today from making the switch to organic.

Within three years of Pawh Man using organic methods of farming, the frogs and fish returned to his fields. However, the years of smoking, working with and consuming food and water containing chemicals had taken their toll on Pawh Man himself. In 1996, he steadily grew weaker until it was a struggle for him to get out of bed. After ten visits to the local hospital to no avail, he was finally diagnosed with stomach cancer in Khon Kaen.

“I felt like what was happening to the local wildlife was happening to me,” says Pawh Man. He already stopped using chemicals and growing tobacco before his diagnosis, however, his tumor convinced him to eat 100% organic. Doctor’s successfully removed a 2.5kilogram mass from his stomach. Although it was difficult to digest at first, now he is strong. “If I did not stop farming with chemicals when I did, or switch over to all organic food after my diagnosis,” admits Pawh Man. “I would probably be dead now.”

These days his village is 60% organic and 40% non-organic. In order to educate his community, he and fellow organic farmers hold conventions and exchange the food with anybody who comes to hosted events. “We don’t preach, we want to convince people by sharing and inviting discussion,” says Pawh Man. “We compare organic and non-organic food side-by-side and share from our gardens.”

The group not only promotes organic farming for rice and other mono crops, but it wants farmers to supplement their incomes by growing and integrating many types of plants.   “We try to explain to them that modern living carries a lot of costs such as televisions, washing machines and our children’s education,” says Pawh Man. “ It is not enough to get by on a farmer’s wage without debt, we encourage people to plant and not only buy produce.”

His efforts to spread awareness about food and farming has lead Pawh Man as far as the United States. In 2007, Pawh Man participated in the Fair Trade Rice Speaker Tour sponsored by ENGAGE. In a two-week span, he and a fellow Thai farmer, crossed the nation from Maine to California speaking in colleges and exchanging with U.S. organic farmers. Fair Trade Rice Speaker Tours have helped five colleges/universities across the country to commit to purchasing Fair Trade Jasmine rice, an effort Pawh Man proudly took part of.

Currently, Pawh Man is busy being a rice farmer and growing organic vegetables for the local Green Market. “ I now find myself farming in the exact same way my parents did [before the Green Revolution],” says Pawh Man. “I am thankful for that.”

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