เครือข่ายเกษตรกรรมทางเลือกภาคอีสาน

AAN Yasothon: Pratjong Seemanta

ry%3D401From CIEE Fall 2009 student Tommy Russo

I spent four days recently in Yasothon. I lived with a middle aged couple in the small farming community of Talah.  My host parents were extremely gracious and genuine people.  The man of the house, Pratjong Seemanta, goes by the name Jong (seated in front row with orange Texas hat).  He is good-natured man of 56 years with a warm face characterized by deep laugh lines and crows feet.  Although Jong and I could barely communicate I liked him immediately, he was always laughing at something and indeed seemed to be the life of the party.  The tattoo of a whisky bottle tipping its contents into a glass on his forearm seemed to encourage this perspective, but upon my query he responded that he only drinks “nit noi”, a little bit.

This struck me as odd.  A man who only cares to imbibe a little bit of whiskey rarely has a bottle and a glass tattooed.  It provokes one to ask how does such an individual express interest in hobbies that he does adore.  Through my translator I was able to find out a bit more on the subject.  It seems Jong, wiry and slim built decided to get this tattoo when he was 17 years old and a bit more reckless.  He admitted that at this age he did indeed adore whiskey.  Jong rarely drinks now.  Rarely does he have the spare time or the spare money to indulge in such a reckless endeavor.  Jong and his family own 40 rai of land and they tend to it organically.  They grow rice and fresh vegetables and they sell their goods every Saturday at the Green Market in Yasothon.

Jong was born in the house he lives in, the land he farms he inherited from his parents who were also farmers.  When he turned ten Jong finished his schooling and started working on the farm seven days a week.  In his teens he developed a taste for whiskey and thanks to the resilience of youth was able to stay out late with his friends and still rise able to labor in the fields the next day.  He talked only briefly of his youth, an easier time in the past he obviously didn’t want to dwell in.  Its not clear to me when but at some point Jong and his family gave in to the temptation of chemical agriculture, because he got a better price for his rice.

Thirteen years ago Jong switched his farm back to organic agriculture, this is around the time that he and various other like minded members of his community bandied together and started their own organic rice mill.  Since then the organic movement has gained in momentum, but still the town is divided by half.  People are resistant to switch to organic farming because it decreases yields for two years, is a little more difficult and it doesn’t exactly alleviate debt.  It makes it worse at first, but Jong explains that this evens out because one no longer has to pay the extra money for all the chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides.

Despite the balance of his debt, Jong has quite a bit of it and he will be paying it off for a long time.  He is optimistic but it is likely that his two sons will not only inherit his land but also this debt.  He works extra hard to pay what he can, 6 days a week he labor in his farm with his wife; one of those days he rises at 3am to set up the Green Market in Yasothon, and the seventh day he works at the small general store in town.  This is why Jong rarely indulges in a whiskey.  He cannot justify it; any extra money is better spent on alleviating his debt, and the extra time on tending to his land.  Despite these hardships Jong always seems happy. I tried to ask him the secret to his happiness but the question may have been slightly lost in translation. His response was “ I am happy”.  Jong is no different from any other farmer in Talah, they all struggle with debt but they enjoy their lifestyle and happy with what they have, not distraught with the things they don’t.  Anyone can have whiskey but not everyone can have a family and farm.

 

 

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