An organic farming revolution in Thailand

“Experts are spending billions of dollars to fine-tune genetic engineering, while these resilient varieties already exist… In the name of smarter agriculture we are losing these climate-smart varieties, and the farmers are trained to become puppets of agro-industry.” — Debal Deb, Scientist and founder of Basudha Farm & Vrihi Seed Bank in India


Chiang Mai, Thailand —

Farmers in Thailand and the world over are contending with fertilizer costs that have more than doubled since 2020—however a growing movement of over 15,000 farmers, shareholders and consumers in Thailand are heralding self-reliant organic agriculture as a way out of the myriad problems of centralized food systems. Guiding the movement is the enterprise Thamturakit (translating to “fair business” in Thai) which, since its inception in 2004, has trained more than 100,000 producers and consumers on how to transition to a more resilient food system. To join, farmers must cultivate a diverse variety of crops, first and foremost for their own self-sufficiency. Through Thamturakit’s network, farmers can sell their surplus harvest to registered consumers and entrepreneurs. By eliminating conventional dependencies on both agri-businesses and brokers, participating farmers can avoid hefty “middleman” fees and costly inputs. Through this direct market
approach, Thamturakit can buy farmers’ produce at a rate higher than the market, and then sell the produce at a rate lower than the regular consumer market.

Contract farming, favored by large conglomerates, is the predominant agriculture model in Thailand, where farmers receive huge quotas they must meet by the end of a season in order to be paid a set rate. Two thirds of Thailand’s agricultural households grow monoculture cash
crops, and depend on market-bought seeds and chemical inputs for food production. Input prices have soared in recent years, but the output prices that farmers receive have not—this results in growing debt cycles for farmers year over year. To combat this reality, Thamturakit
was co-founded by the combined efforts of Ajaan Yak, an expert in Sufficiency Economies, as well as the Pun Pun Center for Self-Reliance, an organic farm plus teaching center in the North of Thailand. The organization trains farmers to remove dependencies on harmful inputs, and instead increase the natural resilience of their crops using diverse organic practices.

“We trained the mindset of people to believe that if you have no machine, no fertilizer, no chemicals, you have no farming. That is really limited thinking. That is why we have a crisis now.” — Jo Jandai, Co-Founder of Thamturakit

At climate conferences such as COP26, to address the nexus between climate change and food systems, countries US and UAE jointly announced 4 Billion USD towards the new Agricultural Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM4C) featuring multilateral partners, the private
sector, and nonprofits including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and PepsiCo.

However, since many proposed hi-tech solutions have not yet been proven successful nor equitable for farmers, grassroots groups are taking the matter into their own hands towards self-sufficiency. In times of rising fuel prices and a widespread dependency on corporate
agricultural inputs, models like Thamturakit can improve economic livelihoods and national food security, while simultaneously tackling climate change, environmental destruction and public health.

In the Resilience Press forum 08.02.22, Jon spoke on the loss of diversity: “In Thailand alone, when I was a kid 50 years ago, we ate more than a 100 varieties of vegetables per year. Today, most farmers have been trained to grow cash crops, one variety in a big area. If you
do that, you cannot avoid pests. You cannot avoid using fertilizer.” — Jon Jandai

On Thamturakit’s model of farming: “I think roughly we produce more than conventional farming because we have food, we have rice, we have fish, we have chicken, we have vegetables, we have fruit trees, we have herbs, we have mushrooms, we have so many things… Compare the income: when we do organic farming in this way, we will never lose our money… But when you do conventional farming, you can lose your money.” — Jon Jandai

“Anyone who joins us has no problem with hunger. Especially farmers. Normal farmers here will be hungry, because they only produce for sale. They don’t eat what they grow. But our policy is that they grow for themselves, for their own consumption first. Leftovers? That they
can sell! So this ensures they are not food insecure.” — Jo Jandai

RESOURCES
1. Rising costs of fertilizer in Thailand
2. Rise of pesticide poisoning of farmers around the world
3. Thamturakit: a new model for democratizing agriculture in Thailand
4. Case study, financial analysis on Thamturakit – by Global Alliance for Future of Food
5. Background on Self-Sufficiency Economy
6. Who Will Feed Us? the peasant food web vs. the industrial food chain – ETC Group

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