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Posts from the ‘Video’ Category

Cashing Out: A Return to Organic Practices

2012 March 15
by The Isaan Record

YouTube Version

MAHASARAKHAM – In 1996, a group of government officers from the Agricultural Land Reform Office (ALRO) proposed an alternative to the reigning model of chemical farming. Buoyed by their idealism and Japanese funding, they initiated a pilot program that trained and established a small network of organic farmers. The result is a community of 900 farmers in four Isaan provinces who now farm a far greater diversity of crops, reject agrochemicals altogether, and are equipped with the skills to package and market their organic goods locally.

In the last few decades, Thailand has implemented a series of government policies that incentivize farmers to produce cash crops like rice, cassava, rubber, and sugarcane. Now an international leading exporter of rice and rubber, Thailand has successfully stimulated its agricultural sector, helping reduce the national level of poverty dramatically. But with this increase in cash crop farming has come a heavy dependence on chemical fertilizers and pesticides – agrochemicals continue pouring into the country and Thailand’s fertile soil is slowly drying out.

High levels of agrochemicals found in Thailand’s crops last year have also brought international attention to Thailand’s farming habits. Last year, the EU threatened to ban Thai exports on many vegetables, citing dangerous levels of pesticides. In the last ten years, imports of pesticides have more than tripled in Thailand and many worry that without an official monitoring system in place, farmers are likely overusing agrochemicals in attempts to increase their yields and fill their pockets. Concerns for consumers’ health and Thailand’s environment are rapidly rising.

Making a switch back to organic practices in Thailand, however, is far from simple. For one, agribusinesses can offer high prices for exportable goods and farmers are easily enticed by the promise of a greater income. In addition, the government protects its cash crop farmers far better than its organic farmers who diversify the crops in their fields. According to the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives, every administration since 1995 has implemented policies that offer insurance to cash crop farmers and price guarantees for their crops. Farmers who opt to farm a variety of crops, on the other hand, are left with far more risk in a country prone to natural disasters.

With these concerns in mind, the Agricultural Land Reform Office (ALRO) contacted farmers in Sakon Nakhon, Mukdahan, Mahasarakham, and Khon Kaen. Over many years, the ALRO succeeded in teaching former cash crop farmers the benefits of going organic. Though Japanese funding has now run out, these farmers are nearly self-sustainable. They share tasks with one another in co-ops, work together to standardize suitable prices, and sell their goods at local green markets.  And they have found that with farms as diverse as the local supermarkets, debt is no longer a concern nor income a worry. The current administration, however, has shown no intention of expanding the program further.

To learn more about the program, the Isaan Record met with farmers who had worked with the ALRO to return to organic practices. Sakhon Thabthimsai, an organic farmer in Borabue district of Mahasarakham province, tells his story in the video above.

The ALRO’s project is just one of many efforts in Northeastern Thailand to rethink and reform the kinds of agriculture being practiced in this part of the country. For more information, visit the Alternative Agriculture Network’s website here.

Fishing Without a Net: Fish Farms and the 2011 Floods

2011 December 16
by The Isaan Record

YouTube Version

KHON KAEN – This year’s floods ravaged much of Thailand, leaving over 600 dead and millions displaced. In the Northeast, farmers everywhere are beginning to clean up destroyed crops and prepare for the next harvest season. But while millions of rice farmers await their flood insurance from the government, 2,200 baht per rai of rice field, the hundreds of thousands of fish farmers in the region are not as lucky. With little support from government agencies, only modest discounts offered to them by corporate distributors, and no organizations that offer fish farming insurance, fish farmers are faced with the task of rebuilding their small farms and repurchasing fish on their own. Here in Khon Kaen province, nearly 9,000 fish farms claimed flood damages. None can collect on insurance.

The video above takes a look at the flooding of Tawatchai Farm in Khon Kaen, just one of half a million freshwater fish farms in the country. To learn more about its story, click play.

Fields of Mine: Na Nong Bong, Thailand

2011 September 30
by The Isaan Record

YouTube Version 

LOEI – Last February, the farmers of Na Nong Bong village won a small victory in their battle against the gold mine in their backyard. After years of organizing and petitioning for health tests, these bean and rice farmers had prepared their case against Tungkum Limited mining company. And, on February 8, the cabinet of former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva voted to stop the company from opening new mines, pending further research on the causes of villagers’ health problems.

Tungkum Limited began constructing two gold mines in Wang Saphung District of Loei in 2006. When the mining company began digging, the villagers began to notice changes. They reported rashes and stinging eyes, plummeting crop yields, and higher cases of illness.

It was not until 2009, however, that news of the village made its first waves. To appease the protesting villagers, the Ministry of Health tested local water sources. They found high levels of contaminants and ordered villagers not to use the local water or eat affected vegetables and fish. Farmers who had traditionally relied on their land for nourishment were now asked to buy food and water from city markets.

Concerned about the health effects of the contaminated water, the villagers petitioned the Ministry of Health for blood tests. On February 2 of this year, the ministry published that 124 of 725 villagers had high levels of cyanide in their blood and 50 of 708 villagers had high levels of mercury. In just one week’s time, the cabinet had paused Tungkum’s expansion.

The mining company, however, takes no responsibility for local contamination. They comply with government regulations, their drainage does not interfere with village water, their tailings pond is not leaking, and their operational area, they claim, complies with international standards. But relevant government agencies do not do research of their own and instead rely on Tungkum’s contracted researchers to confirm that operations are safe.

Though they have succeeded in slowing down Tungkum’s expansion, Na Nong Bong and its five neighboring villages are not celebrating. They are still fighting for the day when Tungkum’s mine, just 500 meters away, shuts down.

For the full story, watch the video above.

[Correction: October 7, 2011 - Tungkum Mining Company, a subisidiary of Tongkah Harbor, was founded by Australians but the company is now publicly traded in the Thai stock exchange. We apologize for this confusion. The article and video have been edited to reflect this change.]

Train in the Distance: Nong Waeng and the Future of Railside Slums

2011 August 22
by The Isaan Record

YouTube Version

KHON KAEN – On January 5, 2011, Mr. Rangsan Khachen was reading his morning newspaper when he spotted his community’s name. Nong Waeng, his home of ten years, he read, could soon be transformed into a train station on a high-speed railway from northeastern Nong Khai, on the border of Laos, down to southern Padang Besar which borders Malaysia.

Though a new government has been elected since high-speed rail talks began last autumn, the construction of a countrywide high-speed rail system remains on the table. The $320 billion joint enterprise between Thailand and China will increase tourism and trade, especially for Northeastern rice farmers, claimed former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. But as plans for construction of the line from Nong Khai to Bangkok move forward, little has been done to safeguard the rights of hundreds of railside slums in Thailand that may soon be evicted to make way for new rails.

Since the rapid urbanization that swept Thailand in the 1950s, 246 communities of rural migrants have settled in slums within 40 meters of the railway on land owned by the State Railway of Thailand (SRT). In the past 50 years, only 46 have procured legal land leases. Nong Waeng is one railside community that has fought for a land lease and won, just in time to steer clear of eviction.

Nong Waeng was founded over twenty-five years ago by rural migrants looking for work in the growing city of Khon Kaen. As buildings sprung up, opportunities for labor abounded. Though the rural laborers who flocked to the city could find plenty of work, few could find affordable housing options. As a result, many chose to settle along the railway. Today, Nong Waeng is one of 22 railside slum communities in Khon Kaen city alone.

Over the past twenty years, Nong Waeng has shown dedication to procuring rights for running water, electricity, and most recently a land lease. In March of this year, after years of preparation, their proposal for a land lease was finally accepted.

For the remaining 200 railside communities in Thailand without a lease, however, news of the high-speed rail comes as a rude awakening. Construction on the rails from Nong Khai to Bangkok are likely to begin in 2012, leaving Northeastern communities with only a few months to prepare. While some may try to petition for a lease of their own, their time is limited and their future still uncertain.

To learn more about the story of Nong Waeng, watch the video above.