Thursday, 18 February 2010

Oxfam Project Visit - Organic farming practices in Chiang Mai

Whilst resting in Chiang Mai, Chris and I were invited to spend a day with another Oxfam GB supported project in Northern Thailand. This project is run by a Thai NGO called the Institute of Sustainable Agriculture Community (ISAC), which exists to support sustainable agriculture communities in Chiang Mai and help develop a competitive consumer market for their continued success. A Sustainable Agriculture Community is one which is built on close and collaborative relationships between all community members including organic producers and consumers. The main objectives are to provide safe access to food, self-sufficient economy, healthy environment and general social well-being.

We were picked up early by ISAC’s director, Khun Chomchuan, a charismatic Thai man who has been working to help promote organic farming in Thailand’s north since 1993. The first stop was a morning market in the city, where producers from the region come on a weekly basis to sell their organic produce. Working with the Thai Government to promote organic agriculture and self-sufficiency, ISAC has established a thriving market for organic produce in Chiang Mai. There are currently over 15 different locations where farmers can sell their produce directly to the consumer at fresh food markets held in schools, universities, hospitals and direct from ISAC’s organic warehouse.

Over the past five years, ISAC has trained over 2500 farmers, including members of Chiang Mai Organic Cooperative. Although some local farmers have been practicing organic agriculture for the past 18 years, ISAC trains others to convert from traditional farming practices to sustainable agriculture and also offers capacity building in fair-trade business and marketing.

We had the chance to chat with some consumers, many of whom have been buying from the market since its inception. These people told us that they prefer to shop at the market for their fresh produce as they can be guaranteed that the food they buy is organic, local and in season. They still have to source some of their dry goods at the larger organic chain in Chiang Mai which unfortunately is very expensive for Thai people, as most items are imported from overseas.

Later, we visited ISAC’s model sustainable agriculture community in Chiang Mai. Their small farm on 8 rai (approx 12800 Sq.m) of land is only 2 years old and produces around 800kg of organic rice which is eaten by the local community each year. Ironically, their land is surrounded by other farms which still use chemicals. We ware impressed to learn that there are a variety of natural ways (such as surrounding the farm with banana trees) to convert soil which has previously been tainted by chemicals to organic agriculture.

It wouldn’t have been a visit to an Oxfam project in Thailand without being served am extremely delicious (organic) lunch. When we visited the ISAC office, there was a training in session, so we sat on the ground with approximately 40 farmers and enjoyed a fantastic meal of vegetables, fish and sticky rice all sourced from ISAC’s farm. Aroy mahk mahk!

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