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Thursday, May 21, 2009
Organic farming will save the day
The strong stench from the black concoction never fails to put people off. But for Somboon Daeng-aroon, the foul-smelling black liquid is but a magic potion.
And he is very proud of it.
It has been five years now since Somboon, a farmer at Tambon Praeg Namdaeng in Samut Songkhram's Amphawa district, stopped using all farm chemicals in his ricefields. Instead, he has been using his recipe of fermented organic fertiliser and pesticide - a brew of molasses, micro-organism liquid, indigenous plants, together with some fish and golden apple snails - to nourish his paddies and to shoo away harmful insects.
Mr Somboon has also turned his back on chemical herbicides. "If we let the water in our paddy fields in time and keep the water level stable, the weeds cannot grow," he explained.
The shift to organic farming has not caused him bankruptcy as many feared. The yield has dropped only slightly but the investment costs have fallen drastically when he no longer has to depend on expensive chemical pesticides and fertiliser.
Thanks to organic rice farming, the "hard and dead" soil has returned to life. "So have the fish and frogs that used to be abundant in the ricefields during the times of our fathers and mothers. Our problems mainly come from the new ways that destroy nature."
From only a plot of 30 rai, the area of organic rice farming has now expanded to 2-300 rai in his neighbourhood.
Chin Jaroennet, Mr Somboon's cousin, pointed to spider webs and dragonflies of different colours in her fields. "They are good insects which keep the harmful ones away. But chemical pesticides kill all, useful or not. It is also killing nature, and us farmers over time."
With spiralling investment costs, health dangers, degrading environment, rising demands for clean food, and successive governments' promises of support, more and more rice farmers like Mr Somboon have turned to organic farming. Yet, the majority still retain a wait-and-see policy.
Why is that?
The officials are good at telling farmers what they should do. "But what we really need is marketing help," said Somboon.
The modern harvesting technology of mass production and the farmers' lack of storage sites make it necessary for them to send the grains to the rice mills to prevent rotting. The markets for organic rice then remain small due to lack of product differentiation.
A community mill may answer some of the production problems. "But we still need to work harder to connect with the buyers," he said.
Despite the national plan to support organic farming, the push for farm chemicals is business as usual on the ground.
This is understandable. The past four decades of Green Revolution - which promotes high-yield rice varieties and the intensive use of farm chemicals - has forged unbreakable ties between agro-chemical giants and state agencies.
Who cares if the country has to fork out more than 45 billion baht to import more than four million tonnes of farm chemicals a year? And with that kind of money involved, who cares that 70% of these chemicals are not allowed in the West, that reservoir water is contaminated with toxic residues, that our fruits and vegetables are soaked with dangerous substances, and that the rise of cancer and other diseases caused by toxic chemicals has skyrocketed?
Despite the odds, Mr Somboon said he would not go back to the state-promoted, toxic ways.
The road leading to his farmland passes a vacant factory that once recklessly released toxic waste water into nearby canals. Along the way are also wastelands that once were lush mangrove forests, destroyed by greedy investors of chemical-fed prawn farms.
"We were brainwashed into believing that factories and chemical agriculture was our answer. We now know that it's not true. Both businesses collapsed before our eyes, leaving behind much destruction.
"Ours is a food-producing country. We can easily sustain it if we keep our natural environment healthy. But if we keep on using toxic farm chemicals, we're destroying ourselves."
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