'Working in paddy fields is backward and confines us to a life of poverty." This is a common sentiment among rice growers as younger generations sell off their land and leave for the cities. More often than not, they end up even more destitute. But things need not continue this way.
The introduction of a new agricultural technique that combines integrated land management with the use of a groundbreaking biosubstance promises to increase the annual revenue of farmers by up to 52 times their average income.
In other words, a farmer working on just one rai of land will be able to cut production costs by a third, increasing his annual income from an average of between 5,000 and 10,000 baht to as much as 259,000 baht.
Moreover, the harvest from one rai using this method will be enough to feed up to eight family members.
Under a pilot initiative undertaken in Nonthaburi province by the Thai Chamber of Commerce and the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives, this is not just talk.
"The answer to the problems faced by farmers is not buying more [seeds and pesticides] but rather to teach them how to become self-reliant by using integrated farming," said Adisorn Puangchompu, chairman of the Nung Rai Nung San (One Rai, One Hundred Thousand Baht) scheme that educates farmers on cultivation practices based on sufficiency-economy principles.
Early this year, 85 farmers were brought to live together to learn and implement new farming practices for five months. Each participant was allotted one rai of empty land to develop, with experts in agricultural economics, food science, logistics and business management providing guidance throughout the process.
The land was divided into four parts, with 30% used for reservoirs to provide water for crops and for raising fish and aquatic plants to boost household incomes. Equal portions of land were used for rice cultivation for household consumption and for growing vegetables. The remaining 10% was for building a house, paths and ditches and for raising ducks, fish and frogs.
"The essence is actually to allow the activities in the field to interconnect. For instance, ducks should be allowed to paddle through the paddy fields so their faeces become organic compost for crops," said Mr Adisorn.
One crop on one rai of land will yield roughly 800 to 1,200 kilogramme of rice, which can fetch up to 100,000 baht a tonne. On the same plot, 12,000 fish and 50 ducks can be raised to earn farmers more income.
In addition to land management, the farming method uses a multipurpose biosubstance called "atomic nano", the brainchild of a Thai scientist. When mixed with other organic materials, it can be made into eco-friendly fertilisers for crops and fish food.
Comprised of nano-organisms, atomic nano can help to crops grow from any type of land, no matter how poor or acidic the quality, but it takes time.
Mr Adisorn said atomic nano will be sold only to those who have a sound knowledge of integrated farming. Priced at 1,250 baht a set, it can be used on five rai of land for one crop.
"I never expected you could do all this on a small piece of land. My life will definitely change when I go back home," said Jamrern Kamkaew, a 39-year-old participant from Kamphaeng Phet.
After leaving the monastic life, Mr Jamrern returned to farming on his 26-rai rice field, as no one else would do it.
"But I went the wrong way," he said. "We thought if we sowed more seeds and used more pesticides, then yield would increase. But that did not happen, and costs kept rising."
Traditionally, the cost per crop for one rai is 4,000 to 6,000 baht but this practice cuts it to 2,000 baht. However, the first phase requires an investment of up to 10,000 baht.
"Actually, my father, who was a farmer, told us about this land management concept several years ago, but we never paid attention, as we never wanted to continue his work," said Mr Jamrern.
The project is aimed at spreading knowledge of these methods to 86,000 farmers by 2015, with each trainee going back to train 10 others in their community.
"For me, the ultimate success is when farmers who have lost their land have enough money to buy it back," said Mr Jamrern.
About the author
- Writer: Soonya Vanichkorn