South African Bryan Hugill and Thai Lalana Srikram met at an environmental conference in Bangkok in 2004. Bryan is a trained ecologist with 15 years of experience in the environmental sector, while Lalana comes from a farming family in Si Sa Ket. They cofounded Raitong Organics Farm which works with farmers in Si Sa Ket, Wang Nam Khieo (Nakhon Ratchasima), Mae Hong Son, Chiang Mai and Bangkok. Their weekly subscription programme "The CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Munching Box", which was launched about six months ago, allows you to buy organic produce from farmers and have them delivered to your door. For more information, go to facebook.com/CSAMunchingBox.
HOW DID THE IDEA OF CSA MUNCHING BOX COME ABOUT?
Lalana: While I was doing my MBA at Thammasat University, we were trying to come up with ways to improve the quality of life for Thai farmers. We want to help farmers transition from conventional to organic farming and make sure they can sell their produce. Munching Box [MB] came in as a tool to help them make the transition by using a small plot of land to grow organic fruits and vegetables and they can be sure that what they grow can be sold through MB.
Bryan: Some farmers had been looking for ways to convert to organic farming and for markets that are stable enough to allow them to do that. There are also those who are sceptical, of course. However, we're quite lucky to meet enough farmers that we can work with and rely on them to demonstrate to those around them that this [organic farming] makes sense. It works in terms of stability of the market, quality of the yield and variety of produce that they can grow. So farming becomes less risky for them and more of a career that they can choose to do, rather than something they have to do.
WHAT CAN SUBSCRIBERS EXPECT FROM A MB?
L: A mixture of seasonal fruits and vegetables weighing about four kilograms. Every week the combination will be slightly different, depending on what can be grown during the season and availability. These boxes can help farmers enormously because we can predict what farmers should grow and help them plan their crops ahead. What normally happens is that farmers grow what they think will sell. So everybody ends up growing the same thing and then the price drops. We try to stabilise the prices so farmers don't have to go through volatile changes in price. We also try to use heirloom seeds as much as possible. The farmers can start collecting the seeds so they don't have to keep buying hybrid seeds and this reduces their costs.
B: On the other side, we can tell customers what we are going to be harvesting in the next three months but we always keep some surprises in the boxes as well. Our ideal is to bring dignity back to farmers. They themselves need to realise that production of food is very critical to survival of a country. With market stability, farming can become a career that people realise is incredibly important. Thailand has this golden opportunity to be self sufficient as a nation if it chooses to be. But people - especially those who live in the city environment - don't realise that.
HOW ELSE DO YOU BRING CONSUMERS AND FARMERS TOGETHER?
L: People can visit our farm to learn where our produce comes from and who grows them. They can also work with us and the farmers in the field. We plan to bring farmers to the city to see their buyers as well. I saw the positive effects of doing this with my mum, who's a rice farmer. Her generation always tells the kids to work for the government or something that is perceived to be more respectable than farming. However, once we brought her to a farmers' market and she actually saw who bought her produce and how it is presented, she now takes much more pride in what she does.
B: We would like to get more consumers to visit farms through rice-planting trips. It's interesting to see how their attitudes positively change on both sides for city people and farmers. The next farm trip will take place in July.G
About the author
- Writer: Pornchai Sereemongkonpol
Position: Guru Reporter