Focusing on food security
Kingdom Organic Network and Mitr Phol are examples of food producers working with farmers to promote sustainable agriculture and to ensure a self-sufficient country
Years ago, Kanittha Treerattanaphon never imagined the world would be hit by a pandemic that would sabotage the lives of millions in the blink of an eye. Now coupled with climate change, food shortages, drought, economic downturn and unemployment, the global crisis has made her realise that even money cannot buy everything.
"It would be much better if we rely on items available in local areas. Self-sufficiency and food security practices -- if implemented in local communities -- will certainly bring about safety and sustainability," said Kanittha.
That is the goal of the Kingdom Organic Network (Thailand), a distributor of organic produce as well as a network of chemical-free farmers where Kanittha serves as the managing director. Not only does Kingdom Organic Network sell fruits and vegetables, but it also promotes the importance of food security by working with local farmers in various neighbourhoods across the country so that they can learn how to earn a living through safe and sustainable agriculture.
Kingdom Organic Network is one of 15 SMEs that took part in the 2019 Smart Business Transformation programme. Organised by UOB Thailand and The FinLab, the programme aims to equip Thai small and medium-sized enterprises with relevant know-how and tech solutions to support them in their digital transformation journey. This year, UOB Thailand also introduced Zaviago, a Thai tech solution provider, to Kingdom Organic Network to implement a farm management solution.
As defined by the United Nations' Committee on World Food Security, food security means everyone has physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life.
Sharing this belief, Kingdom Organic Network underlines four core corporate components that can lead to sustainability and food security. First, Kanittha said, is commitment.
"We are committed to creating a better quality of life for the grassroots," she explained. "In the past, we've discovered that despite guidance from people outside, the way local people do things was not sustainable. So, our job here is to work with them, especially those in remote areas until they have sustainable incomes."
The second is collaboration. Kingdom Organic Network has joined hands with various partners who are willing to work together to improve the livelihood of Thai farmers nationwide. After commitment and collaboration turn into success, the network will move on to the third component, which is customers. They will help local farmers find customers that meet the communities' requirements. For large-scale production in certain villages or communities, the network will help find customers so that the demand and supply perfectly match.
"When we find the right customer for the right community, orders can be endless," Kanittha said. "Farmers can keep doing what they do best. With the know-how and tech solutions provided by our network, they can grow and sell produce that otherwise would be imported from other countries."
The last component is transparency.
Kingdom Organic Network promotes the importance of food security by working with farmers across the country so they can learn how to earn a living through safe and sustainable agriculture. (Photo: Kingdom Organic Network)
"As with anything, honesty is the best policy when it comes to organic farming. With the use of blockchain technology, smart farming must be trackable and monitored. This will benefit customers the most because when they know product origins, they can trace them and feel more confident about their choices. Customers both on an individual and industrial scale will be able to have safe and healthy organic diets," she added.
Kingdom Organic Network is passionate about working with local people in the community rather than landlords because the network believes landlords can survive and succeed on their own terms. Many local communities, on the other hand, do not have the opportunity for self-improvement and a chance to use the natural resources that they possess.
"Communities that we work with usually have around 300 farmers," Kanittha said. "On such a scale, we can start off with a pilot project of 30 farmers. Then after a while, these 30 farmers will become community leaders and they can use their skills to make their neighbourhood better.
Kingdom Organic Network promotes the importance of food security by working with farmers across the country so they can learn how to earn a living through safe and sustainable agriculture.
"We do not just teach how to grow plants," she added. "We equip them with transformative leadership skills. Local farmers can become leaders with a vision to transform their areas. Our job is not to create agricultural labour. What we do is to bring knowledge and technology to transform local farmers into smart farmers. These smart farmers can subsequently turn crisis into opportunity and prepare their communities for an uncertain future. This can then truly be called sustainability."
Also realising the importance of sustainable development, which includes food security, is Mitr Phol Group whose corporate goal is to conform with global sustainability standards while adhering to the business philosophy of "Grow Together" which prioritises the potential development of personnel, cane farmers, customers, business partners, consumers, communities, society, and the environment.
The Mitr Phol Group also considers sustainability one of the key corporate strategies driven by innovation and digitalisation in economic, societal and environmental aspects aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Mitr Phol applies technologies and modern farm management in every process of production.
Being the world's fifth largest sugar producer and the largest in Thailand, the company is aware that food security is a global concern. However, Mitr Phol has succeeded in applying technologies and modern farm management in every process of production -- from farm to products -- which could increase efficiency, low greenhouse gas emissions, and add more value to the industry and stakeholders. At the same time, the company also believes that food security should be developed throughout the process from upstream to downstream.
To ensure sustainable practice and precision farming could contribute to food security, Mitr Phol has implemented "ModernFarm" technology with Bonsucro, an international sugarcane and sugar sustainable standard platform which applies knowledge, technology and mechanisation to increase productivity, reduce chemical usage, reduce cost, labour usage and promote green cane, soil and water conservation in a sustainable way. Today, Mitr Phol empowers over 40,000 cane farmers to ensure they can leverage agricultural technologies efficiently, and eventually transform them into smart farmers.
In terms of community development, Mitr Phol works with surrounding communities with a goal to encourage the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy of King Rama IX which promotes self-reliance and improves the quality of life through three aspects: community farming and food safety; sustainable community management; and the local economy. The company is receiving financial support from UOB Thailand.
Nonetheless, working with local communities to ensure food security is not a bed of roses. For Kingdom Organic Network, changing farmers' mindset from chemical to organic is an uphill task.
Kingdom Organic Network promotes the importance of food security by working with local farmers in various neighbourhoods across the country so that they can learn how to earn a living through safe and sustainable agriculture.
"Besides changing farmers' attitudes towards chemical-free farming, the network also helps them figure out what to do with the resources they have," said Kanittha. "When we encourage them to turn to organic farming, they usually ask if we offer financial resources. While looking for partners that could lend a helping hand, we encourage them to try their best first and make do with the limited means available."
Farmers should see the value in themselves and realise they are a significant part that would contribute to food security and a healthier, greener planet.
"Kingdom Organic Network approaches farmers because we see their determination to grow quality and safe produce. Then we tell them how we can help so that they can create value for local people in their communities and the country as a whole. This way, farmers will be open to new methods which can eventually lead to them becoming smart farmers and smart communities," Kanittha said.
"In the end, contaminated soil and earth of the planet will be healed and conserved. The development of the community's ecosystem geared towards organic farming based on the international standard will alleviate farmers from poverty, enhance the local economy and increase the competitiveness of produce from Thailand. All this will enable the country and its people to stand strong and survive the current crisis."
Building Sustainable Cities is a 13-part series that explores essential elements & insights on how individuals and businesses can take action to forge a cleaner, greener tomorrow in collaboration with UOB Thailand. You can view the whole series here.