Cultivating the future
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Cultivating the future

Agricultural practices are being redefined to embrace sustainability

Cultivating the future

In the heart of Southeast Asia, where the sun kisses the lush landscapes of Thailand, agriculture stands as a testament to both the nation's heritage and its economic prowess. Fields of rice sway gently in the breeze, rubber plantations stretch as far as the eye can see, and orchards burst with the vibrant colours of tropical fruits. This picturesque scene, however, conceals intricate challenges that the agricultural sector faces in the contemporary era.

Conventional farming methods, though productive, have left an indelible mark on the environment. Soil erosion, depletion of natural resources, and the excessive use of chemical inputs have become pressing concerns that demand immediate attention. The need for a paradigm shift is evident, and sustainable agriculture has emerged as the beacon guiding Thailand towards a greener and more resilient future.

The shift towards sustainable agriculture is not merely a trend; it's a necessity dictated by the urgency of environmental preservation. Ecosystem principles offer a blueprint for cultivating harmony between human activities and the natural world. Embracing this holistic approach involves more than just changing cultivation techniques; it requires a fundamental shift in mindset, viewing the farm as a dynamic ecosystem rather than a mere production unit. Realising the potential of sustainable agriculture relies on data and technology. Precision farming, enabled by satellite imagery, soil sensors, and climate data, empowers farmers to make informed decisions. This data-driven approach optimises resource utilisation, minimises waste, and enhances overall efficiency. The integration of technology into agriculture not only improves productivity but also aligns farming practices with the principles of sustainability.

Thailand has recognised the imperative of sustainable agriculture and has taken strides to institutionalise it. The "Sufficiency Economy Philosophy", a guiding principle introduced by His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great, encourages a balanced and moderate approach to development. At its core, this philosophy emphasises self-sufficiency at the community level, aligning seamlessly with the principles of sustainability. This royal legacy continues to inspire a generation of farmers to tread lightly on the land and cultivate with a consciousness that extends beyond immediate yields.

The National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) has defined the term sustainable agriculture as “a farming system that gives importance to the ecosystem. They must help restore and conserve farm resources and the environment and reduce reliance on external production factors as much as possible and practically possible. And there is a return that will allow farmers to make a living and engage in agriculture sustainably”.

Thailand has given importance to driving sustainable agriculture. Several committees have been established to push for concrete action. In the 12th National Economic and Social Development Plan (2017-2021), which set out 10 national development strategies, the goal was to promote sustainable agriculture. In strategy 3 titled "Strengthening the economy and sustainably competitive" and some related parts are in strategy 4 titled "Environmentally friendly growth for sustainable development", a target to increase sustainable agricultural area to 5,000,000 rai by 2021 was set. Information from the Office of Agricultural Economics (Agricultural Economics Office) found that in 2017, it increased sustainable agricultural area by approximately 1.08 million rai and this continued until in 2020 when it increased sustainable agricultural area to approximately 1.15 million rai.

Therefore, long-term management of both human and natural resources must be considered as equally important as short-term economic benefits. Human resource management in agriculture means considering social responsibilities such as the work and livelihood of workers' needs of rural communities and the health and safety of consumers now and in the future. In terms of soil and natural resource management, the goal is to preserve and develop the quality of resources and avoid using chemicals. Resources must be used in a way that can be revived in the future.

To achieve true sustainability, it is imperative to use non-renewable resources judiciously. The judicious management of water resources, reduced reliance on chemical fertilisers, and the integration of natural biological cycles into farming practices are essential components of this transition. Crop rotation, agroforestry, and the adoption of organic farming techniques showcase the versatility of sustainable practices, proving that profitability and environmental stewardship can go hand in hand. Maintaining the economic viability of sustainable farming operations is a concern often raised in discussions about the shift away from conventional practices. However, evidence suggests that sustainable farming can be economically viable in the long run. Diversifying crops to meet the demands of local and global markets, adopting agroecological approaches that enhance biodiversity, and participating in fair trade initiatives all contribute to the economic resilience of sustainable agriculture.

Improving the quality of life for farmers and society at large is an integral aspect of the sustainable agriculture narrative. Education is a powerful tool, equipping farmers with the knowledge and skills to implement sustainable practices effectively. Access to modern technology, coupled with fair compensation for their efforts, ensures that farmers not only survive but thrive in this new paradigm. Community-based initiatives, rooted in shared knowledge and cooperation, further enhance the quality of life for all members of society connected to the agricultural landscape.

As the sun sets on the vast fields of Thailand, casting a warm glow on the agricultural tapestry, it becomes evident that the journey towards sustainable agriculture is not just an economic necessity but a moral imperative. The interconnectedness of the land, the people, and the economy demands a collaborative effort to cultivate a future where agriculture is not only a source of sustenance but a symbol of environmental resilience and prosperity.

Thailand stands at the crossroads of agricultural evolution. The transition to sustainable agriculture is not a mere option; it is the path forward towards a future where the bounty of the land coexists harmoniously with the well-being of its people. By reimagining farming through the lens of ecosystem principles, harnessing the power of data, and steadfastly implementing supportive policies, Thailand has the opportunity to cultivate a legacy of sustainable agriculture — a legacy that will resonate through generations, ensuring a thriving and resilient future for the nation and its agricultural landscape.

This article is part of a 20-part series that explores what it takes to create and secure a sustainable future. In collaboration with UOB. You can view the whole series here.

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