It is good news that the Soil and Fertilizer Society of Thailand won the King Bhumibol Soil Day Award 2023, which is an official United Nations award.
The association -- comprising soil officials with the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, farmer groups and fertiliser companies -- won the award for its relentless campaign to promote and educate the public about soil conservation and food security.
In late 2013, the UN officially designated Dec 5 as World Soil Day to acknowledge the late king's dedication to sustainable soil management and its role in food security and poverty reduction. Thanks to the late monarch, there are many soil conservation projects in Thailand, most related to royal initiative projects.
Yet, soil pollution issues remain in Thailand. While some farmers and green businesses are trying hard to follow in the late king's footsteps by doing sustainable farming or even using organic fertilisers to grow their food, there have been industrial projects and even some government development policies that have gone in the other direction.
Recent examples are cases of hazardous and toxic waste from factories and recycling plants that contaminated farm areas. Recycling factories in Thailand do not have to conduct an environmental impact assessment, and a policy from the Prayut Chan-o-cha government allowed them to be located anywhere instead of just in industrial zones, resulting in pollution from such sites spilling over into communities and farm areas.
One of the worst examples was the Wax Garbage Recycle Center built on a 300-rai plot in tambon Nam Phu of Ratchaburi's Muang district. Farmers accused it of discharging waste that contaminated the soil and water. The centre was ordered by a court in 2020 to pay about one million baht to three plaintiffs in class-act lawsuits that will also be applied to 1,000 other affected farmers. The government's pollution agencies believe there are 200,000 tonnes of toxic waste buried in the factory's premises.
Another example is Win Process Co, a hazardous waste recycling company located in a rubber tree farming area in Rayong. Villagers alleged that hazardous waste -- mostly heavy metals, lubricants, solvents, and industrial chemicals -- had been contaminating surrounding farmland and public water resources since 2012.
There have also been reports of communities living near mining sites affected by toxic waste contaminating the soil and water. Meanwhile, the government still advocates a pro-mass cultivation policy encouraging farmers to use chemical fertilisers and only giving lip service to promoting organic farming.
As for the Department of Agriculture, it has been dragging its feet in enforcing a ban on toxic farm chemicals. The recent policy by the Srettha government to support potash mining that will create a basic resource for chemical fertilizers also raises questions about whether the government is serious about promoting a green economy and food safety.
To acknowledge the late monarch's legacy in soil conservation, the government must encourage organic farming and only promote a genuine green industry -- not a greenwash. Official agencies must also enforce laws that prevent polluting activities.
It is pointless for farmers to try to protect their soil while factories nearby release toxic waste that ruins all their good efforts. The country's soil conditions can't improve when polluting activities are allowed to continue.