Harvesting the seeds of organic agriculture

While Thailand isn’t exactly experiencing an organic revolution, it is a country that is slowly realising the benefits of producing, marketing and selling organic products. Small farms are providing hotels, restaurants and supermarkets with organic produce which meets international standards and satisfies the demand from a growingly sophisticated marketplace.

Thai Organic Farm

Thai Organic Farm is one such small enterprise which is only growing and selling organic products. It was established in 2000, and in 2001 was certified by the Organic Agriculture Certification Thailand and accredited by IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements).

The farm is located about two hours drive from Bangkok, in Rachaburi province. It is small by farming standards, on six hectares of land, but is still the leading organic vegetable supplier in the Thai domestic market. Its products are sold in over 20 branches of Bangkok’s main supermarkets.

Organic Agriculture

Organic agriculture encompasses both scientific and traditional practices, and relies upon an ecosystem management system rather than external agricultural inputs. The system forbids the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, genetically modified seeds and breeds, vetinary drugs, preservatives, irradiation and additives.

It is a holistic production management system which utilizes biodiversity and biological cycles. Regional conditions necessitate in locally adapted procedures, but where possible agronomic, biological and mechanical methods are used.

Although a lot of farmers use synthetic materials in Thailand, in organic agriculture they are not allowed as they are unsustainable and disrupt natural cycles. They also pollute the environment through run-off and leave toxic waste and residue in the soil. Instead, organic farmers use legumes such as beans and peas to naturally enrich the nitrogen in the soil. They also use composting of biomass to supply plants with nutrients which also help decrease the susceptibility of plants to disease and common pests.

Organic farming in Thailand tends to be the domain of new, young businesses which see the benefits of aiming for a niche market as well as for the environment. The government has not yet put a programme in place to encourage such farming methods and in fact still tends to encourage high input; export orientated agricultural systems in the hope of increasing the country’s growth rate. However pesticide poisoning of farmers is a serious problem in Thailand and thousands of deaths are reported each year. This is also an issue related to the fact that Thai farmers often have a lack of knowledge in regard to safety procedures and agro-chemical applications.

Natural vs. Organic

There is often a lot of confusion about the difference between organic and natural foods. While organic agriculture is based upon internationally recognized standards, natural foods have no legal definition or recognition. Although natural foods are usually minimally processed, because there are no requirements to provide proof, the term can be misleading for consumers.

To receive certification and accreditation, organic products must meet strict standards regarding the production process, storage, handling and marketing. Only once products meet these technical standards can they carry an ‘organic’ label. Thailand does not have internationally recognised national standards, and this is why many farms choose to be accredited by IFOAM which is the international standards by which many governments base their own accreditation schemes upon.