Thai rice farmers enjoy benefits

Chachoengsao, May 21:

Thailand’s rice farmers are happy this year. Rice prices have more than doubled on both the domestic and international markets, so paddy in the field means money in the bank or at least fewer debts to pay off.

Organic rice farmers have even more to smile about. Although organic rice farming is still miniscule in Thailand, where most farmers remain attached to their chemical fertilizers and industrial pesticides, those who have taken the green plunge are reaping double rewards this year.

“If you use chemical fertilizer you have to buy from the market and now the price of fertilizer is very high because it is linked to oil prices,” said Upin Khasana, an organic rice farmer in Sanam Chai Ket district of Chachoengsao province.

Upin belongs to a 15-family co-op of farmers who decided to switch to organic rice growing seven years ago, with technical input from Green Net, a NGO that promotes organic farming in Thailand and helps farmers sell their crops on the domestic market and abroad.

The Chachoengsao co-op uses only natural fertilizer-cow and goat droppings-and no chemical

pesticides. In return, Green Net buys their rice at a premium price, usually a little above the market’s, and handles the certification process under the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, selling under the Green Net brand name.

After 14 years in the business, Green Net is only producing about 2,000 tonnes a year of organic rice, supplied by cooperatives in Yasothon, Chiang Mai, Uttaradit, Loei, Khon Khen and Chachoengsao provinces.

“We started out just selling locally but now we export about 85 per cent,” said Vitoon Panyakul, director of the Green Net. Green Net’s only competitor in the organic rice trade is the Capital Rice Co, one of Thailand’s leading rice exporters.

Capital Rice started an organic rice farm project in Chiang Rai province in 1991, at the request of Italy’s Riseria Monferrato SpA, a major rice distributor in Europe.

Last year, Capital Rice exported about 1,000 tonnes of organic rice under its Great Harvest brand, mainly to Europe. “If you compare that to Capital Rice’s total exports, it is very small, less than one percent,” said Wanlop Pichpongsa, deputy managing director of the company.