A journey to discover the people who change our world.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Rice Co-operation

The Issan region of Eastern Thailand, boarding Laos and Cambodia, is the poorest region in the country. The land is flat and dry. The crops very much seasonal. The rainy season has just passed and the rice is high, reading for harvesting. In a good year there will be two harvests, but it is not guaranteed.

It is a politically complex region too. In one area around Ubon Rathathani, the regional capital, a single MP owns 90% of the land. For the farmers working the land, they are dominated by his politics. He infulences rice market prices and grants and subsidies available to the farmers are dependent on their voting preferences.

But a group of farmers were seeing that they were getting a raw deal organised themselves into the Mekong River Rice Farmers Co-operative, a group based on the Buddhist principles of self sufficiency, which promotes crop diversity and collaborative marketing for increased sales. I went out to visit the region with Titipol Phakdeewanich, Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Management Science from Ubon Ratchtani university. He is doing some research into the political awareness of the farmers, and the potential for developing a farmers union.

One of the co-operative farmers showed us around his land, which is designed on the self sufficiency principles. The farmer in turn trains other farmers how to make diverse use of their land, thus decreasing dependency on the rice harvest.
The is a lot of diversity on his plot;
Rows of cabbages, enough to feed his family and surplus for the market.
A small pond, with catfish, kept in stock for domestic usage.
Banana trees planted between the rice fields.
A mixture of fresh herbs; dill, basil, parsley.
Mango trees. Papaya trees.
And of course, rice. Plenty of it.

Driving past other farms, his looked very different. Greener. Richer. Lots of rice, but back-up also, such an important factor, especially when the rains don’t come. They came this year, next year, who knows?


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