21 October 2012

A Different Value of Education

I have always been told that college is the only option if I want to go anywhere in life. Everyone agrees; my parents, my teachers, the society in which I live; they all agree that a college education is the most valuable type of education. I believed them for a while, until these past few months.

First, my definition of education was much different than that of the rural villagers and NGOs that we’ve been talking with and learning from. I had always associated education with being in a classroom, led by a teacher that was knowledgeable in the subject. The tools used to measure the success of my education were in forms of papers, exams, and discussions. The grades I received would reflect how effective my education was.

I think that’s the image that many people associate with the word “education”, at least in Western society. When I first entered these communities, I was shocked. They were poor, had little access to education, and many of them lacked basic skills such as reading and writing. I didn’t really know how to approach the situation. I would try to communicate with these villagers by handing them my Thai-English dictionary to allow them to look up words. When they told me “mai dai” (not able to), I was surprised. The fact that these people are unable to read and write must mean that they are stupid right?

According to Western standards of education, the answer to that question would be “yes”. But there is a different perspective that I have been seeing throughout these last two months. Higher institutional education isn’t valued as much in the villages. In fact, traditions and lessons that are passed throughout the generations seem to be more valuable here.

It was apparent when we stayed with the farming communities especially. It is more valuable for farming communities to be knowledgeable in areas that cannot be taught in a classroom. Knowing the land, methods of farming, how to be self reliable, and understanding seeds, crops, and soil, are all lessons that are very valuable in this kind of lifestyle.

At first, I found myself thinking I was so lucky. I have been learning for years, I have opportunities of higher education and access to information of all kinds. I thought that I had so much more than these people. That’s not true at all. In fact, I think that I have a lot less than these people. I admire the basic life skills that they have, the skills I do not have. I do not understand a lot about farming, about supporting myself through my crops. I don’t understand planting seasons, crops, or the dedication that is involved. I might have an education in terms of Western standards, but I know nothing by the standards of the communities and villagers that I have come across so far.

A college degree is suddenly not as appealing to me. Sure, it might help me get a well paying job, make more money, and be more “successful”. But these people are so rich in knowledge. They know things that cannot be taught. I find this to be an extremely valuable kind of education: one that challenges the worth of my overpriced college degree.

Marissa Strong
Keene State College

Following the US Model for Preserving "Nature"

Picture nature.  What do you see when asked to imagine a scene that embodies nature for you?  Most people would respond that they picture a vast space of uninhabited land with lots of trees, maybe some animals, mountains, or bodies of water, but the underlying theme seems to be no people around.  What is the reason behind this idea of people and nature being mutually exclusive?  The truth is that we, and by we I mean mainly the United States, have completely fabricated this representation of nature.  There are very few parts of the planet that are uninhabited by human life and those places aren’t lush forests teeming with flora and fauna, they’re located in the polar caps or in the depths of volcanoes where very few life forms can survive.  The concept of uninhabited wilderness was created in the early nineteenth century in the United States with the start of national parks and forest reservations to “preserve nature.”

In 1864, Yosemite became the model for national parks throughout the country and eventually, much of the world (Usher 150).  What many people fail to recognize, or even realize, is that in order for these parks to be created, nature had to be manipulated.  In this instance I am using the term nature as it truly exists in the world, including the people and animals that have lived there for generations.  To establish the great national parks like Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Glacier, Native Americans that lived within those artificially drawn boundaries had to be removed.  “Acknowledging the fact of dispossession reveals American wilderness to be emptied, rather than empty land (149).”  The problem here is not only that people were forced off of the land on which their people had lived for generations, but also that this move to venerate the concept of uninhabited wilderness spread like wildfire.  It quickly became the norm for people to think of nature as unpopulated, and with the problem of forcibly removing people from their homes out of sight and out of mind, governments the world over began to adopt this model.

Another trend that’s found involves the natural animal inhabitants of the designated parks or sanctuaries.  In the early years of American national parks, animal populations were controlled even as the parks were being advertized as “true wilderness.”  Animal species that were seen as more desirable were taken care of and provided with food during the winter to ensure that there was a large population of healthy “desirable” animals in order to increase the chances of a spotting for tourists.  Park rangers killed off animals that were considered less desirable because they were potentially dangerous or just less attractive, and in some parks even tourists were allowed to hunt them (161).  These practices led to an unbalanced habitat, hurting both the “desirable” and “undesirable” species.  These practices were eventually stopped, but the ideal of getting to witness animals, especially animals consumers are most intrigued by, continues to hold strong in the expectations of tourists visiting national parks or sanctuaries.

In Thailand, there have been many national parks and wildlife sanctuaries that have been established for many years.  They have completely adopted the American model of trying to push people off of the land, fencing it in, modifying the animal population and selling it to eager consumers as “nature.”  This process only continues to support the distorted vision of “nature” the United States created and marketed, and it continues to pose as a problem for the people that live in areas that governments choose to make into national parks of wildlife sanctuaries.

Marissa Lowe
Williams College

Conservation and Sustainability: Who Protects the Forests

One of the recurring themes that came up during our Unit Two trip was villagers having to prove themselves not only as the rightful owners of the land, but also as able and willing to take care of their land and forests in a sustainable manner.  Villagers seeking to prove themselves were most apparent in the villages of Huay Gon Tha and Huay Rahong.

These two villages are in a somewhat unique situation because their lands are located completely inside of the Phu Pha Daeng Wildlife Sanctuary.  In the last decade since the wildlife sanctuary was declared, villagers have faced charges of “causing global warming” for working on their small farms in the name of “conservation” and “preservation.”  More recently, the new head of the sanctuary, Mr. Kung, and the villagers have begun to work together towards a better conservation model, one that allows both villagers and officers of the Forest Industry Organization to participate.

On the one hand, Mr. Kung of the wildlife sanctuary seemed to have a lot of faith in the villagers, stating that, "I think the best people who can take care of the forest are the people who are actually living in the forest."  But, although he believes that the villagers can take care of the forest and that they are perhaps the most qualified to do so, they are not without the need for training and education for conservation.  Mr. Kung’s strategy is to encourage villagers to take ownership of conservation projects in their own communities, including building weirs, and keeping natural water sources clean. 

From the villagers’ perspective, their traditional way of life in itself is sustainable, and what they are really in need of is, perhaps, a good PR campaign.  They know that the global warming charges for small-scale farmers are irrational and based on junk science, and they know that they know more about the forest than any officer serving a 4-year rotation.  Even so, they have organized their own campaigns and activities to show the powers that be that they are serious about conservation efforts, including planting trees, protecting firewood, and organizing youth projects.  As the head of the Phu Pha Daeng Preservation Group in Huay Rahong stated, “We want to show the government that we [the local villagers] are the true protectors of the forest.”

While it may seem unjust at first that the villagers must prove the lifestyle that they have been living for generations to be “worthy” to outside forces, the need to do so may not be entirely unfounded.  Both wildlife sanctuary officials and villagers have confirmed that in several nearby villages, villagers have sold their land to private investors, as much as sixty percent in some areas.  In addition to land being sold, even villagers committed to sustainability and conservation admit that the communities are not necessarily united under these causes; both villages have portions of the population who do not care or are actively opposed to joint conservation efforts.  Villagers from the Phu Pha Daeng Preservation Group acknowledged the need to encourage more organic farming in the communities, where many families use chemical agriculture within the wildlife preserve.

With all of this information, it is difficult to know what kind of policy to implement for conservation efforts in Thailand.  Villagers, obviously on the lower end of the power relationship with the government, need to be both respected and involved in the process of forest preservation-- and certainly should not be demonized as they were in the early years of Phu Pha Daeng.  But government oversight may also be necessary, at least to some extent.  The Phu Pha Daeng model works well in this particular sanctuary because it was created directly by the stakeholders on the ground: officers and villagers. While the exact model may not work elsewhere, the approach seems to be a good choice; decisions about conservation should involve all parties to achieve the best results.

Erin Oakley
American University

Who is in the right? Moral versus Legal

     The issue of land rights in Thailand isn’t one that can easily be solved. In our CIEE program we spend a lot of time with villagers and NGO’s who are experiencing a plethora of problems including having their land taken away or being forcibly removed from the land. Because we live and exchange with these people and not the other side, it is easy to feel sympathy for them and only want to defend their rights- because well, they do have just as much of a right to live there as anyone, right?
   On one side, yes, they do have all the rights- the moral rights that is. If we’re looking at this issue from a moral standpoint, it makes sense to want to give full benefit to the villagers. They have been on this land for hundreds of years; working and playing and raising families. For example, the railroad slum communities are living on the railroad’s land illegally and are being forced to move so Thailand can build a high speed railroad where their houses are now in preparation for joining the ASEAN economic community. The communities have been on this land without issue for over sixty years and now are being faced with the decision to stay and wait to be evicted or find new land and start over. The problem with starting over is that it costs money in which they don’t have and the state doesn’t offer much help to the slum communities. This puts the slums in a bind and one can’t help but to feel sorry that there is nothing they can do and be angry at the state for being so apathetic.
    From a moral standpoint the villagers deserve their right to the land. But, to play devil’s advocate: the railroad does legally own the land. The villagers, according to the law are well, breaking the law and have no right to be on the land. The railroad, in the eyes of the government, has been kind enough to ignore the squatters for these years and allowed them to live relatively peacefully on privately owned land, but now they have business to do and money to make, so they need the villagers off. In a legal point of view, the railroad is right and the slum villagers are wrong.
      As you can see, it isn’t easy to place blame on anyone because it depends on how and who is perceiving the situation. As students we only see one side of the problem and feel more obligated as moral beings to defend the villagers. But, if one takes the time to step back and view the situation objectively, both are in the wrong and both are in the right. This is a problem that many philosophers, sociologists, anthropologists, historians, etc. have been studying for decades, who is right and from what grounds is their being right from?- a moral one, a legal one, a cultural one, an economical one.

Brytnee Miller
Whittier College

Community Land Titles in Thailand

“Having money is not sustainable but having land is,” said a villager from Baw Kaew protest village. Villagers from this area were evicted from land they had lived on for many generations. The government said it would give back the land after the contract with investors expired. This did not happen so villagers took the land back. Some villagers are currently being charged with trespassing and have been told to leave the land.

In Thailand, 90% of private land is held by 10% of the people, 40% of farmers are landless or own a small amount of land and 4.8 million people lack land access.

In the early 1990’s, six million people, 1,253 communities, were relocated. These people did not have land titles although they have been living and working the land for generations. The government claimed the land for forest conservation.

There are two types of legitimate land ownership in the eyes of the state: state ownership and private ownership. According Baw Kaew villagers, in the past people just work land and people would know, they did not need land titles. People working land do not have land titles but have a tax receipt that states they work the land. These tax receipts do not give people the right to the land but a right to work on the land.

As a way to gain the land back, NGOs and communities affected by eviction have been fighting for community land title deeds. These community land title deeds are a tool for landless people to gain land back. It is a community based land management with each community having a community land title committee. This committee determines the rules and regulation community members must follow to be included in the title deed. Community members would not be able to sell land to outside parties. Some NGOs and villagers believe that individual land title will not make land ownership stable. A community land title deed will protect land from corporations for future generations.

The question is, are community land title deeds the answer for the landless in Thailand. Professor Archela brings in some aspects of a community land title deed that are not often spoke about by NGOs. Community land title deeds can be used as a tool to control villagers. To be part of the community land title villagers must follow rules and regulations and many community land titles require members to use the land as a means of producing. Villagers may want an individual land title, but throughout the exchanges this was not even an option for communities. She also brought up the point that community land titles will not bring about equality if only the poor are offered this type of land title.

She also brings up the idea that a community is not homogenous. Within each community there are wealthy villagers and poor villagers. Throughout the units I feel that communities have been portrayed as homogenous with no conflict within that community. If one person in the community land title deed decides to sell they must sell to another person in community. The wealthier may buy the land and eventually land distribution within the community will be disproportionate. The take away point is that one cannot generalize about a community. This can be seen in Thoong Lui Lai and Huay Rahong villages. In Thoong Lui Lai there were originally 103 members in the community land title group; now there are only 70. In Huay Rahong 30% of villagers do not agree with the community forest set up. However portraying a community as homogenous does have benefits like giving a more powerful voice to communities.

There are both good and bad aspects of a community land title deed and portraying a community as homogeneous. It is important to bring up and talk about both sides.

April DesCombes
Occidental College

09 October 2012

Alternative Agriculture Network

Health issues ravage agricultural communities, the frogs and insects are all dead, the rice has stopped growing, there is no way to combat the climate change.

These are phrases heard in agricultural communities in the Northeast region of Thailand (Isaan). A group of farmers came together, with only the shared belief that there was in fact a solution to the issues seen in the current agricultural system.

At this time, only five farmers in the Isaan region were traditionally farming without any chemicals. Yes, five.

In 1991 the small NGO and local traditional farmers merged together to find these solutions. The goal at the time was to transform chemical agriculture into sustainable and self-reliant agriculture by using the examples set by traditional farmers, then push these solutions on the policy level.

The official Alternative Agriculture Network (AAN) was finally formed in 2005. The group now focuses on preservation of rice varieties to combat climate change and support local organic agriculture.

The AAN has four solutions to small scale farming issues:

Organic agriculture: 100%-rejected use of chemicals, no GMO use, must nourish the soil with a variety of organic methods

Integrated agriculture: growing varieties of plants and raising a variety of animals in the same area (maybe use chemicals but under control)

Natural agriculture: does not need any or much support at all, use what is accessible in the area, reusing plants

Agro-forestry: focusing on the forest, herb growth, and local varieties

The strategies used to execute these solutions on the local level are: holding forums to discuss and create understanding, helping farmers determine and write out a plan for their farm, and if extra help is needed, members going in directly to help farmers.

Between 2000 and 2003 the AAN was able to push the Ministry of Agriculture to support them financially. AAN supporters protested at the doors of the Ministry for 99 days requesting 1.5 million baht. The Ministry responded with a 633 million budget. This budget is distributed to local networks across the country, Wanna Tongnoi, an AAN representative from the Yasothon province says that the Network always makes sure there is money leftover. Since the initial budget, the Ministry gives 2 million baht for all nine AAN offices every 2 years. Tongnoi says this is not very much and funding from other sources is necessary.

The 70% of the budget designated for AAN members goes into helping the farms; water management systems, providing animals, plants, etc. The AAN also offers loans for larger projects with very low interest: 1% over 5 years.

The AAN has gotten a great deal of support from the government. The land reform office stepped in to educate about farming techniques and fund research on the study of health benefits of local varieties; parties coming together to visit individual villages and seeking those interested in organic agriculture, then setting the model or leader in each village for the rest of the community to learn from; The Farmer’s School working with the AAN and choosing seed varieties; as well as the support from the Rice Research Center.

The AAN believes it is the right of every farmer to grow a variety of rice types. One of their goals is to produce local variety feeder with research.  Yasothon has this ‘feeder’ in the form of Wanna Tongnoi, on who’s land belongs the AAN’s experimental rice plot with over 8 varieties of rice.

There is the overall goal of self-reliance of small-scale farmers. A goal threatened by the upcoming ASEAN free labor movement.

The AAN will have to work efficiently to meet the sustainability goals listed below:
-       Produce seeds for their community
-       Food security (family and community level)
-       Expand idea of sustainable agriculture
-       Organic food production
-       Register local varieties
-       Identify community and common model
-       Management of production (green market)
-       Direct buying and selling between producers and consumers

Member’s fear of the industrial movement the free labor will bring. We can only hope the AAN spreads both awareness and knowledge to all agricultural communities before the desire for consumption and large scale production looms over the community. 

Kierstin Wall
University of Vermont

Traditional and Modern Medicine

Thailand is a country caught between historical traditions and the fast pace lifestyle in modern day society. This is clearly shown in Thailand’s medical system and the government’s attempts to integrate traditional and modern medicine.

The Bangkok Declaration on Traditional medicine claims “to promote further integration of Traditional Medicine, Complementary and Alternative Medicine into the health care system services as a part of comprehensive national health systems, including the use of traditional medicine in the primary health care; and to develop specific activities to enhance collaboration in Traditional Medicine by involving practitioners and providers, industries, on-profit and professional organisations, academia, communities as well as partner organisations as key partners.” ("Bangkok Declaration on tradition medicine in ASEAN”) The government has created a large push to incorporate herbal medicine into hospitals, schools, and clinics all over Thailand. Med school students are also required to take classes in herbal medicine when training in their specialties.

During Unit 1, our group met with practitioners from the Kudchum hospital in Yasothon province. In 1990, doctors at Kudchum hospital, under government pressure finally integrated herbal medicine into their practices. Today, most patients receive both herbal and traditional medicine. The hospital now has a traditional Thai healer and its own herbal factory that was donated by an outside benefactor. The most common diseases that the hospital treats are diabetes, hypertension, dyspepsia, pharyngitis and diarrhea.
In 2001, Thaksin Shinawatra (the prime minister of Thailand at the time) installed the 30 baht healthcare program. This program was used to guarantee equitable health care to even Thailand’s poorest citizens and is available for all people not covered by social security. It allows anyone to go to a hospital and receive the treatment and the medicines they need for no more than 30 baht. This program is especially beneficial to farmers who make up approximately 40% of the labor force. This is because farmers exist outside the formal medical plans and don’t have access to social security. The 30 Baht law extended health coverage to approximately 18.5 million Thais who previously had did not have any insurance (Phongsathorn 194-210). Although this policy benefited many people, who would otherwise be unable to afford proper medical care, others have chosen to opt out of the plan because they can afford to, aren’t confident they will get the best service and are frustrated by the bureaucracy and extremely long wait times.
Our group also met Mr. Kiang, a local medicine man and herbal specialist who works at Kudchum hospital and in the villages of Yastoton province. His goal is not only to keep herbal medicine alive and relevant in today’s world but also to expand the reach of herbal medicine hospitals all across Thailand. He wants people to know and understand the rich healing culture, where and what there medicine comes from and not be blinded by high tech machines and modern technologies. Kiang believes that it is crucial to find the proper balance between spirituality and science. He also believes that although herbal medicine might take longer to work and immediate results might be less apparent, it is more sustainable than modern medicine, less invasive, less costly and eventually, equally effective. For Mr. Kiang, success would be defined as providing access to herbal medicine for all of his villagers, supplying local hospitals with traditional medicines and passing down the knowledge, to keep the tradition of herbal Thai medicine alive.
In the future, it will be interesting to see whether herbal medicines will continue to be used and incorporated into additional Thai hospitals. Many people are skeptical of it and just want to get the Western medicine they need to feel better as quickly as possible. Although it might be quicker, herbal medicine is an effective treatment for many ailments, is better for the environment, is completely natural, less invasive to the body, less costly and is deeply rooted in Thai culture. In the future, herbal medicine specialists, like Kiang, will continue to work to insure that the Thai medical community, patients, doctors and hospitals will all continue to incorporate traditional medicine into their practices.

Mekala Pavlin
Tulane University

Relationships to Food: Rural Thailand vs the United States

For the villagers of Yasothon province food is a way of life. This is derived from the community’s ultimate goal: to cultivate and retain a strong sense of community through self-reliance and sustainability. Agriculture is the means to this goal and is what places food at the foundation of all life. Most villagers own their own plots of land and cultivate gardens that border their homes. They work together as a family, help each other on their farms, share meals, and bag rice together to sell at markets. As Suwit Thankakoon, a Yasothon organic farmer, puts it, his community must “work together, struggle together, fight together, and love one another to make a difference.” Food is what connects every person in this community together and it is this kind of connection to food that most Americans cannot relate to. However, this also goes the other way. Villagers are in shock when they hear that most Americans buy their food at stores. There is a disconnect between these two worlds that causes me to reevaluate my own relationship with food.

In America, there is a kind of food security that often goes unappreciated. If you simply travel a few miles, it is highly likely you will run into some kind of store selling all the food you could possibly need, want, or imagine. When entering this store, having access to any fruit or vegetable is commonplace, even though this contradicts the nature of the earth. With endless options at the store and the added stress from day-to-day life, taking the time to prepare and consume a meal can often feel more like a dilemma or a tedious task. The question of “what should we make tonight?” can be more irritating and difficult than exciting. This is the direct opposite for Yasothon and most rural communities. Their access and availability to food directly depends on their own immediate land, what it can provide depending on the season, and their own physical ability. This places a sense of accountability on the villagers that turns food into a consistent celebration of survival. When rice yields are high and the soil is good, their mental health, sense of happiness, and level of security immediately rise.
The disconnect between Americans and food results from the fact that on average food travels 1,500 miles from producer to consumer (DeWeerdt). This means that unless one makes the effort, they do not know where their food comes from or what goes into its production. Since Americans are not the producers and have no direct relationship with the production, it is easy to not be conscious with food choices. Most Americans buy whatever they want and as much as they want, far exceeding their need and causing a lot of waste. Statistically, 40% of all food in America is wasted (Lendon). Essentially, food is something we commodify, indulge in, and waste with minimal guilt or immediate effect. The villagers in Yasothon do not get this privilege. They are the producers of their own food so they know exactly where it comes from and what goes into its production. Since it is their own effort that brings food to their table, their connection to food is sacred and they only take what they need. Food is not wasted. Leftover crops are sold in local markets to generate money for things like electricity. Crops are also shared between neighbors, making sure everything is sustainable. Farmers currently invest so much time fighting for organic agriculture, because previously farming with chemicals and pesticides significantly affected the health of all villagers and caused debt for most. Having this kind of investment in one's relationship to food creates an awareness that results in healthier, happier people and a better environment.
It is easier for the rural villagers of Yasothon Province to foster a strong relationship to food because the wellbeing of their community depends on agriculture. In America the production of food is out of sight and therefore out of mind, making it difficult to relate to food in a meaningful way. However, my opportunity to observe and learn why the villagers of Yasothon invest so deeply into the land, the food it grows, and the individuals who cultivate it, has shown me that having a strong relationship to food does matter. I may not be a producer, but as a consumer my health is still affected by the quality of food I buy and consume, and the environment is still affected by the way I buy and dispose of that food. While it is impossible to relate to food in the same way that the villagers in Yasothon do, it is vital that Americans attempt to follow their example.

Nicole Hale           
Arizona State University            

Living Sustainably and Resourcefully

A lifestyle that separates ones needs from ones wants is something to behold. How often does that happen in an average American's life? That distinction is a task worth mentioning from both Thai village life and an American life. As an American, what we define as a need can often times be convoluted with what we simply want badly. While staying in Yasothon Province the CIEE community learned about sustainable living and growing. I stayed with a family of rice farmers who grew six local varieties of rice. They only sold their surplus yields and used the rest to sustain themselves for the year. They also harvested squash, herbs, flowers, and chili peppers and raised cows and pigs for organic fertilizer. Staying on a working organic farm was an exciting experience. They sustained their family almost entirely based on the products they planted with their own hands. One of the few food resources they bought was their meat and poultry, which was raised organically. Their whole life, from the way their home was decorated to the way they cooked their food was resourceful. Resourcefulness is the word.

Getting down simply to what was hanging from the walls and what was around my family's home. I seem to be painting a picture of a life without any luxuries, but this is untrue. Luxuries come in many forms. A life with enough healthy food and animals, a sturdy home and family near by is a life full of stability. Isn't stability the aim of every career? Although this is quite a unique situation for many Americans, weather and climate dictates a farmers yields and therefore their stability. Farmers who have transitioned from chemical to organic farming realized they needed good health (of land and people), which is more sustainable than the faster yields and work involved with chemical farming. In the end, organic farmers are working with more stable land because it is not degraded by chemicals and they are able to produce higher and healthier yields, something conscience consumers are looking for.

The garlic clusters hanging from the ceiling all around the house was decoration enough. And what seemed to be an empty refrigerator only told me that they buy what they need and make enough food for each meal to enjoy fully. No food goes wasted or unappreciated. If it is unfinished by the human, the dog is fed well. Resourcefulness is the word. Everything in their home, especially their kitchen, is useful. Utility is their decoration.

Living a sustainable lifestyle is also something to mention. You can only imagine the way they live with their land in harmony. Every day they watch and help heir crops grow. They know their land like many people in America could never understand. The connection they have with their surroundings is a relationship filled with knowledge that has been passed down from generation to generation. They learn about their land by dealing with it, watching it, and understanding what it needs to flourish. With organic farming, they create a positive relationship between the land and their lives because they care for it. Chemical farming ruins that positive relationship and makes it completely exploitative and unfair. By upholding their organic practices and looking at what the land needs, they will, in turn, get what they need from the land.   

Lucy Lehman
Beloit College

The Green Market

In nations all over the world, the issue of growing and buying organic food has become more and more prevalent. Whether it is due to the trendiness of buying organic, or the legitimate effort to reduce one’s carbon footprint, there is no denying that more and more people are starting to pay attention to the issue. In Thailand, there have been many grassroots movements created to try to convince farmers around Thailand to make the transition from chemical to organic. One of these organizations is the Green Market, located in Yasothon province, in the Northeastern region of Thailand.
            The Green Market was created in May of 2008 by local farmers in Kutchem district with the assistance of CIEE Development and Globalization students. The purpose of the organization is to set up a weekly market where local farmers can sell only organic food. Several villages from Yasothon province are members of the Green Market, and sell their food most Saturday mornings. Currently, there are about 50 members of the Green Market, although only about 20 farmers sell their produce each Saturday morning, due to a rotation system between the members.
            When our group met with the Green Market Organizers, we were very interested in some of the other ways in which their market differed from an ordinary Thai market. They responded by emphasizing that they made an extra effort to build the relationship between producer and consumer. As far as price is concerned, they claim to have significantly cheaper prices than other markets in the area. The Green Market also seemed much smaller than I had anticipated, but I was assured that, while it may be smaller than the average market, they make up for their small size in the quality of their organic food.
            Before the Green Market was organized in 2008, many of these farmers grew their crops for consumption. The opportunity to sell excess food seems to have motivated many farmers to switch to organic farming. In order to be a member of the Green Market, farmers must first get their IFOAM certificate, proving that they do not use any sort of chemical agriculture. Several of the current members of the Green Market did not have their certificate before the start of the Green Market, so it seems to have definitely started a change in the region. Later in our meeting with the Green Market organizers, we asked about the expansion of the Green Market, and how fast new members were joining. They answered that, although expansion in membership is exactly what they need right now, many farmers still refuse to transition to organic farming. The main reason for this is that some farmers are afraid that the transition is too big of a risk. Many farmers worry that organic farming is too unreliable, and one bad season could mean no crops at all at the end of the year.
            Overall, however, the future of the Green Market looks positive. They are working together with provincial offices, and have no obvious opposition from the Thai government. They also receive financial support from the Alternative Agriculture Network. Right now, the most important next step for the Green Market is to motivate more farmers to switch to organic agriculture and become members of the market.

Sam Carlson
University of Richmond