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


Sildenafil Citrate said...

The Unwanted things also important for agriculture, the dead cells, fertile to the land, the fertilizer plays important role in agriculture. There are many fertilizers, now the government is giving so many advantages to the farmers,

Mimi Keane said...

Agriculture has become a serious issue something that was once safe and we knew where the food was coming from. But GMOs now overrun produce. There's an interesting interview with Claire from GM Watch on youtube: ysAQyrP3myU.