09 October 2012

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


Anne Sledd said...

I would like to believe that the Green Market will continue to grow. What we saw seemed to be a close-knit group of farmers dedicated to health and sustainability in Thailand. However I’m probably not the only one who is skeptical of the Green Market’s future. The lecturer on land rights made a comment that organic produce was more expensive in Thailand, too expensive for even her to afford. There is also the Green Market’s reluctance to admit new members. The reason is admirable: the Green Market organizers only admit farmers who have the international organic certification. And there just are not as many farmers who are certified yet. But the Green Market has only 25 vendors. I’d like for the Green Market to thrive and organic to take over agriculture in Thailand and everyone to live prosperously. It’s simply too convoluted an issue to bet on yet for me.

Mekala Pavlin said...

I thought it was really interesting to learn about the green market here in Thailand. Growing up, my family was very conscious about eating organic, for health reasons and environmental implications. My host mother in unit one was part of the green market. She spent her days growing organic rice, feeding the pigs that lived in the backyard and making snacks with the coconuts that grew on the tress near her house. I was lucky to be able to interview her. During the interview she asked me about eating organic back in the US. I told her that you know something is organic by the label it has on the container. She than said "but how do you really know it is organic. Why do you trust the label." This has really stuck with me. My family in Yasoton knows exactly where their food comes from and how it is grown because they do it themselves. They are able to be 100% confident that what they eat is organic. Unfortunately, growing up in the city, I was not and still not able to do this.

Sean Burke said...

I was very excited to attend the Green Market during Unit 1. Like Mekala, growing up my family was and continues to be very conscious about eating organic foods, primarily for health reasons. But after so many years of eating organic food, I had come to take it for granted. I knew it was good for me, but I did not understand the larger environmental implications behind the push for organic. In Unit 1, I was able to live with a family in Yasothorn Province that farms rice, peanuts, and fruits exclusively with organic methods. When I asked my home stay mother what compelled her to make the switch from chemical to organic a few years ago, she reasoned that she no longer felt safe eating food that was grown with the use of chemical fertilizers after she became aware of the health risks that accompany chemical farming. Such dangers include toxic contamination of the blood, skin rashes, and more. In our CCC unit, a group of us were lucky enough to see the other side of the issue by visiting a farming village also located in Yasothorn Province that almost exclusively uses chemicals. But just because they use chemical agriculture does not mean that they are unaware of the health problems that can come along with it. In fact, they are fully aware of these dangers. However, the reason why they use chemicals is because they have no irrigation system, and therefore no water, so an organic farming style is not even a possibility for them at this time. On top of that, if they were to switch to organic there is no guarantee that they would generate enough yield to consume and sell. Because their lifestyle is based entirely on sustainability, this is a major obstacle. Additionally, the chemical farmers argued that the chemicals make the rice "beautiful," and "beautiful" rice means more profit. Moving forward, it is important that an irrigation system is installed in this community and others like it because without water, switching to organic farming will never be an option.

Pelumi Ogunlana said...

I think it is interesting that the Green Market is able to have cheaper prices than the regular chemical filled markets. Usually it is more expensive since the process is longer and farmers are not able to grow as much. Another positive with this market is that they have government groups that are helping them out. It is good that the government is backing an initiative that is a win-win for everyone. It shows the government cares and wants what is best for its citizens. Also, I like when I can go to a store and feel like the workers actually care about me. I hope that the other farmers are willing to change the way they farm in the future and that the bad season that they are worrying about doesn’t dissuade them. I hope this idea not only grows to around Thailand, but also to the entire world so that we can all live healthier.