06 November 2012

A Chemical Compromise

The villagers that we went to visit used unpronounced amounts of chemicals. So much that normal mills would not buy the rice from any farmer in their sub-district. (Of course, the government sponsored mills do buy the rice.) This was shocking, to say the least. But, what boggled my mind rougher than any of these gruesome numbers was the fact that these villagers were willing to change.

Let me lay down some background. Our students group of CIEE representatives went to a village called Na Samai 11. This village has little to no water supply, no irrigation system. Their parents started using chemical fertilizer and now they’re all about the pesticides too. We sat through exchanges wondering why. It wasn’t always like that- their grandparents, and ancestors never had that chemical advantage. How did they make it work? The answer (it’s simple and sweet): They had water back in the day. There’s the epiphany that’s been slapping us in the face for years and years to come: Global warming.

Now, back to the point. The people in this village have no way to harvest their rice crop without some help from chemicals. Otherwise, the leaves will turn yellow and the rice will grind into the ground like sand. Secondly, perfect enough, the villagers gain about four times as much yield, and so profit, from using chemical agriculture. That’s right, four times! They make bank, so to speak. And although, we know morals are the ‘right way’ to travel through life, we know that it’s much easier to live the life as close to a king as one can get. The villagers were willing to drop this sort of profit, because they have come to understand that chemical farming is bad.

Someone has got to give these guys credit. Alternative Agriculture Network is going to help the transition from chemical to organic be as smooth as possible, but let’s be realistic. The transition is not going to be easy. They will likely gain little yields for the first three years of transitioning. They may loose all hope in organic farming. They will have to work harder than they have worked in last seven years (since switching to organic.) And, they may have a hard time grasping why they have to be responsible, when millions of others are reaping off the ill-morals of industrialization and chemical heavy productions. In the long run, though, they will be thanked. By the soil, by their health, and by the silent thanks that run deep into the veins of the potential future prosperity.

Jahala Dudley
University of Vermont


CDobrez said...

Interesting perspective, Jahala. I am wondering now what is more common among Isaan farmers, transitioning to organic or transitioning to chemical farming? In America, we are far from an organic society, but definitely seems to be a stronger trend away from organic then towards it. Hopefully, Thailand has and will learn from America and other developed countries past mistakes. Hopefully, it is not too late for Thailand's native land.
You also brought up an interesting stance raising the idea of global warming. While I am not totally convince that the only reason why the farmers have turned to chemicals is global warming.
But battle between organic and chemical continues at a local, national, and global level and the world's natural resources are depleting and it's clear that something needs to be done.

Hannah said...

Along with what Buddy and Jahala have mentioned, I give these communities a great amount of credit for attempting to transition from chemical intensive agriculture to organic. It must be an overwhelming financial risk for these families, and it also requires an enormous amount of work.
But when comparing the presence of organic farming in the United States to organic farming in Thailand, there are several differences. I think the largest being the seemingly increasing demand for organic products in the US. If organic farmers in the US are able to successfully make the switch, they could also see an increase in the price of their crop. Not only are organic farmers helping to create more sustainable practices but they also have a larger market, and can sell their crops at higher prices.
It seems as though there is not serious demand for organic products in Thailand, and because of that, these farmers don’t have as much to gain when they switch from chemical to organic farming. Which makes their willingness to transition even more impressive.

Ashley said...

Great post Jahala! It’s shocking the amount of chemicals these farmers use and that some of them don’t seem to be suffering health issues. Also extremely commendable that they are willing to transition into organics without consumers demanding it. Too bad many American farmers didn’t also go organic without pressure. It’s good that the villagers are still profiting from chemical farming because, as we’ve seen in other communities, the benefits don’t last. The financial leeway should make the transition into organic farming easier. One of the big issues is the lack of demand for organic produce – its expense makes people choose the cheaper alternative. This also occurs in the U.S.. It seems like organic farming would be less expensive because farmers don't have to pay for herbicide, insecticide, and chemical fertilizers, all of which can very quickly put a Thai farmer into debt.

Since lack of water started the farmers using chemicals, how do you think the transition back to organic will work without any extra water? Will crops survive without either more water or chemicals?