Alternative agriculture: an alternative from poverty?
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Letter to Friends around the World # 93

Farmers represent two thirds of the poorest across the planet”

Across the Mekong region in South East Asia and in North-ern parts of Thailand, 85% of farmers are unable to meet their basic needs on a farming income. Today, Asia’s challenge is not only to farm more organically. The main challenge is to enable farmers to be more self sufficient, independent and sustainable in order to avoid the vicious circle of poverty caused by conventional farming.

For example, Phonh is a young 27 year old farmer originally from Laos. Thanks to sponsorship, he studies in Vietnam at the HEPA School (Human Ecology Practical Area). Young people from his village gave him information about this school. It is a mountainous village where inhabitants practice subsistence farming. His parents own 3 hectares of land. He saw chemical inputs for the first time in 2006, when his uncle brought herbicides back to his village. In the same year, people visited his village promoting intensification methods and gave free chemical fertilizers to the farmers. From that time onwards, chemical inputs use increased in his area and farmer have found themselves in chronic debt.

Today, foreign companies have managed to gain a foothold in the village through their rubber plantations, which rely on high levels of chemical inputs. These companies grab all the village land by buying it from farmers who then become farm workers on what was once their own land.

Phonh doesn’t want to work in factories or in construction. Even if organic agriculture is still a challenge, he wants to try it. For him, the main problem in his region is the lack of distribution networks. He has an idea to create a group with his HEPA school friends which could be part of the Towards Organic Asia Network. The group would try to develop new methods such as permaculture, needing no inputs or investments to start up their activities. However, the marketing is still an issue for them.

Today, farmers still have to keep an eye out for land grabbing. Becoming a farm worker on your parents inherited land is an insecure situation. If a harvest is not as good as expected, if the pesticides are sprayed at the wrong moment, if the foreign company does not need workers any more, then people are without income and fall in debt.

This is the next challenge to enable everyone, including the poorest, to have access to good quality food within their country’s infrastructures. This requires connecting the channels of production and distribution, thereby implementing a local network which public institutions could be interested in too. Extract of article by Thanapol K. and Pauline L., Towards Organic Asia Network Thailand