Thailand – Model farmers in northern Thailand demonstrate the potential of integrated farming to increase incomes and enhance resilience to climate change
Tohphor Phetpichitchai (age 54) and his wife Khaephor (age 58) are an energetic older couple from the Karen ethnic minority community living in the village of Ma La Oob in Kallayaniwattana District in Chiang Mai Province in northern Thailand. Over the years they have transitioned from the traditional practice of engaging in shifting cultivation in and near the forests that surround their village to become model farmers to demonstrate to others in their community the economic and environmental benefits of integrated farming.
Their small farm in the middle of the village is a model of productivity and sustainability. During the month of December, they had two large fields, one under netting, of organic cabbage they are growing for both home consumption and sale to the Royal Project (an agricultural initiative of the King of Thailand). They had also recently harvested rice from their paddy fields, but like most farmers in the village, their harvest this year was very poor due to untimely rains. They estimate that their harvest amounted to only three-quarters (90 buckets) of their own consumption needs and that they would have to purchase rice from the market. Since the soil of their paddy fields is also not ideal for rice production, they are also considering cultivating other crops on this land in the future.
In addition to cabbage and rice, the Phetpichitchais also engage in livestock production, aquaculture, fruit production, and kitchen gardening, and they produce their own compost to support their organic farm. Like many farmers in the area, they also cultivate pumpkins for which the Royal Project also provides a market. Fruit production on the farm includes a wide range of species, including papaya, jackfruit, and passion fruit. In addition to raising poultry, the Phetpichitchais have two ponds stocked with fish and a large swine fattening operation, with some 20 animals at various stages of development. Their biggest sources of income at present are the sale of pigs and cabbage, both of which have ready local markets.
When asked about the labor requirements for this type of integrated farming, the Phetpichitchais indicated that integrated farming actually requires less labor and less strenuous work than their previous reliance on shifting cultivation in fields some distance from their home in the village, while also providing increased and more steady income.
Maintaining year-round crop and livestock production on their integrated farm requires access to water, and they have invested in simple technologies to irrigate their fields. Given the importance of more reliable access to water for them and their fellow villages, the Phetpichitchais also are active supporters of the work of Raks Thai
(CARE), including the new water resource management projects being undertaken under the Where the Rain Falls project. Their farm will serve as a model for demonstrating to the project’s target smallholder farmers the use of improved water supply systems for integrated farming.
In addition to requiring a lot of labor for land clearing and preparation, the traditional Karen practice of shifting cultivation also poses environmental risks, leading to deforestation and increased soil erosion in watersheds on which both local residents and downstream communities rely for both domestic water supply and irrigation. Local residents report frequent landslides during the rainy season, which they attribute to deforestation in the mountainous terrain surrounding the village as well as recent road construction activities undertaken by the government.
Signs of major erosion problems are very evident in and near the villages in Kallayaniwattana District, with roads threatened by deep gullies and large amounts of sediment being deposited in local streams, decreasing their carrying capacity and increasing the risks of downstream flooding. Raks Thai staff and members of the local watershed management committees in the Where the Rain Falls villages have brought these problems to the attention of local authorities and will continue to do so to encourage action to control soil erosion and reduce the risk of landslides, which threaten both lives and livelihoods.
By Kevin Henry