Story and Photos by Prangthong Jitcharoenkul, GIZ Thailand
Standing in a field of Hom Mali rice in Nayear district of Ubon Ratchathani, Boonterm Luandee happily looked at her improved rice production which brought her higher income in recent years.
The 50-year-old farmer, who has grown rice for more than two decades, shared her feelings of getting the opportunity to learn about the SRP Standard, which has been developed by Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP).
“Before I joined the programme, I made no profit from my rice plantation and could not break free from the debt trap,” said Ms. Boonterm, a participating farmer of the second phase of the Better Rice Initiative Asia (BRIA) project or BRIA II.
Ms. Boonterm has long overused inorganic farm inputs on her Hom Mali rice paddy field and never realized a small change in her cultivating method would put an end to her struggle to make ends meet.
“The quality of rice was not good and I could not shake my debt off,” she said.
The unsatisfactory production led Ms. Boonterm to try out new farming technique in 2015.
After undergoing a training conducted by rice farming experts from BRIA II and applying new knowledge to her 11 rai1 of Hom Mali rice, she earned 30,000 – 45,000 baht (800-1200 EUR), up from 10,000 – 20,000 baht in previous harvesting seasons.
Since then, Ms. Boonterm decided to rely on less pesticide and more biological plant protection products.
“Cost of rice production was slashed by half after I reduced use of fertilizer and pesticide. I was able to repay debt to the bank and save more money for my family.”
In 2017, an external audit verified that most of the participating farmers who took part in first phase of BRIA were complying with the SRP standard. They received an average score at 84 percent, meaning they are “working toward a sustainability”.
Mrs. Duangchan Watchalin, who joined the project early this year, echoed the same tune as Ms. Boonterm, saying after she understood the benefits of the SRP, she no longer used pesticide and preferred effective microorganisms (EM) and pig manure.
Her yields have been up by 58 percent since she adopted the sustainable rice practices.
The 55-year-old farmer said her rice yield is now 570 kilograms per rai, increased from 360 kilograms last year.
“I bought more lands and I do not worry about education for my four children anymore because I have enough savings,” said Mrs. Duangchan Watchalin, who has become a lead farmer passing on her knowledge in doing organic rice farm to other farmers in her neighbourhood, most of whom are women.
Local farmers in Ubon Ratchathani is the first province to adopt the SRP practice.
Thailand’s Rice Department and Olam International under support of German development agency GIZ are working to extend the sustainable standard to other farmers in Roi Et and Surin provinces, both in northeastern Thailand, in coming years.
1 6.25 rai is equal to 1 hectare