During the ceremony, packed rice was exhibited, along with organic vegetables grown on their fields in line with the participatory guarantee system (PGS) initiated by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM-Organics International) to guarantee consumers of pure organic products.
To be certified, producers must follow 23 guidelines covering land preparation, choices of organic fertilisers and milling methods. All participating farmers must also grow 10 vegetables, aimed at raising their income.
The farmers were highly enthusiastic. Ekasit Kaewnet, a member of one of the 33 households joining the experimental organic drive, mulls expanding his organic rice fields for a second year. Encouraging him is the fact that the organic rice yields were satisfactory in the absence of expensive chemical fertilisers.
Adopting PGS also means more income, as his rice can definitely find buyers, as can his secondary vegetable crop. Organic fertilisers also mean lower cost of production.
“The traditional method is costly. Indeed, organic farming is not difficult and it reduces production costs,” said the young farmer.
The first crop suggests that the cost per rai is only Bt1,500-Bt2,000, against Bt4,000 (Bt25,000 per hectare) under traditional methods.
Vilawan Tanwiboonsak, a participating farmer, admitted that the organic farming process was more complicated, but said all farmers gained better health in return from growing organic rice and vegetables.
Chao Thiangthae, the community leader, hopes that the success of the scheme will encourage more households to join it and that the organic plantation areas will expand. In three years, farmers with 50-100 rai of rice fields are expected to adopt the organic method fully, while those who own more than 100 rai should do so in five years.
Chao extended the biggest thanks to TC Pharmaceutical Industries, the owner of the Kratingdaeng energy-drink brand, which approached farmers and offered assistance. The farmers were offered visits to organic rice fields in other provinces and training sessions.
One of the sessions dealt with financial planning. TC Pharmaceutical also offered subsidies for five years: Bt1 per kilogram of paddy rice to farmers and another Bt0.50 per kilo to their community for common purposes.
In the first year, output was 77 tonnes, barely enough for their own consumption.
“When Kratingdaeng first sold this idea, I thought it was a 50:50 chance. All farmers here relied on chemicals to boost yields, given the salty water and dryness. Yet I thought the chance of success should be high given Kratingdaeng’s commitment,” said Chao.
According to Sarawut Yoovidhya, chief executive officer of TC Pharmaceutical Industries, the knowledge shared with these farmers was a result of years of experimentation in provinces including Suphan Buri and Yasothon. The network was extended to Prachin Buri, as it is the home of the company’s only manufacturing facility in Thailand.
Farmers are TC Pharmaceutical’s focus, Sarawut said, as they are the main target customers of the company, which reaps more than Bt100 billion in annual sales revenue.
“We want to return benefits to our main customers, and this will in turn benefit our society and economy,” he said.
The company also sees the importance of food security and food safety for both farmers and consumers. In past years, the company has been involved with several CSR (corporate social responsibility) activities in many provinces, from Chiang Mai in the North to Trang in the South and Chanthaburi in the East, dealing mainly with farming and fishing.
In 2015, the company spent about Bt50 million on CSR activities. Sarawut declined to specify the 2016 budget, saying it depended on project feasibility. Any projects with social and economic benefits that are ready to go will be approved.
“I’m lucky that all my siblings vow to follow in our father’s footsteps. The benefits of the projects come before [money],” he said. Sarawut is a son of the late Chaleo Yoovidhya, the developer of Kratingdaeng.
Reducing poverty is one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
Sarawut said the company had applied a number of goals to minimise its operations’ impacts on society and the environment. While the carbon footprint is monitored, the company has recently introduced a scheme to increase the efficiency of water consumption. Reservoirs surround the factory, able to feed water to it for 10 months. This ensures that it will not compete with farmers for water during the dry season.
Sarawut is cheered by the fact that some farmers in Prachin Buri plan to increase their organic-farming areas. In the years ahead, if the output increases and is available for sale, Kratingdaeng is ready to build a buyers’ network or train farmers on adding value to the products.
He envisages drawing help in sharing more knowledge from other organisations and corporates that share a similar philosophy.
Farmers in Yasothon now supply 72 tonnes of organic rice per annum to the factory, which is turned into free lunches for more than 2,000 employees. While the employees save money, they are also aware of the benefits of organic products.
“Marketing will be the integral part of this scheme, as subsidies cannot guarantee its sustainability,” he said. “We need a complete solution. We made this happen but if we’re not in the picture, this scheme should continue in a sustainable way. All farmers should be able to carry it on without our help.”
He was pleased with the first year’s outcome.
“My wish is for this approach to be replicated in other areas of Thailand, to boost the volume of organic products.”