Bangkok, Thailand, 15 Oct 2012 -- Today Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn presented FAO awards to four Asian farmers from Malaysia, Mongolia, Sri Lanka and Thailand for their outstanding achievements in agriculture and food production.
Model organic farmer from Thailand, Sumalee Thongteera
Ask Sumalee Thongteera a question about the farming cooperative she manages in Korat province in northeastern Thailand, and she takes out her iPad. Miss Sumalee admits that sometimes she likes to browse the latest fashion and music websites. But mostly, she likes to search for information that can help the 2 000 farming families in Lam Pra Pleong cooperative produce more top-quality organic rice, fruits and vegetables.
Sumalee has a passion for learning. And for sharing knowledge. After earning a degree in public administration from Ramkamhaeng University she wanted to be a teacher, but there were no openings at the time. So she returned to Korat and began working on her family’s farm.
Sumalee was troubled that so many farmers were in debt. They had to pay high prices for seeds, fertilizer, pesticides and other materials, but received low prices for their crops. Even after being appointed manager of the cooperative, she wasn’t sure how to free Thai farmers from this cycle of indebtedness.
Then, in 2005, the Ministry of Agriculture sent her on a study trip to Japan. Sumalee was impressed by what she saw. Many Japanese farmers grew crops organically. Without having to pay for chemicals, they were better off financially than farmers in Thailand. And the food they produced was safer and healthier.
Sumalee proposed that her cooperative adopt organic farming. Only about 100 families agreed to try it, and 50 quickly dropped out. But after one year, those that farmed organically were earning more money as they sold what they grew to resorts and restaurants where the clientele cared more about healthy food and were willing to pay for it. That convinced others in the cooperative to adopt organic farming.
She set up a learning center for the farming families in her cooperative where they discovered how to produce and use organic fertilizers and pest control methods, how to grow organic rice and vegetables, and how to produce biogas for alternative energy and reduce waste. Before long, earning more money wasn’t the only motivation among the cooperative’s farmers to change. The learning center instilled in them knowledge and concern about health, environment and biosecurity issues.
But earning a living does matter, and so Sumalee and her cooperative established a farmers’ market where consumers could buy directly from the growers and also get information about organic farming and produce. “I love raising awareness and helping people, and that’s why I really love my job,’’ Sumalee says. Although she notes that the job has no security, by introducing new ideas and strengthening the bonds within her cooperative, Sumalee has improved security for her fellow farmers and for the people of Thailand.
The award ceremony was part of today’s Asia-Pacific observance of World Food Day - the 67th anniversary of FAO’s foundation in Quebec, Canada on 16 October 1945.
HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn presided over the ceremony. The Thai minister of agriculture and cooperatives, other senior Thai government officials, Bangkok-based members of the diplomatic corps, UN organizations and civil society were in attendance.
The observance also included a welcome statement by Mr Hiroyuki Konuma, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific and a keynote address on Agriculture in a growing economy and the role of agricultural cooperatives: Focusing on Japan’s case, by Dr Hisao Azuma, former Vice Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in Japan and the former Senior Vice President of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and now Senior Advisor, Japan Association for International Collaboration of Agriculture and Forestry (JAICAF).