Bangkok, 17 Oct 2011 -- Today, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn presented FAO awards to five farmers for outstanding achievements in the areas of horticulture (Japan), aquaculture (Lao PDR), small island agriculture (Maldives), forestry (Papua New Guinea) and rice farming (Thailand) during the Asia-Pacific observance of World Food Day in Bangkok.
A model rice farmer from Thailand
Ms Papaise Mankatekit
A humble rice farmer from central Thailand, Prapaise Mankatekit, never had much formal education. And yet, she gained knowledge. She never had great ambitions. And yet, she became a leader.
As a young girl in Uthai Thani province during the 1950s, Prapaisee attended primary school in her village of Nong Waen, a small farming community of about 200 people. However, she missed home so much that she quit school after the fourth grade. “I love my village,’’ she says. “When it’s time for the harvest, everyone helps each other. It’s tradition and our traditions are important to us.’’
Although she did not finish school, Prapaisee did love to learn. In fact, she married a teacher, her late husband Prayod. But a teacher’s salary is low, and so with a plot from her family Prapaisee and Prayod also farmed the land, growing rice, sugar cane and vegetables.
Life was still hard. When sugar prices fell, the family suffered. They tried their hands at Eucalyptus trees and – at the urging of a company, pig farming. They learned more about farm management, and applied those lessons to growing crops. But they were also required to buy chemicals and other inputs from the company, and that left them with little profit.
After reading books and talking to agricultural extension workers, they decided they would farm naturally, without using chemicals. That was a radical notion at the time. In those days, few in Thailand had heard the term ‘organic’.
Tragedy struck Prapaisee when her husband died in a farm accident in the late 1990s. Around the same time, Thailand’s economy crashed. But Prapaisee persevered. She was elected to her village committee, first as a member and later on as the village headperson – a rare honour for a woman in Thailand.
As headperson, she accelerated her learning, completing courses offered by the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives in pig farming, reforestation, biodiversity and organic farming. And she shared her knowledge with her neighbours. Prapaisee used the village budget to take farmers and teachers in her community to visit the Royal Demonstration Projects of His Majesty King Bhumibol at Chitralada Palace in Bangkok. “We gained so much knowledge there,’’ she says. “And it was knowledge we could use.’’
They learned how to build their own small rice mill, and working as a cooperative, she and her neighbours now mill their own organically grown rice and sell it directly to markets and other customers.
Prapaisee and her community have been recognized for their achievements. The government awarded her village its Outstanding Community Award in 2007, and gave Prapaisee its Gold Lion Award as an excellent leader for village development in 2008.
Now, as more Thais are becoming health conscious and buying organic products, Prapaisee’s countrymen are finally catching up with her. “Eating natural food has kept me healthy and strong,’’ she says. And if its farmers are healthy and strong, so is the country of Thailand.