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Organic Farming Research - Thailand

This document was prepared by Vitoon R. Panyakul from Green Net


Thai organic agriculture has seen a big boost in the last couple years as the Thai organic sector has enjoyed steady growth and development in its domestic and international markets. The innovative efforts of the Thai private sector appear to have paid off. For instance, a private national certification body has been developed, which is now spinning off to an Asia-wide regional platform. Also developed, has been a competency building programme for personnel involved in organic projects and an organic product chain management system leading to a regional training platform. A domestic market is also developing and has yet to tap organic exports from neighbouring countries.

Thailand’s organic sector has probably passed the early stage of development and has started entering a growth stage. The public and private sector alike are keen to get involved and promote organic farming as they increasingly see the benefits of organic farming on food security and its environmental contribution. More and more private sector organizations from various backgrounds are keen to invest in organic production and trade, leading to a proliferation of organic projects with diverse orientation. Besides the traditional organic products like rice and fresh vegetables, new organic projects in recent years have shifted the focus to new product ranges like tea, cooking herbs, fruits, sweeteners, aquaculture, textiles, cosmetics, and even organic restaurants as well as spas and resorts. Imports of organic products have started to get serious and supermarkets have begun to put efforts towards promoting their organic product range in order to differentiate themselves from others. Although imported products still have a limited range, it signifies a breakthrough in the conservative mentality of the Thai people. When consumers gradually start picking up the trend of buying imported organics, more competition will begin to appear, resulting in a complete product range being offered. This would also help to stimulate the development of organic production and processing in the country as well. Organic imports are not yet subjected to organic label restrictions since the Thai organic regulations are still voluntary.

According to Earth Net Foundation / Green Net, organic farming area in recent years is fluctuating at around 20,000 hectares. The fluctuation is the result of instability of the government support scheme. Political instability at the national level is partly to blame as the interim government, following the military take over at the end of 2006, has put little effort towards continuing the organic agriculture programme initiated by its predecessor. However, for the Thai organic sector it is a good lesson to learn: relying on government support to boost organic farming is not sustainable, especially when one sees policy changes and budget supports ceasing to exist, resulting in  newly emerging organic farms having to quickly convert back to conventional.  
Within the Thai academic context, organic farming is seen as part of a sustainable farming system, one that addresses ecological and social imbalance. The definition of Thai organic research here includes all other sustainable agriculture research.


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Though organic farming started in Thailand in the 1990s, the research on organic farming in the country began much later. There are basically 3 streams of organic research in Thailand: NGO oriented, public research station oriented, and university-private oriented.

The NGO oriented research was spearheaded by the Alternative Agriculture Network (AAN) and later on by its sister organization, the Sustainable Agriculture Foundation Thailand (SAFT). Most of the AAN-SAFT research focuses on two areas: the critique of conventional farming and the success story of local farmers’ practice of sustainable agriculture. Its main approach is to write case studies of individual farmers pioneering in sustainable agriculture and later on developed into a group case study as well as issue oriented projects. However, most of its research works tend to have only one methodology, which is case study documentation. Another NGO oriented research programme is being carried out  by the Earth Net Foundation (ENF). ENF is part of Green Net, a Thailand-based social enterprise. Established in 1993, Green Net's work is to promote organic agriculture and fair trade in Thailand and Southeast Asia. ENFs research focuses specifically on organic agriculture themes and cover a wide range of topics, including organic extension systems, organic market studies, food security, standards and certification, as well as organic farming policies.

Public research station oriented research is the second wave. After organic agriculture was formally adopted by public policy circles around mid 1990s, some researchers in the government research stations became aware and became interested in organic farming, especially those in the rice research stations across the country. Several research projects with field trial experiments were conducted comparing conventional and organic fertilization treatments on rice crops. Most of this research was done around the end of the 1990’s. The results are very much in favour of organic agriculture advocates: out of 19 studies, 18 found that organic rice farming using organic fertilizer produced higher or comparable yields to rice cultivated with chemical fertilizer. After this big wave, few experimental studies were conducted in public research stations. However, some individual researchers within different departments of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperative continue to conduct research on specific issues of their own interest.

The last group of organic research is done by university-based researchers, often in collaboration with the private sector because a key criteria for public research funding requires private sector collaboration. Most of this research is public, but some is confidential, especially if it involves product development. Also, quite a significant number of graduate and post-graduate students, e.g. for bachelor and master research, are conducting research on organic agriculture, reflecting the growing interest among students on this issue.

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Key institutions

On the government side, there is no agency specifically responsible for organic agriculture. Some individual researchers, attached to various departments, are active in organic agriculture and may conduct some research.

Quite a similar situation also exists for university-based research institutions. Individual researchers from different universities may pursue organic research of their interest. Recently, the Organic Agriculture Development Center (OADC) was established at the Sukhothai Open University (STOU) in mid 2009 in collaboration with various NGOs, for example ENF. Since its inception, OADC has been quite active in organic research projects (within 12 months, OADC completed one organic research project and is currently implementing another 4 research projects).

On the NGOs side, ENF is the key institution actively engaged in organic research in the country. SAFT has slowed down as it has been struggling to secure financial support for its organization.

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Government support and research programmes

Besides internal research budgets of various government agencies and universities, the two key generic research funding sources in Thailand are the National Research Council of Thailand (NRCT) and the Thai Research Fund (TRF), where all researchers can apply for financial support, though no specific funding programmes exist for organic research.

Since 2008, the government began a 5-year National Organic Development Plan (NODP) and a 5-year Action Plan. Out of the 4 core development strategies, one focus was on knowledge and innovation. The plan was developed by various government agencies from 3 main ministries: Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperative, Ministry of Commerce, and Ministry of Science and Technology and coordinated by the National Economic and Social Development Board/Commission. In 2009, an additional budget of 923 million Baht (around 23 million Euros) was approved for over 100 projects proposed by several government agencies based on the NODP and the 5-year Action Plan. Twenty percent of that budget was given to projects with a focus on knowledge and innovation. The National Innovation Agency, Ministry of Science and Technology, serving the secretary of the Working Group on the Knowledge and Innovation Strategy of the NODP, is supposed to coordinate various projects to coordinate the project planning and implementation. However, no one in the organic movement seems to have heard of much of these projects or their results.

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Key research needs & priorities

No overall research themes and priorities have been set for organic research in Thailand. The government through the NODP has a general outline of research needs, but as the plan was developed with little participation of other stakeholders, the outline only reflects the perception of the public sector on these issues. NGOs have separately organized their own research themes and agenda. 

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Priority setting and involvement of end users

Research priority is very much dictated by the researchers themselves. This is due to the fact that no overall research priorities have ever been set and researchers are not bound by priorities set by other stakeholder groups.

Research conducted by NGOs and university-based researchers are likely to involve other stakeholders in the organic movement, for example developing a research agenda, discussing research results, and consultation.

Public research station oriented research and research conducted by government agencies often have little participation from other stakeholders, especially the end users such as farmers or the private sector.

A study conducted by Earth Net Foundation and Thai Organic Trader Association in 2008 found approximately 270 sources of literature on Thai organic and sustainable agriculture published in last 15 years, averaging around 20-30 sources per annum. Nearly two-fifths of the research focused on extension issues, and the next two most published subjects were organic rice production technologies and organic vegetable production technologies.


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There are no general mechanisms for disseminating agricultural research results to farmers in Thailand. Research projects often incorporate dissemination as part of project activities. Public extension systems have been over-stressed with technical support for conventional agriculture and thus have little if any capacity to disseminate organic farming information. NGO extension activities appear to be most active in promoting organic farming technologies, often extracted from indigenous knowledge from successful practices by innovative local farmers. But these have little if any linkages with organic research.

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Scientific education

Several universities have announced their plan to offer bachelor degrees in organic and/or sustainable agriculture. But so far this has not materialized. There are however a few post graduate courses on organic agriculture, such as master and doctoral courses in organic agriculture management at the Thammasart University and a master course on agro-ecology at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University (in collaboration with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics - ICRISAT).

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Outlook and challenges

The short-term outlook of Thai organic research is more exciting than the long-term outlook. Funding for organic research is likely to continue and may even increase because organic agriculture has gained momentum with its recognized benefits for food safety, environmental service, and climate change mitigation and adaptation. However, organic research will become even less linked with the organic movement in the country and frustration of the organic practitioners on organic research may reach the point of exclusion, making the long-term outlook seem quite dim.

With the above outlook, the key challenge of Thai organic research would be to define the country's research needs through broad consultation with stakeholders and end users. Much more dialogue is needed between farmers and researchers. This would allow the research issues and priorities to be established that guide the researchers and research funding agencies to direct the research to areas and issues that are of interest to the organic movement and industries, not just the researcher’s own interest. Defining research needs should not be on an ad hoc basis, but given a formalized structure such as an organic research platform so that research needs can be reviewed from time to time.

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This document was prepared by Vitoon R. Panyakul from Green Net

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