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Thailand: ‘Seeds of Hope’ Aims to Ensure Community Food Security

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By Pattama Vilailert

KAEN MAKROOD, Thailand (IDN) — With the belief that without seeds, there is no hope of sustaining food security to accommodate the global population, the ‘Seeds of Hope’ (SOH) project in Thailand aims to mobilize the community to be self-reliant in their farming methods and protect themselves from predatory agri-business companies. (P30) CHINESE | JAPANESE TEXT VERSION PDF | THAI | TURKISH

The community at Kaen Makrood located in Uthai Thani province in lower northern Thailand is a village where most people are from the Karen Pwo ethnic group, and their culture and tradition are inseparably bonded with seeds.

“Our food is derived from seeds, and in various community rituals, seeds are specially served to our guests and elderly attending the functions,” Wannob Korsuk, community wisdom leader, told IDN. “Meesi, our traditional dish made from pounded steam-sticky rice mixed with beans and sesame, is given to guests participating in the Karen Pwo wedding receptions and other ceremonies. Another important ritual is the offering of seeds to monks.”

Closely ingrained with Thailand’s Buddhist culture, offering of seeds to monks in the community is a tradition where after chanting and blessing the offerings, the monks give away those seeds to villagers. “By doing so, villagers will have a variety of seeds and grow them on their land,” said Wannob.

In order to sustain the bond of the community with seeds, Wannob is deeply concerned that modern farming technology could lead to the extinction of their seeds.

“I am aware that there are a few conglomerates that are trying to take over the world’s food by developing unnatural varieties such as GMOs, thus, when villagers plant seeds, they have to buy these from companies, so they no longer have the opportunity to grow pure breeds. The varieties from these companies produce fast-growing, prolific, and beautiful fruits. Thus, it turns farmers into constant buyers,” Wannob pointed out.

“Consequently, true vegetation began to disappear rapidly, and I used to buy seeds from a company and plant only tapioca, later in 2016, my land became arid, and I couldn’t plant anything so I was thinking about how I could possibly feed my family sustainably,” Wannob told IDN.

It is at this time that he watched a TV program about self-reliant and sustainable farming—an initiative by the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej. “I was so desperate to change my farming to the sustainable one, “he continued, “by chance, I expressed my will and difficulties to a staff member of The Royal Initiative Discovery Foundation, based in my community. He understood my situation and was ready to push my ambition forward”.

PUN PUN Centre, a self-reliant farming education centre, estimates that no less than 20 types of crops disappear from our planet in one day. The world used to have almost 20,000 kinds of rice, but now we have less than 200. According to the Centre, the extinction of seeds will result in a loss of food security for both humans and animals.

IDN spoke to Hatairat Phuangchoei, Manager, Knowledge Management Foundation (KMF), to find out more about how villagers can translate self-reliant and sustainable farming theory into practice.

“It is our mission to accelerate and expand rural development by integrating the King’s guiding principles,” she said. The Foundation works in collaboration with communities, local authorities, and academic institutions across the country to materialize projects.

“In the past, Kaen Makrood villagers encroached on the Huay Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary since the village also functioned as a buffer zone for the sanctuary. We have our staff stationed in the village to create alternative careers, and that would only come when the irrigation system worked well on the land.”

KMF was not reluctant to give a hand to Wannop in realising his aim to make his farming sustainable and self-reliant. They took him along with other villagers to attend a course run by the ‘Agrinature Foundation’. “We paid for their transportation, accommodation, and food. After the course, Wannob started his sustainable farming right away, the first thing he did was make a ditch in his land with the support of our network,” said Hatairat.

She pointed out further that the sustainable development approach KMF has supported has also proved helpful during hardships like the COVID pandemic. “The agricultural products that had been farmed under this concept were able to feed 80% of the locals,” she noted.

“During the pandemic, when the lockdown was announced, there were plenty of pomelos in my farm, so I told people in my village and outside to come and take them for free, and I gave them to nurses treating COVID patients in lieu of expressing gratitude to their hard work,” Wannob told IDN.

Hatairat explained further that the foundation has a three-fold program to help a community to rely on itself. First is to make agricultural products enough to feed one household; second is a united community where members take care of each other’s well-being; and third, are the community networks with outside organizations to increase income.

Kaen Makrood is now in the third phase, where villagers have officially established a seeds-saving enterprise called ‘Roy Pun Ruksa Community Enterprise’ in 2019. “We realized that the community’s members had been very enthusiastic about seed savings, so we enrolled them in a seed-saving course in Chiang Mai in 2017; after that, they conducted seeds savings, surveyed for new vegetation, and discovered over 100 different seeds in Kaen Makrood,” said Hatairat.

To explore how the Kaen Makrood community saves seeds to ensure food security, IDN spoke with Direk Srisuwan, the chairman of the Roy Pun Ruksa Community Enterprise (RPRCE).

“I was a director of a Karen school in Kaen Makrood, I had witnessed villagers buying vegetation and fruit seeds to plant, then I thought that in the long term, they must rely on vendors, so I began to teach students to grow vegetables that are indigenous, on our school land. I also implanted sufficient economic approach and sustainable farming knowledge in them,” explained Direk.

Image: (left) Direk Srisuwan, the chairman of the Roy Pun Ruksa Community Enterprise (RPRCE) and (right) Wannob Korsuk, Community Wisdom leader

Later, villagers joined forces with the community enterprise, so they could enlarge the group to network with villages in other provinces exchanging seed savings and plant-growing knowledge.

After establishing the RPRCE, “we approached the Biodiversity-Based Economy Development Office to financially support us in surveying new plants that could be herbs or vegetation,” explained Direk. “Our purpose is not only to ensure food security in our community and in our network but also to disseminate knowledge and exchange experiences in local seed conservation among farmers, other communities, and external agencies.”

‘Seeds Of Hope’ organised an event on 21-22 January to explain their activities. More than 200 participants attended the event, Direk said.

Yura, a participant from Nakhon Sawan, a province located 35 km from Kaen Makrood, told IDN, “it is my first time here, and I am very much impressed by the work of the ‘Agrinature’ organization. I knew that people work collaboratively, the ways they preserve the land and seeds are so diversified. I have never seen something like this before; it is wonderful. This community is small, but they have organized ‘Seeds of Hope’ very well, and they are united”.

“Before I came, I expected to see diversified seeds, and what I saw here was more than my expectations. I will come again and join as an organizer. I will convey what I learned from this event to the people in my community and its vicinity. In Nakhon Sawan, we work together but not as united and solid as this,” she noted.

Another attendee, Mamiew, also emphasized: “I didn’t expect the ‘Seeds of Hope’ would get a large number of participants, I think the unity of the Kaen Makroot community helps to strive the event. I want the new generation to help conserve, carry our culture, and know the values that are close to them. These are the elements that help them to rely on themselves.”

Hatairat considers their work as a “social lab”, and she is aware that with changing global trends and with the ongoing climatic change-induced weather affecting traditional cultivation, their traditional ways of farming could change.

“(But), we must seek ways for the seed not to mutate and be more productive without using GMOs, “she noted with a determined look. “It is our plan to use the area where success can be a source of learning for others (and that is why) we called this as a ‘social lab’.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 01 February 2023]

Image: The offering of seeds to monks. Credit: ‘The Royal Initiative Discovery Foundation’.





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