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Sustainable Development Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
Agriculture, and rice farming in particular, has been a way of life for many years in Thailand. The importance of rice cultivation goes beyond economic benefits and food supply, and stems from the preservation of deep socio-cultural roots of Thai people. With Thailand exporting the second largest amount of rice in the world and rice farmers making up one in every four Thai people, rice cultivation is deeply tied into the country’s cultural identity.
This holds true for P’Chu and her father who head a cooperative that has been farming organically for over 30 years in the Yasothon province. Prior to heading up the Yasothon cooperative, P’Chu’s father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. This experience transformed his view of organic farming and the value of nutritional benefits derived from consuming organic produce. Thus, the father-daughter team began spreading knowledge and awareness about sustainable forms of farming across the province.
Organic farming practices have been extending across the region as farmers realize the environmental, economic and health benefits – all building blocks of sustainable agriculture. Yet, rice farmers in the Northeast region of Thailand remain the poorest in the world and earn a net income of approximately US$11.50/month/acre during the 6-month crop season. Other crop farmers earn roughly ten times more. In addition, farming is losing its appeal to the younger generation, with fewer people inclined to pursue this as a viable occupation. This phenomenon threatens the long-term sustainability of the farming sector as a whole.
Having received a first-hand insight into these key issues pertaining to the rice growing sector in Northeast Thailand, Neil Dejkraisak, Siam Organic’s founder, introduced and popularized Jasberry rice (known as Riceberry by local farmers) in 2011 in North-eastern Thailand. A new Non-GMO rice variety, Jasberry rice combines the great taste of Thai Jasmine rice with the nutritional and antioxidant benefits of blueberries. Siam Organic is an Impact Enterprise based in Bangkok, Thailand, and works with P’Chu’s cooperative in Yasothon as well as another cooperative in Roi-Et. The enterprise currently provides 800 farmers with Jasberry seeds and guarantees a premium price for the organic crop output. In addition, the enterprise supplies high quality organic fertilizers, facilitates knowledge-sharing sessions, and supports seed-breeding activities for these farmers. Siam Organic’s holistic support allows farmers to enjoy better yield, lower costs, higher prices, and greater sales.
Shujog had the opportunity to visit both the Roi-Et and Yasothon cooperatives to interview the farmers, assess the impact generated by Siam Organic and provide the enterprise with a comprehensive set of data collection tools to enable social impact monitoring. One of the most surprising factors unravelled during Shujog’s site visit was the high level of self-consumption by farmers of the Jasberry rice grown with many reporting dramatic healing effects.
“My quality of life is very good. Before the Jasberry project, I would feel numb in my hands and pain in my knees. Also, I had diabetes and problems with my eyesight. For this project, I went to the doctor and found that my blood sugar is normal and my eyesight has improved. I have eaten Jasberry for every meal for 2 years now. Since, I have told my friends about the project, and 13 of them have joined the project since.” – Farmer in Roi-Et province
While improved income is an important driving force encouraging active participation in the Riceberry Project, ultimately the self-consumption of Jasberry rice and its superior nutritional value were the most quoted factors inspiring engagement. Clearly, there is a movement towards sustainable agriculture with more farmers coming on board having witnessed first-hand how unsustainable agricultural practices can result in climatic challenges and weak rural infrastructure. The leader of the Roi-Et province, known as “Doctor”, is a true embodiment of this movement having embraced organic farming for 10 years and influencing 1,000 people to follow these principles in the process. Siam Organic has recognized the expertise of these farmers and acted on this by providing them with a platform to pursue their passion and leverage impact so that the economic and health benefits multiply across the region.
Siam Organic is an ideal example of an enterprise working to provide market-based solutions for social good while addressing some of the most pressing issues affecting farmer livelihoods. However, without investor support, promising enterprises such as Siam Organic are limited in their potential to reach scale and impact greater farmer lives. Impact investing is well-placed to leverage such impact. Mission-focused investments have catalytic effects on the agriculture value chain and consequently on income generation. With targeted investments flowing into this sector, Thailand will be poised to achieve the UN sustainable development goal of ending hunger, achieving food security and promoting sustainable agriculture.
Siam Organic’s work is representative of what it means to farm sustainably by ensuring profitability, health benefits, and wider social equity. While Thailand is a food surplus country, the farming community is faced with its own set of obstacles due to price instability made worse by exploitative government policies, such as the infamous rice-pledging scheme. In addition, the Riceberry project facilitates a level of inter cooperative knowledge sharing and integration of best practices, thus bringing a deeper meaning to sustainable farming practices. Noting the trend in rural-urban migration among youths, one of the key goals of Siam Organic from the outset was to encourage the notion that farming is a viable occupation. In terms of ensuring that these organic farming practices are not lost with one generation, Siam Organic hopes to show the next generation that rice farming is indeed a fruitful form of livelihood generation, thus protecting a key facet of Thailand’s cultural identity for generations to come.