Mae Rim: Battling drought, debt and ailments blamed on pesticides, rice farmers in northern Thailand have turned to eco-friendly growing methods despite powerful agribusiness interests in a country that is one of the world’s top exporters of the grain.
Walking through a sea of green waist-high stalks, farmer Sunnan Somjak said his fields were “exhausted” by chemicals, his family regularly felt ill and his profits were too low to make ends meet.But that changed when he joined a pilot agricultural project for the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) method, which aims to boost yields while shunning pesticides and using less water.“Chemicals can destroy everything, ” the 58-year-old said, adding that the harvest in his village in Chiang Mai province had jumped to 40% since employing the new method.
“It’s definitely better, we don’t get sick any more.”
SRI was invented in the 1980s in Madagascar by a French Jesuit priest and has spread globally.
It works by planting crops wider apart – thus drawing in more nutrients and light – and limiting the amount of water that gets into fields, which helps micro-organisms flourish to act as natural fertilisers.
In a plus for debt-laden farmers, it also uses fewer seeds, and they are encouraged to use plants and ginger roots that naturally deter insects rather than chemical alternatives – meaning fewer expenses.
Traditional Thai rice farmers earn around 3,000 baht (RM411) a month, but Sunnan was able to increase his income by 20% after adopting the SRI method.
Rice is a staple in the diet of around three billion people globally. — AFP