Commerce Ministry launches organic pilot project for farmers

Thailand’s Ministry of Commerce said last week it will propose establishing an ASEAN Organic Federation following the success of a pilot project in northeastern Chaiyaphum province where farmers are growing only organic produce in order to reap greater benefits from exports and provide local people with healthier food.

The pilot project fits perfectly into the Thailand 4.0 national strategy of transitioning towards a more advanced, innovative and green economy and society. Agriculture and food processing is one of 10 industries that are receiving special attention and support under the strategy, as Thailand’s food production has long been considered a national strength. The Kingdom is the only net food exporting country in Asia and plays an important role in regional and global food security.

The project in the Nong Bua Daeng valley in Chaiyaphum province involves over 100,000 farmers and members of over 17,500 families.  The farmers are growing organic rice, cassava, sugar cane, chili, muskmelon, banana and cotton. About 5,000 of them are also raising livestock.

The market for organic food and products is growing in Thailand, and has been valued at about $117 million a year, but greater demand exists overseas, particularly in developed markets such as the United States, Japan and the European Union. The global market is worth $72 billion, with annual growth of 12.8 percent forecast, a Ministry of Commerce spokesperson said.Thai policymakers see an opportunity, therefore, for Thailand’s farmers and food processing industries to capitalize on this growing demand for organic goods.

“Previously, I grew cassava and sugar cane and earned about 100,000 baht ($2,937) a year,” said Kularb Raksapainai, 45, a farmer in the valley. “Now we rake in about 400,000 baht ($11,748) a year from our banana farm,” she said, adding that her organic bananas are exported to Japan.

Few farmers in any of the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are using organic methods, except in the more undeveloped regions where people are basically farming for subsistence and not for sales or exporting.

With the 10 countries trading more freely under the ASEAN Economic Community, the Ministry of Commerce believes member countries could benefit from an ASEAN Organic Network to promote organic products at the region level, and so will soon take steps to establish that network.

Within Thailand, the Ministry is keen to expand the organic farming pilot project to other provinces, and those under consideration include Nakhon Phanom, Lopburi and Chiang Mai.

Agriculture and related industries contribute only a small fraction to Thailand’s gross domestic product, but employ close to 40 percent of the population, and so the health and profitability of the sector is important to the country’s economic and social wellbeing.