CHIANG RAI – In most developing countries, including Thailand, farmland for growing certified organic produce accounts for less than 0.5% of all agricultural land.
The demand for organically grown food in Thailand has sparked a major resurgence in natural farming methods, especially in the past couple of years, and it has even spilled over to the export sector given the country’s reputation as a major “bread basket” of Asia
Kitti Thitskul, project manager of Chiang Rai Food Safety, it’s not just farmers who are at risk but consumers as well because vegetables and fruits that reach the markets are contaminated.
In Thailand almost 1,800 people a year die as a result of prolonged exposure to pesticides, which cause numerous immediate side effects such as nausea and headache.
Health authorities have done blood tests on four million farmers throughout the country, and they remain a concern. In 2014, agricultural chemical imports soared over 70% to 22 billion baht compared to the previous year.
The number of active ingredients and combinations in imported pesticides increased from 210 to 253. Herbicides were by far the most significant of the imported pesticides, accounting for 80% of the total volume, followed by insecticides at 9% and fungicides at 8%.
Figures on pesticide use were obtained from a survey conducted by the Chiang Rai project in collaboration with those involved, including local authorities and farmers.
Kitti Thitskul, says efforts are being made to adopt modern organic management to improve their productivity and food safety throughout the food chain.
Sustainability of food safety and food security will continue to be in trouble and the health of Thai people remains at risk as long as most of the country’s agriculture is heavily reliant on the use of chemicals and pesticides in the production process,” he said.
Citing the need for sustainability of organic agriculture and food safety, local business entrepreneurs in Chiang Rai Province have teamed up with local communities and authorities to form the Chiang Rai Green Network.
The Chiang Rai Green Network says consumers can be more assured of food safety with its organic model to serve the green community, provide green services, protect green health, and promotion (green plus).
The Chiang Rai Green Network is composed of five elements: 1) Green Community, 2) Green Service, 3) Green Health, 4) Green Plus, and 5) Green Heart.
The Green community consists of agricultural farmers supplying pesticide-safe, environmentally friendly and organic vegetables, dairy and meat to restaurants and hotels which are registered with the green service network.
Green service comprises a network of restaurants and hotels that promote food safety from farm to table by acquiring organic products from a network of community-supported agriculture suppliers for customers and tourists.
Green health is a network of tourists and individual consumers who signed up to support safe and healthy food. They also help monitor food quality and directly support the Chiang Rai Green Network throughout the food chain.
Green plus, on the other hand, comes in the form of a fund to help finance public awareness campaigns about food safety consumption, promotion and inspection.
Collaboration between private and public sectors and local communities that spur producers, consumers and service providers to realise the importance of organic products is unique and makes Chiang Rai the first province to spearhead such a model.
So far there are 25 communities in Chiang Rai and 91 restaurants which have joined the project, which has also attracted membership applications from 10,754 consumers.
Mr Kitti said the goal of the project is to expand to cover all 18 districts of Chiang Rai within three years to make farming safe and healthy.