Organic Farming Research in Thailand

a7By Vitoon R. Panyakul

Organic Research Centers Alliance – Thai organic agriculture has seen a big boost in the last couple years as the Thai organic sector has enjoyed steady growth and development in its domestic and international markets. The innovative efforts of the Thai private sector appear to have paid off. For instance, a private national certification body has been developed, which is now spinning off to an Asia-wide regional platform. Also developed, has been a competency building programme for personnel involved in organic projects and an organic product chain management system leading to a regional training platform. A domestic market is also developing and has yet to tap organic exports from neighbouring countries.

Thailand’s organic sector has probably passed the early stage of development and has started entering a growth stage. The public and private sector alike are keen to get involved and promote organic farming as they increasingly see the benefits of organic farming on food security and its environmental contribution. More and more private sector organizations from various backgrounds are keen to invest in organic production and trade, leading to a proliferation of organic projects with diverse orientation. Besides the traditional organic products like rice and fresh vegetables, new organic projects in recent years have shifted the focus to new product ranges like tea, cooking herbs, fruits, sweeteners, aquaculture, textiles, cosmetics, and even organic restaurants as well as spas and resorts. Imports of organic products have started to get serious and supermarkets have begun to put efforts towards promoting their organic product range in order to differentiate themselves from others. Although imported products still have a limited range, it signifies a breakthrough in the conservative mentality of the Thai people. When consumers gradually start picking up the trend of buying imported organics, more competition will begin to appear, resulting in a complete product range being offered. This would also help to stimulate the development of organic production and processing in the country as well. Organic imports are not yet subjected to organic label restrictions since the Thai organic regulations are still voluntary.

According to Earth Net Foundation / Green Net, organic farming area in recent years is fluctuating at around 20,000 hectares. The fluctuation is the result of instability of the government support scheme. Political instability at the national level is partly to blame as the interim government, following the military take over at the end of 2006, has put little effort towards continuing the organic agriculture programme initiated by its predecessor. However, for the Thai organic sector it is a good lesson to learn: relying on government support to boost organic farming is not sustainable, especially when one sees policy changes and budget supports ceasing to exist, resulting in newly emerging organic farms having to quickly convert back to conventional.

Within the Thai academic context, organic farming is seen as part of a sustainable farming system, one that addresses ecological and social imbalance. The definition of Thai organic research here includes all other sustainable agriculture research.

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