Connecting Businesses, Schools and NGOs in Thailand

Chomchuan Boonrahong, 1988 Graduate
ISAC (Institute for Sustainable Agriculture Community)

At  ARI, Chomchuan became strongly interested in organic agriculture. During his summer short-term study, he went to stay at an organic farmer’s place, Mr. Kaneko, together with his classmate. He sympathized with Mr. Kaneko‘s work against the construction of a golf course. Staying for four weeks, Chomchuan learned the philosophy of organic agriculture as a recycling-oriented agriculture based in the local environment in which producers and consumers are connected through a cooperative. The sight of local farmers and other residents joining hands to protect nature left a lasting impact on him. As the eldest son of a farmer, he engaged in NGO and agriculture work in northern Thailand after completing the ARI training. He also entered Chiang Mai University‘s Graduate School to study agricultural systems.

In the 90s, Chomchuan launched an NGO called ISAC (Institute for Sustainable Agriculture Community). The seminars on organic farming and environmental conservation that he conducted were open to farmers. He started a market for organic products in Chiang Mai City. This market has grown large and is set up along Chiang Mai‘s main road. It is managed by local members of the agricultural cooperative and many citizens make use of it. Furthermore, three persons from the ISAC have studied at ARI and are now busy working in rural communities.

Over the course of twenty years, ISAC has conducted research, popularized organic farming, cultivated new mar-kets, and involved supporter organizations from Thailand and abroad. Through all these different activities, farmers can gain more income by growing and processing organic products.

“NGOs depend on external support groups to fund their activities,“ says Chomchuan, “and the personnel expenses of NGO workers need to be covered from those project funds, too. However, once a project ends the income stops. If you work at an NGO you‘re financially unstable. For that reason NGOs should become financially independent and ideally use their funds for projects only.“Right now there are only two young staffers at ISAC, but former members who are also ARI graduates maintain connections with it. Among them is a restaurant owner who uses organic products and a student pursuing a master‘s degree. Currently, ISAC is constructing a new facility with assistance from the Japanese embassy‘s “Grassroots Scholarship Fund.“ The building will be shared with the local organic agricultural cooperative, the regional organic products certification organization as well as other NGOs.

Chomchuan himself has earned a Ph.D. at the Asian Institute of Technology in 2012, after five years of study. He also lectures at the national Maejo University while still continuing his work with ISAC and other NGO’s management.

Chomchuan says that Maejo University has conservation-oriented agriculture as a specialty and “educates not only scholars and public servants, but farmers, too.“ Through him, the university‘s efforts to spread organic farming and products has become even more vigorous and it now calls itself “Eco College.“ Inside the campus he established a direct sales store for farm produce that is run by about a dozen organic farmers. In 2015, he led a study trip to ARI for businessmen, organic farmers and NGO workers as part of the Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives of Thai businesses. His aim was to stir Thai food companies‘ interest in environmental conservation and sustainable farming as well as connecting NGOs with farmers.Adding to all of this,

Chomchuan is always willing to help when people approach him with questions about farming techniques. As a university lecturer and as an NGO worker, and as a farmer who loves his work, he makes an effort every day to spread the word about the importance of organic agriculture.

text & photos by Kiyoshi Nagashima Former ARI staff 1973-2008 – originally published in Take My Hand-2016-08

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