Rural Training Center, Thailand (RTC-Thailand)

Second Chance at New Year!

Jan 26, 2008

For anyone who feels they didn?’t get off to a good start for 2008, listen up. You might want to consider preparing for a second chance?…but this would be for the Chinese year 4705, the year of the Brown Rat. (Isn?’t cultural diversity great!) This year contains elements of earth (soil) and water and can be a plus / minus ?“you win some, you lose some?”. Life isn?’t always win or lose. So we are striving for a dynamic balance on the farm as we continue to implement the S.O.W. and S.O.S. programs (Save Our Water and Save Our Soil).

If you are interested in seeing a different view of the world and life, try visiting Alan Tsai?’s www.chinesefortunecalendar.com website. I came across Alan?’s site while searching for information about Yin-Yang and Chinese astronomy. It was also interesting to see the application of Geography to Chinese astrology.

Many of us growing up in the US visit a Chinese restaurant and read the paper place mat curious about our birth signs. The overly simplistic listing of years and animals is just that?…overly simplistic. The Chinese calendar is often misrepresented as a lunar calendar. In reality it is a very complex integration of solar and lunar cycles. Where the western calendar has 4 solar terms per year, the Chinese calendar has 24. Visit Alan?’s site and you learn that it isn?’t the year that determines your birth animal, but the month of your birth. Since the Chinese near year is determined by the traditional Chinese solar terms, the actual date of Chinese new year can vary between late January and early February on the western calendar. But you can learn all about it on Alan?’s site.

The key thing is you have a chance to start anew for 4705. So prepare by sweeping out the old to welcome the new. For the RTC-TH, we have begun to reduce the livestock on the farm by selling off the larger animals. The decision to do so was prompted by a number of converging factors: rising costs, inadequate labor, and a shifting focus to prepare for major water harvesting and fire protection projects coming up in this year.

Any good planning process also includes periodic reviews to adjust the plan for changing circumstances. Sun Tzu cautioned against rigid plans and especially against sticking to rigid plans in the face of changing realities. The general principles for the RTC-TH remain: self-sufficiency and sustainability for small rural family farms. The top priority at this point in time is implementing a strategy to address regional climate changes. Global warming has caused the zone of warmer temperatures to extend farther poleward than in the past. This has led to a shift in the ITCZ (Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone) farther to the north. The ITCZ is a major factor driving the monsoon rains in our region. Global warming is also associated with rising evaporation putting more moisture into the atmosphere. For the tropics, it becomes a mixed bag. Many experts feel this may mean more rainfall for our area. But they also caution, since 80% of the annual water supply is derived from the monsoons, the rain may be more intense but in a shorter period of time.

While trying to compile information about lightning and thunderstorm activity for our construction planning, I was surprised to see a graphic representation of the movement of the ITCZ. A simple graphic plot of thunderstorm frequency averaged over 19 years showed two peaks at early and late summer. We are at 19 N latitude. The annual movement of the vertical ray of the sun is from 23.5 N to 23.5 S. So the convergent lifting of the ITCZ which follows the sun, tracks over us 2 times a year. Once on its way north and again on its way south. This is when we might expect peak rainfall inputs, though rains could fall any time between May and October each year.

If possible, construction on 1 or 2 additional holding ponds will be done before this summer. Additional gutters and rainwater storage tanks also need to be fitted to 3-4 farm out buildings. Overflows from the tanks would be directed to the ponds. If not, we have to wait until the next dry season (2009). As an interim action, swales (shallow depressions to hold water for soil infiltration) will be dug and mulched. This serves to increase soil moisture retention.

The flip side of the more intense and possibly brief monsoon is the probable longer, hotter, and drier ?“dry season?”. This is when additional water would be needed for crops. So if you don?’t plan ahead and save water, it may not be possible to make it through the dry season. And along with this climate shift is the increasing danger of fire.

Traditionally, the dry season is a hunting season. Farmers tend to use this time of decreased labor to go into the forests and hunt food. And accidental fires are more common in the forests in this season. The forest fires in northern Thailand don?’t get the attention and fire fighting resources we often see in response to wildfires in the US. And the added threat is the loss of watershed so vital to the water resources and supply for the farm. We are too small to attempt to fight any wildfires, and so our position is thus relegated to protecting the farm.

Construction plans call for a green firebreak (see the Fall 2007 Farm Update in the PDF section of this website). Priority will be given to the west boundary of the farm, then extended upslope to the south farm boundary along the edge of the forest watershed. The design of the firebreak/perimeter road incorporates water and soil conservation components consistent with our improved soil moisture retention plans.

As with any project, it can be done with a massive cash infusion or it can be scaled to meet the existing constraints imposed by budget and the availability of labor and materials. In the end, the firebreak will be done either in one concentrated effort or in gradual stages. But it is clear that these priorities for the new year address the climate change realities we see on the ground.

For the long range, a weather station will also be installed on the farm to begin the G.R.O.W. effort (Getting Real On-farm Weather). This will begin the long-term data collection to aid in future rainwater harvesting / storage calculations, as well as soil management planning, alternate energy planning, and a pilot effort in wildfire weather warning work.

So here?’s to another new year and another effort for a new beginning. Happy new year of the brown Rat and best wishes in all of your endeavors!

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