Applied Geography formerly Rural Training Center, Thailand

2007 Nov 14 Pressing Call for Back to Basics

Nov 14, 2007

The RTC-TH is not alone in its journey back to the farm and back to nature. We encourage you to visit the website for ?“Living Pono: a documentary of Jason Scott Lee?’s home / farm in Hawaii ( It is refreshing to see an urbanite move from the glamour and glitz of Hollywood to the native forests on the Big Island of Hawaii, living off the grid in his attempt to bring balance to his life. He was also featured in a newspaper interviews (see links at the end of this article). Too bad more people don?’t have the courage to step aside from the modern world and look to find the true value and meaning of life and of their place in the world. Too many are caught up in the material world of tangible possessions.

With the recent increasing headlines of product recalls in the food industry, there seems to be a growing need to be more aware of food security issues. Most would have to agree that one path to food security is getting back to the basics of growing your own food.

Most people in urban settings may not have the land/water resources to produce their own food. If they get creative, window box / balcony / roof top gardening may at least partially allow them to grow some of their own food. For most urbanites, improved knowledge of their food and food processing are the next best thing.

But for those of us in a position to literally get our hands dirty, getting back to basic is the real path to food security. For the RTC-TH, the emphasis has always been environmental stewardship, soil conservation / development, water resources, and alternate energy resources.

The RTC-TH strives to help small family farms become self-sufficient and sustainable. Thus, Environmental Stewardship is the foundation for all RTC-TH efforts. SOIL (Save Our Individual Livelihood) is the umbrella program. It is composed of the triad of LEEP (Learning Effective Environmental Practices), REEEPP (Rural Environmental Education Enhancement Pilot Program), and SAP (Sustainable Agricultural Practices).

LEEP (Learning Effective Environmental Practices) provides effective farm management training through two programs: GROW (Getting Real On-farm Weather) and GRASS (Getting Real Assessment Statistics). Even when regional and local government weather stations are in the immediate vicinity, they are no substitute for site-specific (micro) farm weather conditions. The lessons use low-cost, low-tech methods to record local farm weather conditions to monitor change over time. The data can be integrated or viewed in perspective with other weather station data and give insights to local variations. On-farm weather data are needed for a variety of reasons. Among them are rainwater harvesting, soil and water resource management, and fire safety. GRASS trains farmers to keep accurate records to monitor their farm and farm operations. Good management is based on having accurate inputs for decision-making. Many rural farmers lack the education needed for monitoring environmental conditions on their farms. The RTC-TH seeks to integrate local indigenous knowledge and experience with sound environmental / ecological science to develop a systematic approach to practicing sustainable agriculture in northern Thailand. Low education leads to a lack of record keeping and inconsistent performance in the presence of complex ecological and socio-economic challenges in an ever shifting global economy. Some environmental changes are subtle and so gradual they are not visually detected until too late. Measurement records and monitor help farmers detect these slow and sometimes unnoticed changes.

REEEPP (Rural Environmental Education Enhancement Pilot Program) is our effort to reach the next generation of rural Thai farmers by supporting rural public education reform. There are 6 parts to REEEPP: Green School, Habitat, NASA CERES S?’COOL (conducted at Ban Na Fa Elementary School), SEEDS (Supporting Environmental Education Development Sustainability), WATER (Working At Teaching Environmental Responsibility), and MULCH (More Useful Lessons Carried Home). The three activities support the school project with curriculum development adapted to the school / faculty / student conditions and strives to transfer the learning from the classroom to the community. You can learn more about this program at Ban Na Fa Elementary School by reading the project reports in the PDF section of this website.

SAP (Sustainable Agricultural Practices) consists of 6 training programs to help small rural family farms get on the path to self-sufficiency and sustainability The RTC-TH uses an adaptive technology approach to the rural conditions of northern Thailand. SAP consists of SOS (Save Our Soil), SOW (Save Our Water), COMPOST (Creating Our Most Precious Organic Soil Treatment), WORMS (Working On Restoring and Maintaining Soil), BUGS (Biodiversity Ultimately Gives Sustainability) IFS (Independent Fuel Systems). SAP training empowers small family farmers to achieve the goals of self-sufficiency and sustainability.

The SOS program integrates training from SOW, COMPOST, WORMS, and BUGS. SOS (Save Our Soil) is interactive outdoor training in basic soil testing, conservation and erosion control. Basic soil testing enables families to better manage soil as an important family farm asset and to monitor changes over time. Some of the facets of erosion control was composting / mulching to improve soil moisture retention, ground cover crops, land terracing, and the use of check dams. Soil conservation also involves practices to promote soil development and maintenance.

SOW (Save Our Water) is interactive outdoor training in water conservation and optimizing water utilization and efficiency on small rural family farms through environmentally sensitive water resource management. Basic field surveying methods enable people to study water flow on the farm, develop a water management plan, and to monitor changes over time. Water is essential to the life of people and their farms. SOW overlaps with the SOS program in terms of soil moisture retention enhancement. And essentially, while soil is the fundamental ingredient for plant growth, water is also a critical component. Northern Thailand is subject to monsoonal rainfall. About 80% of the annual water supply is associated with the monsoon (about June-Oct). Climate change forecasts suggest the monsoons may increase in intensity, but occur for shorter time periods. So water conservation and storage may become more necessary. The RTC-TH places a priority on rainwater harvesting and storage. Other activities in SOW involve buried clay pot and deep pipe irrigation methods, along with watershed protection and agro-forestry.

COMPOST (Creating Our Most Precious Organic Soil Treatment) is interactive outdoor training of various compost making methods (hot, cold, sheet, trench, and worm). Families are taught the use of compost to enhance soil while reducing agricultural wastes, synthetic chemical use, air pollution, ground water contamination, and improving sanitation. Lessons are adapted to local conditions. Combined with SOS, farmers can monitor the effectiveness of using compost on their farms.

WORMS (Working On Restoring and Maintaining Soil) is interactive outdoor training on soil enhancement and management for optimum agricultural productivity (without synthetic chemicals) combined with a focus on environmental stewardship. Using knowledge from SOS and COMPOST, farmers are taught to be effective environmental stewards of their soil.

Environmental and sustainability are also embraced by BUGS and IFS.
BUGS (Biodiversity Ultimately Gives Sustainability) Biodiversity is essential to a sustainable farm. This training emphasizes Integrated Pest Management (IPM), protecting pollinators, and reducing / eliminating synthetic chemicals used on the farm. Ultimately, this decreases soil / farm / water toxicity, and also leads to improved health / safety for small rural farm families. BUGS connects directly with local ecology and guided by general ecological principles of dynamic balance. No synthetic chemicals are used in the integrated pest management of the demonstration farm. Multiple and inter-cropping methods combined with organic controls (e.g. nam sadao made from plants on the farm) and habitat maintenance encourage more natural biological controls to operate.

IFS (Independent Fuel Systems) is training small rural family farms for conservation of non-renewable energy resources and to shift to alternative / renewable energy supplies (e.g. solar systems, Jatropha curcas, biogas, bamboo charcoal, etc.). Expenses for off-farm energy are a major budget item for small rural farm families. IFS reduces the off-farm energy dependence / expenses will enhancing nutrient recycling on the farm aimed at reducing the farm?’s carbon foot print by using alternative / renewable energy resources. Recent changes in energy policy and law in Thailand now make it possible for small family farms to generate electric power and sell it to the Thai government. This creates new income opportunities for farmers.

The RTC-TH programs are built on the foundation of the Geographic Systems Model that fully integrates all life, physical, and social sciences. This holistic systems approach makes it natural for the RTC-TH programs to help empower people to create integrated farms that can be self-sufficient and sustainable. While the concepts are not new, the RTC-TH has pragmatic definitions and methods to implement those definitions. ?“In a nutshell,?” says Greg Lee, RTC-TH Co-founder, ?“self-sufficiency is realized when you don?’t spend more than you earn, and you don?’t bring in outside resources in order to operate your farm. Sustainability is achieved when the farm operations can continue uninterrupted from one generation to the next without diminishing the quality of life from one generation to the next. It is probably hard to do both of these 100%, but that is NOT a good reason for not trying.?”

Other Articles about Jason Scott Lee?’s Move to Nature Farming

Last updated by earthsyssci on 02/04/2018
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