Rural Training Center, Thailand (RTC-Thailand)

RTC-TH PROGRAM B.U.G.S.

Feb 08, 2010

B.U.G.S. (Biodiversity Ultimately Gives Sustainability) is the RTC-TH program combining biodiversity and integrated pest management. B.U.G.S. is a way for small family farms to reduce off farm expenditures for synthetic farm chemicals (e.g. pesticides, herbicides, etc.), protect local ecological biodiversity, and improve farm sustainability by reducing negative impacts to the local ecology.

B.U.G.S. uses no tech/low tech methods to empower farmers to attain a better balance between their farm and the local ecology. The RTC-TH demonstration farm is fortunate to adjacent to and down slope from a government protected forest area. Of the Thai provinces, Nan Province is noted for having the most remaining native forest any Thai province (estimated to be about 60%). However, that number seems to shrink with each passing year.

Biodiversity is easily attained on our farm because we are not commercial farmers. Traditionally, Thai family farms were subsistence farms growing the family?’s food supply. The variety of food for a typical family meant diverse plantings. Generally, the plants are mostly local to the area and tend to fit with the local ecology (or at least have been grown locally for so long as to be regarded as ?“native?”).

Our family garden and farm generally have a mixture of foods: bamboo (~ 7 kinds), bananas (~3 different kinds), bitter melon, cabbage, carrots, celery, chilies, chives, cilantro, coconuts, cucumber, dragon fruit, egg plant (Japanese and Thai varieties), garlic (various kinds), green onions, guava, jack fruit, jujube, Kafir lime, lettuce (various kinds), lemons, lemon grass, longan, mangoes (various kinds), papayas, pineapple, potatoes (various kinds),pumpkin, rice, sesame, star fruit, sweet potatoes (various kinds), sunflowers, tomatoes (beef steak, Romano, cherry varieties), watermelon, wood apple, and various Thai herbs among others.

We also plant a variety of flowers to support the local pollinators as well as some varieties of flowers to ward off pests. We have some Neem trees on the farm that are used to make a naturally organic pest repellant if and when it is necessary to spray for some insect pests. The protected forest adjacent to the farm is also a natural habitat for many local pollinators when our fields are fallow.

The animals we have include chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, tilapia, 2 varieties of catfish, and assorted local fresh water fishes, eels and snails. Northern Thai people also eat a variety of insects (e.g. flying ants, red ant eggs, 3 varieties of crickets, wasp larvae, toe biter beetles, dragon fly larvae, and a bamboo caterpillar among others). Villagers in our area also hunt birds, snakes, and frogs. As you can see, the diet of northern Thai people is a lot closer to the web of life and the local ecology than most city dwellers and westerners.

Water is critical to life. Our 3 fish ponds contribute to the diversity of life on the farm. In past newsletters, we have featured a dazzling array of butterflies, dragon flies, damsel flies, different native stingless bees, grasshoppers, and other insects in the vicinity of our ponds. Our integrated pest management utilizes this diversity with our animal husbandry. For example, termites, grasshoppers, and crickets are food for the chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, and fish (as reported in past farm update reports). The ducks and geese eat snails. The chickens and turkeys eat grasshoppers. The geese also graze on grass and serve as lawn mowers for some parts of the farm. At certain times of the year flying ants and termites abound. This is when we put lights over the fish ponds to attract these insects. As they swarm around the lights, many fall into the fish ponds to the great delight of the fish and ducks.

We use butterflies as a key indicator to monitor toxicity on the farm. Butterflies are very sensitive to pesticides. We are not expert entomologists, but the diversity and number butterflies assures us of the low level of toxins on the farm. (In previous farm update reports, we published photos of 25 different butterflies and moths seen on the farm.)

Human knowledge is very limited in contrast to the great diversity found in nature. There are multitudes of species that are totally unknown to us and many ?“discoveries?” that have yet to be cataloged. We make good use of the adjacent forest as a bio-resource for the farm. A first big step is to protect local pollinators. Native stingless bees forage over a much larger area than commercial bees (often the European honeybee, Apis mellifera). One of the local stingless bees is the primary pollinator for our Longan orchard. Research revealed that native bee species forage over much larger areas to find food than does the domesticated European honey bee. This means that farmers must feed the domesticated bees in the off season.

In contrast to the RTC-TH, many other farmers in our area lean toward commercial agriculture. They tend to plant a single cash crop such as corn on all their land. In the dry season, they shift to chilies or other crops. Monoculture tends to create vast fields of a single crop and can be demanding on the soil. This also presents a massive target to attract insect pests.

Mixed plantings or intercropping practiced on our farm. A good example is the planting effort along the main driveway to the farm. The road is a necessity to access the farm. As you enter the farm, the land on the left drops steeply to the rice paddies. The slope is difficult to farm and soil erosion was a problem for the road. A mixture of lemon grass, mango trees, and flowers were planted on this side of the road. The right side of the road slopes upward to the pasture. Due to the slope, the road cut into the land creating a potential soil erosion problem. So a buffer zone of mixed plantings of flowers, papaya, and mango trees was created. In this way, productive plantings were used to anchor the soil with flowers for pollinators reducing the soil erosion potential along the driveway. Mulch was applied between the plantings to protect any bare soil and to reduce the need for weeding.

Another advantage of intercropping is avoiding mass concentrations of any one kind of crop or plant. This ?“smaller?” target also means smaller concentrations of insect pests. Plants that attract beneficial insects to this mix also helps keep a resident ?“army?” of guards close at hand. So while no system is 100% perfect, we strive to come to a closer balance while avoiding the use of synthetic chemicals on the farm. In the end, we are willing to tolerate some insect pests so long as they don?’t get out of control. After all, remember, those same insect pests are food for some of our farm animals.

Studies reveal that areas with biodiversity recover faster from wildfires and similar types of natural disasters. Research in the Great Plains of the US revealed that experimental plots of planted pasture grasses did not recover from prairie fires as quickly as protected plots of ?“wild?” grasslands. The biodiversity provides a broader reservoir of seeds and plants with different capabilities and needs. Given a wide range of conditions, this broader resource base has a better chance to recover. B.U.G.S. positions a family farm for sustainability through good and not so good times.

Historically, for farmers, some years are better than others. Most farm families seem to be on an economic roller coaster; sometimes up, sometimes down. But there is always seems to be lingering debt. However, almost every family will have a garden (either at home or at their farm) where they grow some food for the family. Many families also have some chickens, ducks, and a pig or a cow. So while they tend toward commercial farming, they still have retained some connection to their subsistence farming roots and produce some of the family?’s food. We try to minimize the roller coaster economic path and opt for more stability with a no debt or a very minimum amount of debt. Admittedly we won?’t get rich doing this, but we avoid poverty or an endless cycle of poverty.

[Note: This was a brief description of BUGS. For the lessons to be meaningful, they are all adapted to local site conditions prior to training. A typical scenario for off-farm training involves time to pre-view the area for the training (about ?½ to 1 day prior to the training). This lets us tailor the lessons to be as site specific as possible. Relevance is critical to making the lessons useful. Thus, there isn?’t a ?“standard?” lesson booklet as such. Included with the training is the ?“teach back?” model. This encourages the participants to share the knowledge with others, just as we are freely sharing our knowledge with them. Payment for the training consists of covering our costs to get to and from the training site, and room/board for the duration of the training. Although we are not a formal / legal non-profit organization, we conduct ourselves in that manner. We are not doing this to make a profit. This is primarily a ?“give back to the community?” activity.

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