Rural Training Center, Thailand (RTC-Thailand)

RTC-TH Programs: S.A.P.

Apr 02, 2010

S.A.P. (Sustainable Agricultural Practices) was created as an umbrella for various lessons created to meet the needs of small rural farms. In the beginning, we created lessons to follow SOS and SOW such as making compost, ?“growing?” soil (WORMS), biodiversity/integrated pest management (BUGS), etc. (which have be featured in past articles. After while, the number of programs began to mushroom, and we paused to step back and saw the need to aggregate the numerous programs under an over arching theme. Sustainable Agricultural Practices seemed the obvious title. So, subsequent lessons are lumped under the SAP logo rather to create more program titles. In other words, SAP is the ?“Miscellaneous Others?” category; it is also our hedge to address new lesson needs that may arise in the future. And it was also a way out of a challenge to create new program titles with catchy titles that fit with key words directly related to our work at the basic level. [Note: Previous programs with logos that have been re-grouped under SAP are: COMPOST, WORMS, BUGS, IFS, GRASS, and GROW.]. The previous activities retain their ?“logo?” status to for continuity with past trainees and reduce possible confusion. We rely on referrals from trainees, and some of them may not be in regular contact. So after some time, we might be contacted by trainees from the distant past who may not know about SAP but refer to an older program name.

There are many aspects to ?“sustainability?” of small rural family farms. SAP lessons began by addressing ways to improve farm resources (e.g. soil, water, ecological balance) using low-cost methods to minimize off-farm expenses. The idea / hope was and is the reduction of off-farm costs reduces the need to borrow money for farm operations. The savings could then be used to pay down existing debt. We all know that debt has a tendency to grow faster than the ability to repay. It is easy to see that many farmers are soon overwhelmed by debt. This can lead to rash decisions which may not be in the best interest of the family. Frustration and discouragement can also lead to alcoholism and drug abuse that further drains the family funds, reduces farm work capacity, and leads to family discord, disruption, and disintegration. As this happens to more and more families in an area, the community begins to decline.

SAP focuses on the rural family farm as the basic unit. Once a number of neighboring family farms are effectively self-sufficient and sustainable, sustainability program elements expand to the community level. For example, making compost for the family garden or farm improves the soil and water resources (as pointed out in the articles on SOS and SOW). Additional benefits to composting (e.g. reduced amounts of trash, and if ?“trash?” materials normally burned are composted, reduced air pollution) could be attained at the community level. For example, community-made compost could be sold with proceeds going to the village temple or to a fund for the elderly, disabled, or others with special needs. This action of social responsibility adds to the building and maintaining a sense of community. This approach is wholly consistent with the King?’s Theory of the self-sufficient economy.

This is all compatible with the King?’s Theory of the Self-sufficiency Economy. The first stage is for individual family farms to become self-sufficient. But the self-sufficiency isn?’t total separation or independence from society. It is a balance self-sufficiency modified by the situation of each family. Barter and exchange between families can still take place. You don?’t have to grow everything to eat by yourself. You could barter with others for eggs if you don?’t have chickens. So there is reasonable flexibility in the King?’s approach.

We have received some concerned criticism that our focus on the self-sufficiency and sustainability of small rural family farms do little to provide food for a nation. This may be true from the basic aspect of supply and demand. But consider this point: In the US, it is estimated that less than 3% of the total work force is involved in primary agricultural production. In contrast, the number in Thailand is somewhere between 60-70%. Thus, during the Thai economic downturn in the late 1990?’s, many displaced urban workers were able to return to a family farm. While they may not have been gainfully employed on the family farm, they were able to eat. We are not sure where the displaced / unemployed people in the US can go to eat when they run out of money to buy food. The US safety net of unemployment insurance and food stamps is being stretched to the limit. Public funding sources are also under severe strain as the US national debt seems headed for the moon and beyond.

The King?’s Theory addresses the national food supply this way. When a small self-sufficient farm has a surplus, that surplus can be bartered for other things the family needs. If enough self-sufficient farmers produce adequate surpluses, they should form cooperatives to sell their surplus to businesses. This is similar to the Grange and similar farm cooperatives in US history. If an individual farmer tries to sell surpluses to a business, there may not be enough produce sold to justify the cost of doing business. But if a number of farmers in the same area combine their surpluses, it may be large enough to make it worthwhile for a big business to engage in commerce. It is easier for a large business to do one transaction with a cooperative rather than to deal with many individual small farmers. This is how the King?’s Theory integrates small self-sufficient farm produce into the national food supply.

As we developed the various SAP lessons it became clear that small rural farmers needed guidance to put it all together. In other words, the various SAP programs were detailed and focused on specific farm resources. All of this data needed to be managed to attain optimum value. This gave rise to FARMS (Family Administered Resources Management System---which will be described in a separate article). We originally envisioned this to support SOIL (Save Our Individual Livelihoods---another future article). Another offshoot from SAP was FUNDS (Farming Under No Debt System?—yes, you guessed it, another future article). [Note: These two programs were originally developed at the same level as SOS, SOW, etc. But during a recent review, they were realigned to a different level in the program hierarchy (see the previously published PDF article ?“2009 RTC-TH Logos Summary?”).

FARMS was created to focus of how to get optimum value out of the data obtained from the various field measurement programs (e.g. SOS, SOW, GROW, etc.). And clearly all of this helped small rural farm families to better survive and to eat by not becoming a commercial farm operation. The desired outcome is to keep small rural farms viable for the next generation and onward committed stewardship of the family farm. The aim was clearly ecological and social sustainability. But the harsh reality is that no matter how self-sufficient you become, you still need some cash to function in society.

This led us to develop a SAP program called FUNDS (Farming Under a No Debt System) which we saw as the financial focus to support FARMS (which then gives us the way to achieve SOIL (Save Our Individual Livelihoods).

So as you can see, using the Geographic Systems Model makes is see the whole system of small rural family farms in terms of the physical environmental conditions, and the cultural/social/economic conditions. Thus, all RTC-TH programs integrate with each other directly and indirectly. SAP has proven to be a good incubator and creative lab for RTC-TH programs. We started off with some clear ideas of programs to undertake critical on-farm environmental issues related to self-sufficiency and sustainability. Later, topics would come up that didn?’t quite fit into one of our existing ?“categories?”. It became clear we needed a ?“Miscellaneous Others?” for the flexibility to take off in new directions. SAP is and will continue to be our effective ?“Miscellaneous Others?” category.

[Note: This was a brief description of SAP. 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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