Rural Training Center, Thailand (RTC-Thailand)

Happy Chinese New Year of the Pig!

Feb 15, 2007

Happy New Year of the Pig! If 2007 didn?’t get off to a good start for you, perhaps you will have better luck with celebrating the upcoming Chinese New Year of the Pig (4704).

New Year is a good time to reflect on the past year?’s activities. After all, change over time is one way to assess progress. The year 2006 had its ups and downs for the RTC-TH. The indirect impact of the flooding in Nan took its toll on plans and operations with the Demonstration Farm. It was a study in how natural disruptions, such as a flood, bring a mixed bag of problems and blessings.

Floods are perceived as disasters due to the economic damage. But this is a human perspective that is one-sided. Ecologically, flood damage to human property is often the result of human interference and disruption of natural conditions. Many are now coming to realize the major impact of agriculture to the natural watershed and wetlands. The loss of watershed and wetlands to the plow greatly reduced the capacity of the land to retain the heavy rainfall that hit the region. The increased runoff due to the loss of these water retaining systems meant rivers had to take the load. Unfortunately, the increased flow caused on dam to fail. The catastrophic failure released a cascade of water that struck Thawangpha District (about 4-5 km from Ban Na Fa) at about 0430 hrs in the morning. Most residents were caught in bed, unaware of the sudden flood.

Ban Na Fa (location of the RTC-Th demonstration farm) was not flooded. But Thawangpha is the main service center for the village. The resulting infrastructure losses quickly escalated prices of goods and services. In many cases, water had reached the second floors of buildings along the river. The higher prices impacted the already tight operating budget for the demonstration farm. Some of the farm products (e.g. pigs) began to command higher prices. While that may seem good, remember, the key goal for the RTC-TH is self-sufficiency and sustainability. Selling off your produce for short-term economic gain is neither self-sufficient nor sustainable. However, the rising costs of farm operations forced the pre-mature sale of livestock as feed costs and supplies became critical issues. Unfortunately, we had not gotten to the point of being self-sufficient in livestock feed to ride out the flood and its economic aftermath.

The most positive turn of events from the flood experience was a heightened awareness of emergency preparedness, and the high degree of interconnectedness and detail needed to plan the move to self-sufficiency and sustainability. The farm operations need to be carefully studied and understood in terms of the inter-dependencies between the various units. While total self-sufficiency may be an impossible dream, striving to be less dependent on off-farm sources of feed has definite advantages. So, the New Year of the Pig will bring more discussion and planning to better coordinate the various farm operations. More networking must be done to build off-farm connections for future barter / sales / purchases of farm goods and supplies.

Plans are moving toward formalizing the RTC-TH demonstration farm?’s IFS program (Independent Fuel Systems). A center piece of the plan is the bio-diesel plans. This will provide the main stay energy source for the demonstration farm. Previous bio-gas plans are on the back burner do to the lack of livestock to sufficiently produce the energy needed for farm operations. Bamboo charcoal is still an alternative fuel plan. Solar PV (Photo voltaic) is also included as a bottom-line emergency battery charging.

Weather station plans have been scaled back. The dream Visala system was dropped when financial backing from potential project funders failed to materialize. The potential backers cited financial impact of the floods and slow economy as the reasons. The fall back plan is to use weather station equipment upgraded from a test location. This may be a year away from implementation.

Rain water harvesting is still a top focus for the RTC-TH planning team. A phased approach is being considered due to the lack of on-site weather data. However, the events leading up to the recent flood in Thawangpha has made more area residents aware of the changing monsoon weather patterns.

The high point leading up to the Chinese New Year was the completion of the winter 2007 REEEPP volunteer trip. (See the project summary report in the PDF section of this website.) Many of the 2007 volunteers were returnees from the summer 2005 REEEPP trip. They noticed a big improvement in the student?’s willingness to speak English in the 1 ?½ yrs that elapsed. The enthusiasm for English learning had grown. REEEPP is making a difference in the lives of the students, teachers, and host families of Ban Na Fa?…and it is spreading to the rest of the village. During the follow-up visit, even villagers not involved with the project would greet RTC-TH coordinators with various English from the one word ?“Hello?” to questions such as ?“Where you going??” This is what really makes volunteering for REEEPP worthwhile. You can see your effort making a difference in daily lives of the people.

Happy New Year and best wishes to everyone! Thanks for your continued interest and support for REEEPP and for the RTC-TH!

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