My name is Sian Tawong and
I am the Director for the Nong Sai School. Nong Sai is a village about
100 kilometers from Khon Kaen, Thailand. In addition to the regular
school curriculum, we teach 5th and 6th grade kids about sustainable
agriculture for several hours every week.
learn about Sustainable Agriculture with Sian Tawong by
making natural, liquid fertilizer
With PLAN's help and working with local farmers, we have turned the
farms around the school into model farms. The kids learn about nature,
ecology and farming by actually working with local farmers on the
farms. This is a living classroom where everyone learns from nature.
These model farms are an alternative to 'modern' forms of agriculture,
which have become almost universal in Thailand.
'Modern' Agriculture in Thailand
'Modern' agriculture here in Thailand strives to produce high yields
of single crops such as rice, sugar and corn. Forest land is cleared
to make room for large fields. Motorized farm machinery, chemical
fertilizers and pesticides are all employed to increase production.
These techniques do initially boost yields and their short-term success
has contributed to their wide spread use.
However, these practices
are disastrous to fragile local ecologies. As the forests disappear
so do their bounty of fruit trees, edible and medicinal plants and
insects and other animals, which are important local food sources.
| Farmers buy
or rent motorized farm equipment to care for both larger
and in some cases even small fields. This is due to:
- The modern
value system of consumerism i.e. "consuming"
- More than
half of the family members have migrated to far away
industrial and commercial areas to work - causing
labor shortages for farming. Also, because they are
shorthanded, they cannot keep buffaloes for farming
which require daily caring.
pasture land (public and private) for buffaloes or
Pesticides become less effective as pests develop immunities to their
poisons. More and different pesticides are needed. Pesticides along
with chemical fertilizers pollute local water supplies. This is not
only a health threat to humans but also kills fish and other aquatic
life, which are also important food sources.
Farmers have become less self-reliant. They must buy motorized farm
equipment, petrol, fertilizers and pesticides. They also have to purchase
herbs, fruit, fish, insects, etc. they used to get for free from the
forest. Overall, they are worse off than before modernization.
A Better Way of Farming: Permaculture
For some years now, small groups of Permaculture farms have been a
successful alternative to 'modern' agricultural practices in this
area. However, Permaculture farming is just starting with our model
farms in the village of Nong Sai.
Permaculture is a term coined in 1978 by Bill Morrison, an Australian
ecologist, to refer to a sustainable way of farming where people and
nature support one another.
woman farmer (left), Sian Tawong and Suphot Namliwan (a
member of the sustainable agriculture group who helps
teach the children) show off a nice pumpkin, growing among
Permaculture is a philosophy and an approach rather than a predefined
set of farming practices. We watch the natural local ecosystem to
learn how to live and produce food in harmony with nature. We also
utilize techniques developed by older Permaculture farms in this area
and learn from traditional farming practices. We are constantly experimenting
with new ideas and improving our methods.
We grow a diversity of plants together, instead of large fields of
a single crop. Banana, coconut, mango and other trees grow together
along with herbs and vegetables planted in between. This is a more
efficient way to use the land and is also how plants grow in nature.
- Water is conserved since run off from one plant is utilized
- Food is produced throughout the year rather than one large harvest.
- Space around a maturing plant is utilized. For instance, coconut
trees take many years to grow large enough to bear fruit. Several
generations of banana trees can grow around the coconut tree and
produce fruit during this time.
- Plants such as Sweet Lemon Grass are grown because insects do
not like their smell. They act as a natural pesticide for the
- Watering and fertilizing are easier to do in a compact space
so it also conserves the farmer's energy.
diluting a batch of Grow Water
We do not use any chemical pesticides or fertilizers. Instead we use
an organic, locally produced, liquid fertilizer, known as Grow Water.
It is made by mixing a variety of local, ground up, plants with sugar,
water and microorganisms from a previous batch of the fertilizer.
The mixture is allowed to ferment for seven days, becoming a molasses-like
fertilizer. Grow Water can then be diluted with water and used for
a variety of purposes including fertilizing, grafting plants and repelling
Of course rice is an important staple here. We prepare the soil for
rice paddies by growing a type of bean plant in the paddy during the
off-season. The bean plants are then plowed into the soil before the
rice is planted to add nitrogen and humus to the field.
Less Work for the Farmer
Sustainability also requires the conservation of the farmer's energy.
We plant trees and vegetables in a circle around a compost pit. Discarded
plant matter is placed in the compost pit. Grow Water is sprinkled
on the dead plant matter to encourage decomposition. These compost
pits are referred to as Fertilizer Banks because they are a reservoir
of nutrients for the crops. The trees send roots under the Fertilizer
Bank and make 'withdrawals' directly. It is easy for the farmer to
fertilize vegetables because the Fertilizer Bank is right next to
ready for new crops to be planted on their banks
Another local technique is to plant crops around small fishponds.
We contour the land into mounds and pits. The pits are then lined
with plastic sheets. Rain or water pumped from nearby reservoirs turns
the pits into small ponds and Grow Water is added to these ponds to
encourage algae growth. Baby fish are put into the ponds to grow into
a delicious food source. A variety of plants are grown on the mounds.
The nutrient rich pond water is used to water the plant, conserving
human energy by its close proximity to the plants. After the growing
season, the mud on the bottom of the pond is used to enrich the soil.
A Better Life
Our farms are quite self-sufficient which is also important to sustainability.
There is very little we need to buy. We are even able to generate
income by selling surplus fruit, vegetables and fish.
It is very satisfying to work with the people of Nong Sai developing
a better way to grow food. Hopefully, the children, who are learning
the long-term benefits of sustainable agriculture, will spread the
news in their own village, to villages throughout Thailand and the
It is very difficult to persuade a farmer to change their agricultural
practices because it is their livelihood. They must learn about and
see a better alternative in practice over a long period of time to
be convinced. This requires sustainable community involvement. Institutions
must be formed, such as local committees, which are dedicated to learning,
implementing and teaching the new agricultural practices.
is the best teacher.
on the lotus leaves above)
See More Photos from Nong Sai village