Mindful Markets Asia Forum 2016

30 August – 1 September 2016, Srinakharinwirot University (SWU)

Keynote presentation

“Organics for System Change: Re-inventing Tradition” by Mathew John, India

Mathew John took us back in time reminding us of the organic farming practiced since ancient times – going back 4000 years. Chemical farming was only introduced at a commercial scale in the late 1900s/ early 20th century.He said that far too often, organic farming is defined in terms of what it is not like “no use of chemicals” – we risk to getting `lost’ in defining ourselves. In the beginning chemical food systems seemed progressive and modern. But a new generation of people who established Organic Agriculture concepts refused to see it as ‘normal.’ These pioneers of the Organic Food movement included the likes of Sir Albert Howard, Rudolf Steiner and Rachel Carson. In the 1970s, a new generation started IFOAM, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement comprising organic business (wholesale and retail), farmers and farmers groups,consumer associations and academic groups as well as independent researchers and consultants. They ‘codified’ Organic Agriculture as they needed to create an identity to distinguish organic from chemical agriculture.  It led to the introduction of standards &3rd party certification systems originally as self-regulation but gradually overseen by governments. IFOAM Standards became the benchmark worldwide. It is the democratic IFOAM assemblee who formulates the standards. Mathew John suggested that we need to adopt a new strategy-“Organic 3.0.”

An important aspect modern day challenges addressed by the Organic Food System movement, according to Mathew John in his presentation was inclusiveness. He suggested apart from 3rd party certification Organic Movement needs to integrate Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS). This often leads to“organic” + standards. IFOAM already accepts PGS but government regulators are skeptical or want to see it controlled.

As a conclusion Mathew John said that System change requires us to change from the old norm to a new system.

Panel Discussion: “Social Enterprise and System Change”

Successful Social Enterprise Model in Thailand, Abhaibhubejhr Herbal Medicine Hospital by Supaporn Pitiporn

Dr. Supaporn Pitiporn told the participants the story of a long established example of a social enterprise, which began as a small public hospital. It now comprises of a combination of traditional medicine hospital with modern scientific approach and a foundation running multiple socially relevant projects. Abhaibhubejhr social enterprise generates profit from the sales of the herbal formulations and various other sources. The main areas of work of the Abhaibhubejhr foundation include empowerment of Thai traditional wisdom, in-hospital cultural activities, social and community development.Herbal product development principles include herb efficacy and safety. Data are supported by modern research based on long term use in Thailand, and by  traditional knowledge. Abhaibhubejhr uses only organic raw materials. Most herbs come from the community Ban Dong Bang, 13 km from the hospital. The organic farms of the Ban Dong Bang cooperative meet IFOAM standards for organic agriculture and harvesting.

Herbs do not have patents which leads to lower cost and higher self-reliance. But it means less interest in research on the herbs from the corporations. Abhaibhubejhr Hospital fills this research gap.They study over 2000 species of medicinal plants. The hospital shows that we can strengthen the local economy by helping communities to turn food, medicinal herbs and drinks into sellable products.

Emerging Social Enterprise in China, Establishment of an Alternative Sustainable Agricultural Technical System by Hao Guan-hui

Hao Guan-hui gave an overview of the situation in China. He mentioned chemical abuse by ‘green revolution’ methods, disappearance of traditional agriculture’s promotional system, inadequate support to eco-peasants, China’s eco-farming training coming mainly from foreign technical systems, the gap between universities, eco-farming research and farmers interested in eco farming.He started the establishment of an alternative sustainable agricultural technical system through education,research and training.

  • EDUCATION is done via a magazine, a half-a-year publication that has free subscribtion. Eco-farmers can learn this way about cases and experiences collected from other eco-farming practitioners. Now around 1000 subcribers receive the magazine. Internet media WeChat helps around 1,700 subscribers to interact. Lectures are organized for farmers and community members. The internet database has content related sustainable technology, principles and concepts, cases and successful experiences of national eco-peasants, introduction to features of sustainable agricultural related facilities and market channel recommendations, etc.Participants include agricultural experts, scholars, home-returning youngsters,local experts, sustainable agricultural practitioners, volunteers, etc.Operation of the data base involves network co-building, organization filtering, collective wisdom and experience sharing to promote the development of sustainable agriculture.
  • The RESEARCH part of the project aims to establish participatory technical research system by small farm experimental stations and improve scientific research abilities through cooperation with colleges and universities. Research Base is Zanjia Farm, Dao Xiang Nan Huan eco-rice cooperative, Liang Liang Farm in Si Chuan. Various training camps are held. TRAINING includes network building through communication and Farmer-to-Farmer Exchange.There were 2 Exchange Meetings of Home-returning Youngsters.
    Future plans are to establish a national eco-farms’ technical database for “eco-farming” which is basically the same as organic, but easier for regulation; to accelerate the transformation of research results through interface with universities’ eco-agricultural technology research systems;improve technology exchange platforms of sustainable agriculture; establish credible advocacy for participatory guarantee system (PGS).

Food Systems, Small Scale Farmers’ Movement and Advocacy, Indonesia by Kartini Samon, GRAIN

Kartini spokeof “food system, small scale farmers movement and advocacy”. First she pointed out the problems such as the ‘green revolution’which resulted in more hunger and more poverty; farmers losing land to “Big Agro”. Data are collected on 491 land deals covering over 30 million hectares spanning 78 countries (some of the poorest). (Source: GRAIN farmland grab deals 2016). And 44-57% GHG emissions come from unsustainable food systems.

Kartini suggested the ‘Food Sovereignty’ solution.It consists of “5 Steps to cool the planet and feed its people”. These steps are: 1. take care of the soil, 2. natural farming, no chemicals, 3. cut the food miles and influence of big corporations, 4. focus on fresh food, 5. give the land back to the small farmers and stop the mega plantations. Forget the false solutions and focus on what works.

She said that NGO’s can complement the system, but the trend is to decrease the development funds because the corporations are believed to be more effective in the funds use. Corporations often use ‘food security’ as a (false) argument to make their case. ‘Food security’ is best served by ‘food sovereignty’: networks of networks of small-scale farmers and mindful consumers. Kartini’s conclusion was that Social Entrepreneurs contribute significantly to the solution as they are self-employed and create the needed change.

Panel Discussion: “Social Enterprise and Consumer Movement”

Organics to School in Japan by Shoji Mizuno and Ishiwata Toshihisa, MOA Japan

Shoji Mizuno told the forum participants about the MOA Experimental farm and Intergrative clinic in Japan. The main activities of the farm include research and development in the areas of food, medicine and agro practices including husbandry. They conduct kid’s camps, training courses and organise visits by farmers, academics, government. The Organic Agroculture Act in Japan made funding possible and now MOA Organic Clubs are open all over the country to promote natural farming, trustable food source, preservation of culture and traditions, and farmers knowledge exchange.

Ishiwata Toshihisa is a senior natural farming expert. In his presentation he showed how he encourages young farmers, speaks at schools, organizes kids’ activities (rice, potato, orange, kiwi and daikon farming), does consumer education (explains for example that ugly vegetables are still valuable).

An interesting example is Odawara City. The city has a population of 200 000. It is a member of MOA since 2010. The MOA shop and delivery service reaches out to many citizens. The Governor’s daughter was diagnosed with leukemia and it triggered his interest in organics. His daughter recovered. He has been promoting organic agriculture ever since.

Community Livelihood in Hong Kong by Janis Fan Pui-ying and Ngai Yin (Tin Zi Zok Wai Community)

Janis gave the participants a picture of the community they live in, their struggles and aspirations. Tin Zi Zok Wai is a local community economy project located in Tin Shui Wai New Town in the northwestern New Territories of Hong Kong. In 1969, Tin Shui Wai (TSW) was covered by wetland and pools. Now because of the rapid growth of population and in order to fulfill the housing needs it is heavily urbanized. Residents in TSW are mostly low-income families. ‘The Link’ (one of the largest developers in Hong Kong) monopolized the development in TSW. The high transportation fee is an important reason why residents seldom go to another region. The monopolization of shopping malls and food markets in TSW leads to high selling prices of daily commodities (the price in TSW is higher then in well-off regions like Wan Chai!). There is a lack of product choices for the residents.

The Community Economy System is based on the following principles: Care for the earth – Sustainable use of resources. Permaculture Farm (composting of leftovers); Care for the people – Value marginalized labor, Value vs. Price – reduce the cost of organic food; Fair Share – exchange time for products. 10 farming members feed 300-400 other members; Democracy building  –  Rebuilding social relations.

The community leaders explained how the Community Economy System works. For production they use community farms and a food craft platform. Traditional skills are encouraged as well as the use of local agriculture produce via CSA. This system assists marginalized labour through a Sharing Kitchen concept that allows to cut the cost of a fully licensed kitchen required for commercial food production. The community does collective buying of organic product to reduce prices for the members so the low income families can enjoy organic products. Other strategies with the aim to lower the costs of organic food are CSA and Local Bazzar. Hong Kong authorities stopped issuing hawker licenses in 1960s-70s. It led to the lack of affordable goods. Nowadays Tin Shau Bazzar fills the gap and provides assistance to the poor.

A Community Currency concept was created to keep the money in the local community. It can be exchanged for organic veggie, rice, daily necessities. Members earn 30 c.c. (community currency) units for 1 hour they contribute to the community. This system adds value to the marginalized labor. The value of the currency is decided by the members. Janis inspired the participants to look at the resource available to their communities and utilize them for the benefit of the community.

Consumer Power in Thailand

Penwalee Thareejit, Pook Pinto Kao Project, Thailand

Penwalee Thareejit, who is working in the advertising sector, told the forum about her organisation that acts as a matchmaker between the Consumer “Bride” and Producer “Groom” of Rice. They have been doing it for the last 13 years. Now the project involves 41 farms “Grooms” and 4000 consumers “Brides”.

Why did they feel compelled to do something for the organic rice producers and consumers? Thailand is 48th in agro land area in the world but 5th in pesticide use, 4th in herbicide use. It is not a healthy situation that created a Vicious Circle:Chemicals  degrade soil which leads to weaker rice that looses resistance which in turn leads to the need of more chemicals for rice production. As the result farmers’ health deteriorates too.

How do they do it? Tying the knot countrywide. Farmers and consumers become a family. “You never farm alone!”Organic rice means better price for “Grooms”, better health for all, better water quality, soil, better community. Buying directly results in better price for “Brides”.All members who grow over 20 rice varieties are chemical free. Pook Pinto Kao Project ensures strict control under PGS system. The buying is done with the CSA annual subscription. Under 20 kg of rice purchase comes with free home delivery and small fee if over 20 kg.

The communication is done via Email, Facebook: pookpintokao, website, as well as by the farm visits. Celebrity endorsements helped to promote the project.

Panel Discussion: “Social Enterprise and Policy Support”

Social Enterprise and Model of Success in Laos

Nongnut Foppes Ayamuang, Xaobaan Healthy Living Products, Laos

Nongnut Foppes Ayamuang, the founder of the Xaobaan Healthy Living Products, told the participants about her business that aims to improve the quality of life of the locals. Nongnut is Thai, married with a Dutch husband and living in Laos. Xaobaan means “Villager” and this is who participates in their producer group and have the most to gain from the social enterprise. Xaobaan has around a dozen of products ranging from yogurt and sour cream to salad dressing, tomato sauce, fruit juice and jam. They import 100% of the milk from Thailand, after attempts to set up a dairy farm in Laos. Xaobaan Group provides internships for local and international students and volunteers as well as full-time employment for 7 handicapped people in partnership with the Lao Disabled Peoples’ Organization. They invite volunteers with the needed skills.The aim of the social enterprise is not to expand and conquer the bigger market, but to share the successful business model, teach others so they can open their own businesses. Xaobaan promotes the “Made in Laos” concept not only to the tourists of the nearby UNESCO site, but they target the locals as well because tourists normally stay for only 2-3 days and their flow is very seasonal, which does not help to sustain business.

Social Enterprise and Government Support, Cambodia

Bun Siang, Natural Agriculture Products, Cambodia

Despite the title we did not hear much about government support from the presentation of Bun Siang, but learnt instead what passion and dedication of one person can achieve even without support from either government or private sector. She said that all the government initiatives stay on paper because of the lack of funding to implement them. Bun Siang is clearly passionate about poor small farmers although she admits that it is quite hard to help them sell to the mainstream market channels because of inconsistent quality and quantity of their production. So how to succeed? Her personal recipe for the Natural Agriculture Village (NAV) includes willingness to bear losses, risks, limited supply challenges. She learnt to navigate through cheating buyers and producers, when buyers would sometimes steal or don’t pay on time or offer fake banknotes. Another challenge to keep in mind according to Bun Siang is the very limited cash flow in this business model. Despite all the constraints, she believes in her mission, builds trust with the farmers involving them in various activities that allow them to listen to the feedback from the customers. In this way the farmers understand the difficulties of the market better and participate in resolving them in a more engaged manner.Activities include making compost together or doing some promotions. Bun Siang believes in strict quality assurance as an important tool for the development of this model. It involves field monitoring, laboratory test kits procurement,testing for nitrates etc. She started in 2014 with only 1 shop selling the products, now the company expanded to a whopping 42 shops and mobile locations.

Green Business &100% Organic Country of Bhutan

Sangay Rinchen (Farmer Sangay), Happy Green Cooperative, Bhutan

This highly charismatic farmer told his story of a happy and crazy life journey. Farmer Sangay professed to be just a stupid farmer and happy to be one! Sangay says: “I am a farmer who is a story teller! We sell stories, not chips.” He is also a singer (later he performed on the stage) and an actor who starred in a documentary film about farmers’ life. On one of his slides the caption read “WORLD of stupid farmers, Potato harvesting in Bhutan”. He talked of the ways his cooperative engages the Bhutanese youth and shows them that as a member of the farmer cooperative they can do what they want (sleep all day,join the coop, speak for the group etc.) what makes them happy, and that it is sexy to be a farmer. The cooperative even pays the youth a year’s salary without asking them to do anything, just enjoy country life and discover what brings them true satisfaction in life. Happy Green Cooperative, a people centered group, works with 320 families of farmers, which are around 1,000 people. They live at various altitudes (read “climates”) and it gives the needed consistency and versatility to the supply end of the business. The group believes in a Holistic Economy,which comprises of a Circular Economy based on 3E’s: Engagement, Enrichment and Empowerment.

Farmer Sangay shared lessons learned and experiences of the Happy Green journey:

  1. Each life is precious and beautiful
  2. Farming is the Mother of Culture
  3. Understand and Accept (stupidity, weakness, failures, etc.)
  4. Microcosm idea with Macro level journey view
  5. Change is the only permanent thing

Community SE Model and Local Government Administration

Nawee Nakwatchara, Grassroots Innovation Network & Company (GIC), Thailand Nawee Nakwatchara explained that the goal of the GIC is “Organic Farming Services for Small-Scale Farmers”. In the current situation the Thai farmer has little to no budget, is far from seeds and natural fertilizers, lacks confidence and does not know where to sell. Nawee told the forum that GIC helps to set up Social Contract Organic Farming via credit for organics input. It provides local distribution systems, field coaching and certification as well as price guarantee. The net profit of GIC is split in half: 50% is reinvested to the SE and the second 50% is invested in community research and development. They believe in “innovation led development”. GIC created Social Index Assessment, which includes Income/Expenses balance, Health, Rural Happiness and Environmental parameters.Another indicator they use is Social Return on Investment (SROI) where each baht of the Grassroots Innovation Investment generates 2.58 baht of Social Return. Impact of the programme is impressive: 45% cost reduction, 34% income increase, farmers’ health is up 14%, toxic farmland decreases by 800 rais/ year and the happiness goes up by 9%. (Source: SROI research report 2011 by Thammasat University and Thai Social Enterprise Office).

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