Written by Colleen Smith, Cornell University
After returning to Chiang Mai last night, we settled back into the city life with a dinner out at an American style restaurant. This morning we were up and ready for another day of learning about Thai agriculture. Our first stop was to the Office of Agriculture Research and Development Region 1. This center is one of eight regional offices in the northern Chiang Mai province of Thailand. The office has seven key responsibilities to the agriculturalists of the region. Firstly, they conduct plant research and development projects on crops that are grown in the area including fruits such as longan, litchi, tangerine, mango and pummelo as well as coffee, potato and cabbage. Secondly, they test agricultural technology that could be compatible with the climate and conditions in hopes to find useful solutions for farmers to implement in the field. Next, they provide testing and certifications of inputs including soil, water, fertilizers and chemicals. Additionally, they seek to distribute agricultural information to extension officers, farmers and private companies. Lastly, they represent the Department of Agriculture and work closely with other regional offices. Currently, the center has 22 work plans, 33 projects and 106 experiments underway.
This office is also responsible for certifying and monitoring post harvest handling and packaging facilities. They seek to ensure that these operations are safe and in accordance with Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP). GMP establishes standards for cleanliness, quality control, labeling, storage and record keeping. If a packing house is compliant with these conditions, they meet the minimum requirements for export. However, most importing countries require additional, more stringent approval. Some of the challenges facing Thai agriculture,as identified by the director of this center, are relaying the learnings of research through extension to the farmer, a decrease in the amount of Thai students wanting to study agriculture and a lack accurate record keeping.
After this insightful stop, we went to visit the Royal Project Produce Center.. There are 7 groups of products that are packaged through the facility: vegetables, herbs, fruits, flowers, grains, fish and livestock, and processed foods. All the food that is packaged there comes from farmers who work through the Royal Project. The Royal Project determines what is grown each year and distributes seeds to the farmers. The farmers then grow the produce organically, harvest the crop and deliver it to collection centers. From there, the Royal Project collects the produce for packaging. The farmer will generally be paid for the crop within three days. The product undergoes strict testing for pesticide and chemical residue. If the traces are found, the farmer will not be paid and the product is destroyed. Every product will have a corresponding barcode to ensure trace-ability back to the exact farm which it was produced. If a new farmer wishes to join the Royal Project, they undergo a testing of their soil and water and if residual chemicals are found in the ground, they will have to plant a grass for a few years in order to wait for the chemicals to be removed from the soil. This grass is harvested for weaving but will not yield the same margin as vegetables for consumption will. The waste from the packing plant is sold to livestock producers as a byproduct feed. This was a great stop to expand our knowledge of the Royal Project’s vertical integration.
Lastly, we stopped at Raming Tea company, the oldest and largest tea producer in Thailand. This company has been in business since 1941 and they currently produce on 1200 hectares of mountain land in the Chiang Mai region. The tea is harvested by experienced hill-tribe pluckers. This company is USDA organic certified and exported 20 tons to the USA in 2015. Vietnam is the biggest competitor in this area of the world. They are able to export 900,000 tons/ year whereas Thailand exports about 50,000tons. Raming strives to produce high quality organic teas and utilizes both internal and external marketing approaches. It was great to see another example of large scale agribusiness in Thailand.
All in all, today was a fun, insightful day. Thank you for reading about our adventures!