Sunday, December 16, 2007

Growing interest in farming native rice

General News - Monday December 17, 2007

Bangkok Post

Growing interest in farming native rice

Northeast farmers playing leading role


Election candidates in the Northeast lack knowledge of native rice varieties grown by Isan farmers. They promote rice species which rely heavily on chemical fertiliser, which plunge poor farmers into debt, say farmer representatives.

''I cannot put my faith in any local politicians,'' said Pongpayak Putha, 35, a farmer from Tha Sala village in Khuang Nai district of Ubon Ratchathani.

''At the election, I will again tick the 'no vote' box as politicians never pay attention to farmers' problems.

''One former MP running this time is the owner of a construction firm. He focuses mainly on construction projects. Another candidate is a businessman keen on stock investments. They may not know what native rice species are, never mind how to grow rice.''

Mr Pongpayak is a successful farmer who grows native rice species using organic farming methods. He is also a soil expert and a volunteer with the Land Development Department.

He shares his knowledge about organic farming and organic fertiliser production with other farmers.

His father was a village head and political canvasser, but he did not follow in his footsteps.

He was approached by several parties to work as a canvasser, but turned them down.

He said he felt pained when he heard that villagers were paid 300-500 baht for their votes.

Buppa Sarnrat, 58, a pioneer of native rice planting in the Northeast, agreed that indigenous rice species were better than Hom Mali. The native species were resistant to disease and did not rely on chemical fertiliser, he said.

He is a scholar in organic farming in Selaphum district in Roi Et province, one of the provinces in the Thung Kula Rong Hai area, the country's major sources of Hom Mali rice.

He said politicians and state agencies kept telling farmers to grow Hom Mali rice as it could fetch high prices. However, those politicians were wrong, he said.

Farmers had to use more chemical fertiliser when growing Hom Mali rice and prices were not so high.

He discovered that indigenous rice species ''Somalee'' and ''Hom Mali Dam'' produce a more fragrant smell than Hom Mali rice. These native species were of high quality and the grains do not break easily. Some say Hom Mali Dam rice reduces high blood pressure, he said.

He said native rice farming was a form of sustainable farming and a way out for farmers in debt.

Now many northeastern farmers are interested in growing native species. They had sought rice grains from him for breeding. Some travelled from the North to ask him for rice grains to plant.

Mr Buppa and Mr Pongpayak are members of the Alternative Agriculture Network in Maha Sarakham province. The network has more than 200 farmers who are members who exchange views, experiences and native rice grains during a traditional ceremony held annually after the rice harvesting season.

Surasom Krisanajutha, an academic from Ubon Ratchathani University, said no parties had given any importance to rice farming in the Northeast.

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