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Thailand has been hit by one of the worst droughts in decades - with devastating effects on farmers. However, some small organic farms demonstrate that the key to surviving future droughts could be to embrace diversity.
By creating extensive ponds, the Chum Chon Ton Nam Nan Highland-Swamp-Field farm managed to survive the drought without losing all its crops.
One enterprise in Nan province has managed to if not prosper during the drought, then at least survive: the Chum Chon Ton Nam Nan Highland Swamp Field farm. According to its 55-year-old founder and proprietor Kul Punyawong, the farm continues to thrive primarily due to one simple thing: diversity.
Situated in an area dominated by industrial monoculture where fields of parched corn now abound, Punyawong's farm produces a variety of crops, and numerous fruits including banana and durian.
Teams of Thai and foreign volunteers and students can be found diligently hoeing and digging in streams and fields. The farm functions as an eco-friendly farming learning center, teaching what Punyawong refers to as "new theory" farming, which has many similarities with permaculture.
The farm eschews the use of pesticides and focuses on crop rotation and diversity as a model for surviving further extreme weather events caused by climate change.
Redesigning the landscape
The first thing Punyawong did was to redesign the entire landscape. She planted trees to provide shade and protect the soil, thus reducing the evaporation of water. These trees also enriched the soil and prevented soil erosion.
She also planted a more diverse mix of native plants, and the soil is now able to store water better. Furthermore, Punyawong created extensive ponds to store rainwater.
Both Thai and international volunteers and students work at the Chum Chon Ton Nam Nan Highland-Swamp-Field farm
Kwan and his colleagues say that this El Nino has been the worst in living memory - not just in Thailand, but also in neighboring Vietnam and Cambodia as well.
Crop diversity is key to success at the new organic farms in Thailand. Aside from Rice or corn, they cultivate fruits, vegetables and other staple crops
She called this the whole nation’s problem. "The environmental problems in Nan are not just Nan's alone," she says. "I believe by creating a small agriculture model that emphasises organic farming and responsible land and water management, we will be able to rebuild the lost ecology of the forest and river sources - while at the same time live sustainably and happily."
But change doesn't come easily, Kwan says. Although organic farming was on the government’s agenda around ten years ago, it wasn't successful - due to the influence of agro-chemical companies on policy and the attitude of farmers. "Many people simply believe there is no way to cultivate without the use of chemicals," he says.
But as further drought and extreme weather continue hit the country hard, farms like those of Punyawong and Kwan may well become the normal way of farming rather than the exception.