Overview of Organic Agriculture in Thailand

Thailand is predominantly an agriculture-based country. A large proportion of population derives their livelihood and income from agriculture sector. With a favourable climate and well-developed agricultural processing facilities, Thailand is among the top ten agricultural exporters in the world. Her main exporting commodities like rice, pineapple, baby corn, shrimp and chicken account for a large part of world trade supplies. Organic agriculture has become a major policy theme for agricultural development in Thailand since the Taksin administration took power 3 years ago. Organic farming was enlisted as an important national agenda, to promote safe food and national export. Many government authorities have initiated projects and activities centered around organic farming promotion. But very few concrete projects have yet been implemented.However, organic farming is not a recent phenomenon in Thailand. Local farmers have practiced traditional farming for hundred of years. Such practices have been developed and enriched through farmers’ knowledge of local agro-ecology and environmentally sustainable ways of farming. The introduction of ‘green revolution’ in the 1970s, has not replaced all traditional farms and many have resisted this unsustainable technology package.Around early 1980s, many farmers and local non-government organizations (NGOs) came together to establish the Alternative Agriculture Network (AAN) to foster sustainable agriculture activism in Thailand. The AAN provides a discussion forum of experience sharing and policy advocacy for sustainable agriculture, including organic farming. The AAN at present constitute the core of the organic and sustainable agriculture movement in Thailand.The early pioneers in organic project are the non-governmental organizations. Aiming at promoting sustainable farming practices, NGOs under AAN umbrella organized organic conversion programme and developed organic farming technologies. Some NGOs also initiated fairtrade programme for domestic and/or export market for the produces. They main targets are small-scale producers and marginalized farmers. The AAN saw the importance of organic certification and forged cooperation with consumer and environmental movements to establish a national organic certification body in mid 1990s. The organic cum fairtrade projects constitute a large part of the present organic movement until today.The mainstream business sector, also saw the business opportunities in organic trade, has also initiated several organic project. Many of them convert part of their production to organic farming and lunched organic trade initiatives. Their projects are often large scale and exclusive for contracted trading partners. In the last few year, several new business organic projects was launched and they have become an important actor in the Thai organic movement presently. Organic ProductionThai organic agriculture is at the beginning of the take-off stage. The development so far is largely in the hand of farmers and private sector while government supports are developing but still lacking behind. Its development has capitalized on the country’s strengths by focusing on organic rice and vegetable production. The majority of organic producers are family farms organized under grower group programme or organic projects.The predominant organic agriculture in Thailand is crops, especially rice, vegetables and fruits. A couple of wild products like honey exist. There is growing number of  certified aquaculture productions and a few organic livestocks.Several producer groups produce organic rice, most of which is the jasmine rice. Most of the rice is exported (mainly to European markets) and small quantity is sold domestically. Vegetables are the second most important organic crops. They are fresh vegetables and baby corn. Majority of fresh vegetables is sold in Thailand while baby corns are all exported.An estimate of 30,755 hectares of farmland is presently now under certified organic management. This represented around 0.15 % of the total farmlands. Domestic Certification and RegulationSince gaining the IFOAM-accreditation at the end of 2002, the Organic Agriculture Certification Thailand (ACT) is the first and the only Thai organic certification body that can offer internationally-recognized organic certification services. Established in 1995, ACT is an independent private certification body. ACT’s standards include crop, wild product harvest, aquaculture, processing and handling. In 2007, ACT helped to organize a regional collaborative platform of organic certification bodies in Asia, Certification Alliance to provide one-stop inspection services to organic operators in the region.Several local certification bodies also exist offering services for specific regions or at national level but for limited scope. The Northern Organic Standards Organization (private organization) certifies organic crops in the Northern Thailand, the Organic Crop Institute (Department of Agriculture) offers certification of crops (except rice), Department of Rice offer certification for organic rice, Organic Aquaculture Farm and Product Certification Center (Department of Fisheries) offers certification for aquaculture and Department of Livestocks offer certification for livestocks. There are also several foreign certification body operating in Thailand, mainly from the European Union.In 2002, the National Office of Agricultural Commodity and Food Standards (ACFS) completed a national production and processing guidelines of organic crops, livestock, and shrimp production. The guideline is supposed to used for national organic accreditation. At the moment, only ACT is accredited by the ACFS.  Organic MarketsReliable sources of data on organic produce are hard to find. The situation is confused by the various standards or systems of certification for organically produce and other safe produce (with no organic certification). This made it impossible to categorically differentiate between the two markets. Despite such limitation, Green Net and Earth Net Foundation estimates the total market for certified organic produces in 2009 at US$ 135.44 million, around half of which is sold domestically and the another half is exported.Currently, there are 3 channels where such products are sold, i.e. supermarket chain, specialized shops, and direct marketing (either farmer market or membership).In supermarkets, organic and/or “health” products are sold in the same way as conventional products, e.g. on the same product shelves. Only when there is product promotion or on special occasion, then organic and health products are displayed separately. Main products sold through supermarket channel are fresh fruits and vegetables and rice. None of these supermarkets makes explicit advertisement campaign on the availability of the organic and health products.In specialized shops, organic and health foods are the main feature of the shops. Due to limited assortment of organic products, these shops have to carry many conventional health food items. Even organic products are still much more predominant but there lacks a clear identification or labeling to separate the different product quality. Consumers shopping in these shops often assume that all products there are “green and/or healthy”.Direct marketing through farmer markets gain popularity in recent years and a few sell through membership scheme. The direct markets normally focus only on fresh produces. [from "Overview of organic agriculture in Thailnd", Green Net's website]