From the Alternative Agriculture Network - Esan (AAN) blog:
P’ Kanya Onsri smiles whenever she talks about her organic pig project in Surin. As one of the first organic farmers in her village, she has always been willing to try out new techniques in order to make her farming practices more sustainable. Since 2006, Kanya has pioneered a organic pig raising producers’ group in Tamor subdistrict, Surin province. With support from Surin Farmers Support and the AAN, the program has expanded to more than 70 families and provides 2 whole pigs at the Surin Green Market every Saturday.
The pork is now so popular that consumers now put in orders before the weekend and pick up their labeled packages at the Green Market.
The project wasn’t initially focused on being a money-maker for villagers in Tabthai, who have historically earned lower incomes than larger landowners in nearby villages. The goal was to produce more organic compost from the high-nitrogen pig manure. The pigs are raised in 3 meter by 2 meter, 60 cm deep pens and are filled with shallow layer of rice husks and biojuice (made from plant materials fermented in molasses) before pigs are raised. Organic pork is an essential part of the Surin Green Market’s success. When Thais go to the market, they’ll often come up with their menu based on what foods are fresh or in season, and while the AAN’s Green Markets have always sold seasonal fruits and vegetables, meats are still limited. Consumers are often frustrated by having to go to the conventional market to get their meats, and often criticize Green Markets for not having enough protein. By bringing 2 whole pigs to the Surin Green Market every Saturday, loyal consumers are satisfied and new consumers have increased, simply by word of mouth. This is also what we hope to accomplish in Yasothon.
Certain things stand out when it comes to the quality and flavor of the organic pork in Surin. Consumers say that when they buy conventional pork from the market, which is often raised in large, closed-system commercial farms and treated with antibiotics, hormones and other chemicals, the meat will lose it’s freshness quickly and the fats coagulate after a few days in the fridge. With the Surin Green Market’s organic pork, this is not the case. The pork stays a nice pink-red color and consumers say that the dishes they make using the various cuts are naturally flavorful, requiring less seasoning.
Consumer demand has helped make the project a commercial success. Though the first group of farmers to raise organic pigs may have focused more on producing manure for their compost, the income from raising organic pigs has been an important incentive for new producers. Because investment costs are low and the opportunity to sell directly to consumers, farmers usually earn about 2,000 baht per pig. Most conventional producers barely break even, after buying expensive antibiotics, feed and selling to middlemen.
The success of the organic pig project has inspired organic farmers in Kudchum, Yasothon to start raising pigs themselves. We now have a group of about 10 farmers who are ready to begin raising the pigs organically and selling their pork at the Yasothon Green Market. Farmers will need to set aside a small piece of land to plant green vegetables to feed their pigs throughout the year, as well as make fermented feed supplements from paddy fish, snails and local herbs. These supplements will help keep the pigs healthy and happy.
The Yasothon Green Market group will also need to plan out a schedule for breeding and slaughtering, with someone in the group responsible for raising a breeding male and several people responsible for breeding females. Villagers in Kudchum have little experience with slaughtering and butchering pigs, but they are committed to learning more – slaughtering may also be a new job for young people in the community without any work (youth in Surin have learned about the entire process and now earn money helping with birthing and slaughtering pigs).
The project in Surin took about 4 years to successfully develop. The principle of not focusing on making money, but raising safe, healthy, organic pigs and making compost has always been at the project’s core. Now that the market has grown, however, the group is thinking more about new ways to manage the market – developing new pork products, and more direct sales (a membership or CSA structure). Following the seminar last month, Kanya explained about the success of the Surin Green Market, “I have to say, this project really comes from what I learned in the U.S. with MOFGA [Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association], from the Slow Food conference in Italy and from my study trip to South Korea.” As a farmer who works with Surin Farmers Support (SFS) and the Alternative Agriculture Network – Esan (AAN) – Kanya has taken the opportunity to learn about the global sustainable agriculture movement. By exchanging with students and farmers in the U.S. with ENGAGE – a student network that works in solidarity with local social and environmental movements), Kanya saw the importance of making use of all available, compostable materials. By attending Terra Madre in Italy, she got to see how much value could be added to organic fruits and vegetables by making organic foods and food products. And finally, by exchanging with the Korean Women’s League (KWL), Kanya understood how essential it is to sell a diversity of products at the Surin Green Market.
Next week the Yasothon Green Market group will meet to plan out the production process and exchange about useful techniques for successful organic pig raising. The Surin group helped to develop Thailand’s organic standard for pigs with IFOAM, so the farmers in Kudchum will have to follow their example. One of the major challenges for the Surin group, now that their pork is commercially successful, are farmers who seek to quickly fatten their pigs using feed. Our committee will follow up with members to make sure organic practices are being followed. We’ll continue to provide updates throughout the process here on the blog, and expect to have organic pork at the Yasothon Green Market by August.
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