A group from VECO West Africa and VECO Indonesia visited Thailand to learn about the rice business. The visit took place on 2-6 November 2014. The targets included rice farmers, traders and organic rice retailers.
On 2 November 2014, we met Vitoon R. Panyakul from Green Net to discuss their experience organising 1,200 farmers. Green Net members produce speciality organic rice for the domestic and export markets.
According to Vitoon, Green Net's annual turnover of organic commodities is EUR 1.2 million. This is a great achievement because the members of Green Net cooperative are small farmers.
Thanks to this success, several countries in Asia, such as Laos, Vietnam and Sri Lanka, are using Green Net services as a consultant to promote farmer organisations in these countries. They hope to be able to produce speciality organic commodities and sell them on the domestic and international markets, at premium prices.
On 3 November, we visited Yasothorn province to meet family farmers who are members of Green Net cooperatives. These families have been practicing organic farming for about eight years.
As well as rice, they also grow legumes and watermelon on the five hectares of land they own. Rice only crops once a year here because it is rather dry where these farmers live. There is no irrigation system in this area.
Every harvest they produce around two tons of dried unhulled rice per hectare. Jasmine rice, the top variety in Thailand, grows well in this region. They grow the legumes and watermelon as an alternative during the dry season to ensure that they always have money in their pockets.
On 4 November, we talked to Krisana Wilana, who shared her experience with Green Net. She introduced steps to ensure that the rice meets quality standards before it is sent to the buyers.
Krisana also introduced a packaging method. Basically, rice is packaged to protect it from damage and weevil infestation. Using simple plastic packaging protects the physical quality of the rice for up to three months.
The second method of packaging is vacuum plastic packaging. This keeps the rice in good condition for up to year. Vacuum packaging protects the rice from the risk of fungal disease and physical damage from exposure to carbon dioxide.
The third method of packaging focuses more on the aesthetic. The value added of the rice will increase if the packaging is designed to attract consumers. In short, the more attractive the design, the more likely consumers will buy the rice.
This visit gave Krisana the chance to ask the participants to try samples of rice brought along by the VECO West Africa and VECO Indonesia partner farmer organisations.
Two VECO Indonesia partners – Susatyo and Haji Uuk – brought along samples of white rice from Boyolali and red rice from Tasikmalaya for the participants to try.
Rounding off our visit, on 6 November we went to Lemon Farm, a retailer that produces organic products in the heart of Bangkok.
Lemon Farm has been working for 12 years to link up urban consumers and healthy food producers in rural areas. Today, they have 12 branches in Bangkok.
Still on the number 12, their partner farmers produce 12 varieties of rice, from Jasmine to Red Berry.
Lemon Farm is no ordinary business. The business concept it has been developing makes it a social enterprise.
A social enterprise not only seeks financial gain, but is oriented to community development. That means any financial profits are dedicated to community development. [Purnama Adil Marata, VECO Indonesia Advocacy Officer]