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Thai Organic 2017/18: Leap Jump but will it be sustainable

From data collected by Green Net, Thai organic agriculture expanded more than 266% from previous year. By the end of 2017, certified organic land in the country totals of 0.209 million hectares with 44% are agricultural production (i.e. crops, livestocks, and aquaculture) and 46% are wild harvest areas. The wild harvests are done with 1 - 2 operators harvesting in large natural forest land. So, the most intersting is the growth of organic agricultural farms, expanding more than 59%, mostly from the organic rice farming.

2017 saw the Thai government launched a large scale project to expand organic rice farming through direct subsidy. Initiated and implemented by the Department of Rice, Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperative, the project plans to convert one million rai (160,000 ha) of organic rice farms within 3 years through a combination of direct subsidy based on organic land acreage, input subsidy, free government certification. However, there are several criticisms from private sector, including the complete lack of consultation with private sector, the very ambitious target plan (almost quadruple the organic acreage of the country) which requires a budget of over USD 410 million for 5 years (larger than the annual budget allocated for all government departments combined), the requirement to for farmers to only apply for organic certification with the Department of Rice (DoR) only (farmers cannot apply for private certifications), and the lack of planning for support mechanisms (e.g. inspectors, market of organic rice). Also, no implications of the project were thought through, including impacts on the prices of organic rice of existing farmers, training of inspectors (the DoR was certifying around 15,000 rai of organic rice but the plan was to jump to 1,000,000 rai within 3 years. By the end of 2017, the project managed to reach 200,000 rai, already double the organic rice farming of the country, even though it fell short of its target of 300,000 rai.

Another important development was the change of Thai Ministry of Commerce sponsored national trade fair (Organic and Natural Expo and Symposium) to the joint trade fair between the Thai ministry and the private organic trade fair organizers from German (Nuremberg Messe). The BioFach Southeast Asia was now the highlight of organic trade activities not just for Thailand but also for the Southeast Asia region. Associating with this trade event, members of organic trade and producer associations in the region had met and found "ASEAN Organic Federation" to further their collaborations to promote organic agriculture and businesses within the region.

PGS (participatory guarantee system) was a hot topic among the Thai government agencies after the government launched second 5-year "National Organic Development Strategy Plan" which include the support for PGS. Many producer groups as well as supporting organizations wanted to set up PGS for their newly converted farmers. This led to a proliferation of PGS organic in the country. However, there was few competent advisers on this area and so genuine PGS groups were slow to expand. Towards the end of the year, PGS groups and supporting organizations got together to form the "Thai Organic PGS Federation" in order to share resources and experiences. This may help to consolidate the Thai PGS movement as well as strengthen their influences.