Maejo University Declares Itself the First Organic Agriculture University in Thailand

This declaration is part of the new 15 year plan approved by the university’s board of directors on 11 November, 2012.  The 15 year plan dictates that for the first 5 years, 2012- 2016, the university will be an “Organic University”, from 2017- 2021 it will be a “Green University”, and from 2022- 2026 Maejo will be an “Ecological University.”


From the declaration, Maejo has dedicated 186.5 rai (29.84 hectares) of its land towards organic agriculture production.  This includes 133 rai on its farm where vegetables, vegetable seed, herbs, mangoes, longan, and rubber will be managed organically.  Other areas under organic management include Maejo’s Lanna (Northern Thai) farm/ cultural learning center of 35 rai , a learning area of 17 rai for model organic crop and livestock farms examples, and 1.5 rai of the Horticulture department’s vegetable production area for easy use in teaching.


Perhaps no less significant is the opening of an organic food center on the campus as of Monday July 24th.  This will allow students, staff, and visitors to eat from a number of vendors whose produce is primarily supplied by local organic farmers and organic production associated with the campus.


Interviewing Assistant Professor Chantana Wicharatana, Horticulture Department, Faculty of Agricultural Production, it is an exciting if challenging opportunity.  Pr. Chantana is leading the organic seed production project for the university which is working both to develop skills of students in this area and to select and produce seeds that are well-adapted and appropriate for use in organic agriculture and produced under organic management methods.  While there are a few professors at the university, including herself, with a strong knowledge on organic agriculture and confidence that organic farming is an interesting and viable production method to meet the world’s agricultural needs and provide sustainable livelihoods for farmers, a number of other staff are not yet well familiar with organic methods nor completely confident in how far they can be used in the present context.   As she explained, the declaration does not mean that Maejo University will cease immediately to use chemical inputs or teach “conventional” agricultural methods that include their use.  The critical change is that all students will now have exposure to organic practices and students may select to focus on organic methodologies as well.  The university also sees a key role in helping to provide organic inputs and develop graduates who will not only practice organic farming, but can provide quality organic inputs, whether seed, organic fertilizers, bio-pesticides, or knowledge.


Discussing with master student Anek who is working as a key assistant in the organic seed project, he finds there are 2 paths to organic farming that they will work to help develop.  One path is the small-scale integrated largely self-reliant farm.   The Lanna farm and cultural center is a reflection of such a system, which is the tradition of the Northern Thai people and combines rice farming, vegetable production, herbs, fruit trees, some livestock and may include ponds for water capture and fish production.   Such systems are focused on nutrient recycling, produce most all food needs for the family, and sell their surpluses.   Costs are very low, but the quantities of surplus products are not too high.  The second path is organic farming to meet larger consumer and trade needs.   In such cases, production areas may be larger and more dedicated to one crop or type of livestock.  Farmers in such systems need more support with inputs meeting organic standards, whether seed, feed, fertilizer or bio-pesticides.  They can produce quantities of produce that may more easily supply larger markets.  Anek acknowledges that while these are the two core paths, many may fall somewhere in between, producing some inputs but needing support for others.


While other universities in Thailand have research and studies in organic agriculture, Maejo has leapfrogged them with their ambitious declaration and plan forward.   Green Net, which has a few Maejo graduates on its team, is already working together with Asst Pr. Chantana Wicharatana, exchanging knowledge on organic seed production and with this new course for the university has offered to work together more closely to help develop new generations of students to take a path towards the future with organic agriculture.


Michael B. Commons, Earth Net Foundation


Sources.  University Scientist, Nongluck Puranapong, Asst. Pr. Chantana Wicharatana, Horticulture Department, Agricultural Production, Maejo University