Report by: Ranida Boriboonpatarakul
Photo by: Methavajee Sarakune
Translated by Pantharee Sujitvarong
When the government launched EEC project that would cover Chonburi, Rayong, and Chachoengsao provinces, it has positioned Chonburi and Rayong to be industrial zones, believing it would bring in large amount of money to the country and sharply increase the GDP. On the other hand, Chachoengsao has been positioned to be a top-grade residential zone to cater for industrial expansion and transportation.
A new city plan for the three provinces, estimated to be done by July 2018, is one of the EEC’s consequences on existing communities. Real estate sector has benefited from this mega project since the land prices have gone double, while local farmers become concerned about environmental impact from industrial sectors. Above all, they were worried about the decreased agriculture area due to the EEC policy.
We talked to Kanchit Khemchalerm, the successor of Vibul Khemchalerm who initiated the agroforestry concept and agroforestry learning center at Sanam Chai Khet district in Chachoengsao, about the livelihood of local farmers when the industrial sectors reach their arms into the community.
The day agriculture sector is left behind
“Government officials are educated to believe that industry, not agriculture, makes money to move forward the nation,” Kanchit said, adding that the policy reflects how government has always given top priority to industrial sector but always neglected agricultural sector.
Kanchit said that the new city plan, resulted from the EEC project, will facilitate the development of industrial sector. As such, the new plan increase the industrial zone, and curtails the agriculture area. On the contrary, the agricultural sector has never been mentioned. Moreover, the government has ignored the call for solving ongoing problems that have affected the public’s and farmers’ health, such as the ban on four chemicals in agriculture, namely Carbofuran, Methomyl, Dicrotophos and EPN, and landfill management.
“Of course, when investors think about investments, they think about the profits. Government or private sectors, their goal is to make money and increase the GDP growth,” Kanchit said.
Food security and the dignity to say no to capitalism
Kanchit believed that food security is important because we all need food. If people can produce food themselves using their own resources without buying from private sector, it is a dignity to be independent and able to deny capitalism.
Kanchit added that the decreasing farming zone in the new city plan may affect the country’s food security since agricultural sector plays a vital role in food production for people in community, as well as domestic and international levels.
“The new city planning is a warning signal for those in agricultural sector to be prepared for impact. Many farming areas have been turned into housing estate. A number of farmers in the world have regularly increased, but the areas for food production have been decreased. At the same time, there are more people while the amount of food remains the same. So when it comes to the time people fighting for food, there’s no way farmers can beat the capitalists [who own the lands],” Kanchit pointed out.
Agroforestry amidst the stream of capitalism
Kanchit explained that the key to agroforestry is to be self-reliance with the community’s own diverse resources. So [while not relying on capitalism], agroforestry can still coexist and thrive in the world where capitalism dominates..
“If we don’t have money, we still have our resources. So we’ll be fine. This is how we can live in capitalism. We don’t have to depend on the system,” he added. Nonetheless, with the launch of EEC project and despite believing that agroforestry can survive the new influx of industrial sectors, the agroforestry farmers feels it is important to speak out against what they see as an exploitation of farming zones.
At the same time, the son of revered local wise man and founder of the agroforestry concept, village chief Vibul Khemchalerm, agreed with his late father that waste management is among major concerns. Kanchit explained that [since waste management plants have been established in parts of Chachoengsao], unclear regulation on this business has affected local environment as well as people’s health. However, the government has yet to show concrete ways to solve the problems. With the new wave of industrial and residential areas, resulted from the EEC, he expected more wastes as well as migration.
“Among three provinces: Rayong, Chonburi, and Chachoengsao, the last one is having a problem the most. The government can only manage 30 percent of waste in Chachoengsao and another 70 percent is left for the locals to deal with. So if more people move in, the waste situation can get worse. Whoever involved in the EEC has to fix this,” Kanchit said.
Agroforestry: a new generation’s perspective
Chaweewan Pimpat was once a student who visited Chief Vibul’s agroforestry learning center and later became one of the center’s volunteer trainees. Decades past, she still continues the work of Chief Vibul at the learning center, serving as a coordinator of the Agroforestry of Eastern Forest Network and Earth Net Foundation. As a member of new generation of agroforestry practitioners, Chaweewan explained how agroforestry is more than just a farming concept, but can also be applied to daily living and enhancing one’s potential.
Chaweewan pointed out that when people have enough food for consumption, they can share it to their neighbors. Agroforestry is better than the monoculture because the diversity of plants, which can be used for consumption, construction, and as medicine. Such a diversity also brings about healthy ecology. As such, agroforestry farmers will have to think about how to use each plant effectively to its full potentials.
Chaweewan further explained that network of agroforestry farmers also helps support employment in the community. And because the key of agroforestry is diversity of resources; if the resources become limited, efficient management can further develop the output.
The network coordinator also stated that, while agroforestry can make people become independent, what’s more important is that the farmers have to be aware of the fast-changing globalized society. So the challenges of doing agroforestry in this 4.0 era is to find ways to meet the needs of people in the digital age as well.
In the end, Chaweewan pointed out that the difference between the self-reliance concept of agroforestry and relying on capitalism is effective financial management based on a person’s lifestyle.
“Now I’m trying to grow coffee and make good coffee for consumption because I want to save cost from buying good quality imported coffee for something else. It’s okay to have capitalistic needs sometimes as long as I am aware of my condition,” Chaweewan said.