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Organic farming comes to Samui..

Organic farming comes to Samui.You’ll probably never suspect that agriculture plays such an important role on Samui. You’ll come here and leave again without ever realising. Lying on the beach, lazing by the swimming pool, visiting the shops, going to parties – that’s what Samui’s all about, isn’t it? It’s a holiday destination, and its businesses are all centred around helping holidaymakers to have a good time. But this is only a part of the story.

Most people only ever see the coastal areas of Samui, but the interior of the island is totally covered in green. Once you leave the orbit of the ring-road and head inland, everything changes. Far fewer hotels, bars and restaurants. Far fewer people. It’s a green and silent world and it’s one where agriculture still reigns supreme.

For all its emphasis on catering to tourists, Samui has always prided itself on its agricultural know-how. For generations, fishing and farming have been crucial to the economy. The island is carpeted from one end to the other in palms; take away the ring-road and the towns and Samui is one vast plantation, with a million coconuts harvested per year. Farming remains crucial - go to any of the local markets here and you'll see an abundance of different fruits and vegetables, sustaining the island’s population and keeping it healthy. Farming here follows time-honoured traditions, but farmers are starting to embrace variations in how they produce their goods. Hydroponics is slowly gaining popularity, and now it’s the turn of organic farming.

Khun Benjaphon Iamvatcharin, more usually known as Khun Best, represents a group of organic farmers who have land mostly in Lipa Noi, one of Samui’s most unspoiled areas. The group got together about a year ago, after Khun Best met one of the farmers. He had always been interested in organic farming and started buying produce from them, as well as spreading the word about what they were doing. Soon more people started placing orders, and this in turn encouraged the group to keep on going. “It’s a difficult business to be in,” says Khun Best, “as they have to compete with cheaper prices and it’s difficult to find markets. Added to this there’s the fact that not so many people know about organic food in Thailand. It’s been a bit slow to catch on, though that situation is changing.

Meanwhile, the group – as yet it has no name – is seeking government accreditation. It’ll take a few months and is no easy process. The Thai government can only certify that a farm is organic after rigorous testing. The soil should be free of chemicals for a start, and it can take years for them to be filtered through the soil. The air should be pure – it’s impossible to do organic farming if it’s polluted. No pesticides or chemicals should be used, of course. Even if you get everything right, you may still not get the accreditation. Khun Best cites an example: “If you have a farm which is trying to be organic next to a more usual type of farm, where pesticide is used, then the organic farm will fail in its mission and also not get accreditation – simply because the neighbour is using chemicals and by doing so will affect all the farms around it.” Organic farming therefore requires quite a bit of community support, and those engaged in this kind of farming have more than just the usual amount of red tape to deal with.

If organic farming’s so difficult to do, is it such a good idea? This is the question that many people ask. After all, the customer has to pay increased prices for organic products and may simply go elsewhere. Khun Best has no doubt that organic farming really is worth pursuing, and the produce worth buying. “Let’s say you just touch – even though you do not eat – some fruit. Organic farming comes to Samui.About 60% of any chemicals on the fruit are absorbed through the skin into the body. That’s an incredible amount.” He then cites the example of pineapples. “A lot of spray is used on them. Not to get rid of bugs, but simply to make them grow quickly. If no spray is used, then they simply take longer to grow, that’s all. Now, if you eat a pineapple like that, you may think it’s healthy, but you’re also ingesting poison. The main reason for eating organic is simply to avoid all those chemicals. There’s also more vitamin C in organic fruit, more anti-oxidants and more goodness. It doesn’t cost that much more to eat organic produce, either. And if more people start doing it, and there’s more demand for it, then pollution will become less. We won’t be killing ourselves by living in unhealthy environments.” He says he’s given up eating kale, cucumber and long green beans, unless they're organic, as they are the worst offenders when it comes to the amount of chemicals inside them.

Asked how he got interested in organic foods, Khun Best says it’s because of his mother’s influence. “She wanted me to be healthy,” he says, “and gradually she realised that many aspects of life weren’t really healthy at all, so she gradually started implementing better ways of doing things.2-3-3 Because she changed these things, like the way we were eating, it’s made me conscious of health and ways to promote it.” Along with his wife, he’s created a store and café that focuses on healthy living. (It’s called Lamphu Thai Botanicals and is virtually opposite the entrance to Tesco Lotus on the ring-road in Lamai.) The couple aim to make everything reasonably priced. The store isn’t 100% organic but is certainly 100% committed to encouraging everyone to live in a healthy and fit way. It’s filled with healthy and tasty foods and produce.

Khun Best is optimistic about Samui and feels that in the future there will be more organic farming; it will catch on as people increasingly demand healthier food. Meanwhile he’s committed to helping people and businesses understand the relevancy of organic farming in today’s world. Farmers will be encouraged to go organic once consumers understand the need for pure foods, and will seek to grow the foods that they demand. A long wait until that day comes? It’s already happening, even here on Samui.


Dimitri Waringi


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