Organic Agriculture in Thailand

Jörg Rosenkranz

If we compare worldwide production of organic food, Asia is still trailing far behind international figures. According to a recent survey in 2002 (SOEL), only 0,55percent of the worldwide organic area is located in Asia (in comparison, the organic area in Latin America accounts to 21.67 percent of the world share)
Main organic producers in Asia are so far China and Turkey, targeting export markets in Western Europe and other international markets.
Presently, Thailand has only 3% of the 0.55% organic production area in Asia. This figure is in contradiction to the relevance Thailand has as a main ex-porter of many conventional agricultural products worldwide. Thailand is the prime rice exporter as well as the main exporter of many fruits (e.g. pineapple) as well as for some kind of vegetables (as baby corn or green asparagus).
In average, organic markets show annual growth rates of more than 20 percent worldwide. It is widely expected that this trend will last for a while and every food scandal further boost the demand for organic products.
The demand for organic produce from this region is far ahead to the present supply. This situation shows that the potential of organic markets have been under-estimated by the business sector and governments in Thailand as well as in other Asian countries.
So far rice and some kinds of vegetables are the most important organic crops in Thailand. Besides these products potential buyers often search for other certified organic produce from Thailand, as pineapple and other tropical fruits, more kinds of vegetables, coconut products, palm oil, soy bean, herbs and spices or even processed or semi-processed food and organic products from animal husbandry or aquaculture as organic shrimps.
Anyway, organic agriculture cannot only open new economic opportunities, but should contribute in the first place to ecological and sustainable socio-economic development.
The movement for organic farming in Thailand can be traced back to the problems of modern agriculture (see box). As conventional farm production was geared towards cash-crop production with heavy reliance on agro-chemicals, small-scale farmers were exposed to market instability and health hazards. The dual cost-price squeeze drove farmers to the edge of bankruptcy, when prices of agricultural products declined, whilst production costs were on the rise. In the 80s organic agriculture was first introduced by individual farmers and non-government organizations (NGO) as an alternative in order to escape from the vicious circle of debt and health risks.