It is still early morning but already the temperature is almost 40 degrees Celsius at the Aromatic Farm in Damnoen Saduak district, Ratchaburi province. Despite the heat, a group of Thai coconut farmers are enjoying talking to each other outdoors while drinking coconut water to quench their thirst and beat the high summer temperatures. It is the first reunion for these farmers since they took part in a pilot training on regenerative organic agriculture late last year. Now they are sharing their experiences and the lessons learnt while implementing regenerative organic agriculture practices at their farms over the past few months.
Since its launch in June 2020, the Regenerative Coconuts Agriculture Project (ReCAP) has provided coconut farmers in pilot provinces of Samut Sakhon, Samut Songkram, Nakhon Pathom and Ratchaburi with a series of training courses in regenerative organic agriculture. The first batch of 13 coconut farmers have so far learnt practical techniques to enhance the sustainability of their coconut farms while remaining profitable.
The project showcases Thailand’s first collaboration between Danone Ecosystem Fund, Harmless Harvest and GIZ. The aim is to transform the conventional practices of coconut farmers into regenerative organic practices, thereby reducing their impact on climate change and strengthening the livelihoods of farmers and local coconut farming communities.
Coconuts are one of Thailand’s most important crops with 90.61 tonnes exported to the top three markets of the United States (582.23 million baht), Hong Kong (221.74 million baht) and Germany (83.31 million baht) based on an export value of 3.39 billion baht in 2019. Nowadays their consumption continues to increase rapidly as a result of global health trends. Thailand – the world’s main exporter of aromatic coconuts – has seen its export value increase dramatically during the past year. Most coconut farmers rely on coconuts as their only source of revenue and have turned to chemical-laden monoculture crop farming just to boost their yields in order to meet the skyrocketing demand.
“Organic agriculture can bring a healthy future not only to the farmers, but also consumers and our planet. The key success in doing regenerative organic agriculture is to let the nature take care of itself. As a farmer, we should not stop learning new and diverse agricultural knowledge to improve ourselves and our business,” said Nuanlaor Dherdkiattikun, the owner of Aromatic Farm and a member of the first batch of ReCAP pilot farmers.
Nuanlaor has switched to organic agriculture with the aim of efficiently utilising resources in her coconut orchards, which have been passed down through the generations, while improving food safety to meet nutritional needs. Coconuts produced at her farm receive certifications from several organisations including Good Agricultural Practice (GAP), Earth Safe Standard, and the Certificate of Conformity of Geographical Indication (GI).
The 45-year-old coconut farmer showed her farmer colleagues how cover crops and stingless bee farming are conducted at her farm. She also adopted smart agriculture and put it into practice by utilising a big data system and QR code labelling for quality control.
Agung Bimo Listyanu, Danone Ecosystem Fund regional coordinator, said: “We are excited about the project and its progress towards Regenerative Agriculture practice. The reunion will help reconnect our farmers so they can share their best-case practices and we should do it more often.”
Lisa Faust, ReCAP Project Manager, added that such reunions are important to keep motivation high and ensure that the ReCAP team provides the best support for their pilot farmers.
“It was great to see how our pilot farmers are supporting and encouraging each other in their transformation process towards regenerative organic farming. We are lucky and thrilled to be working alongside pioneers of sustainable agriculture.”
Chaichana Rodcharoensuk, one of the 13 pilot ReCAP farmers, said he started adopting waste management and stingless bee farming at his coconut orchard in nearby Samut Sakhon’s Ban Phaeo district. He has also put into practice the techniques learnt and is growing intercrops and cover crops to enhance soil nutrients.
After attended the ReCAP training, the 58-year-old coconut farmer has implemented practical advice and various techniques from the project.
“I cannot really say my farm is 100% regenerative yet. However, with the support from ReCAP staff and the knowledge gained from the training sessions, I have more confidence in myself to transform my coconut orchard into sustainable farming in the long run,” he said.
Simple tips for coconut farmers:
Plant cover crops such as roundleaf bindweed or agracejo rastrero to reduce soil erosion and improve soil health.
Adding intercropping with produce such as banana, coffee, lemongrass, lolot, pandan, or pepper trees can increase income and enhance biodiversity.
Raise earthworms to compost the excrement and help treat wastewater.
Raise stingless bees to increase coconut fruit growth through pollination, and make extra income by selling the honey.
Make compost and vermicompost to increase soil fertility and recycle waste from the farm (coconut leaves, husks, etc.) to make own compost.
Apply organic pest control to fight such pests as red palm weevils and rhinoceros beetles.
Release carp fish into the canals to improve water quality and control duckweed or moss.
Manage farm accounts by keeping records of income and expenses. Analyse how organic farming increases productivity through evidence collection and record details including market analysis and future forecasts.