BANGKOK: — WALISA SUKCHAROEN graduated school at only Prathom 6 level because her father Son Sukcharoen did not want her to continue studying.
But Walisa loved to study, so she took courses at a non-formal education centre until she managed to graduate at the level of Matthayom 6.
Walisa, a farmer’s daughter, then escaped the farm to work in a factory. But it was not long before she realised that farm life was best for her, so she returned to her family’s rice fields in Ratchaburi’s Photharam district.
Like many other farmers, Walisa – now 34 – followed the family’s work habits. With about 3 rai (0.5 hectares) of farmland given to her by her father, Walisa grew rice sprayed with pesticides. And her husband fell sick as a result.
Realising the chemicals were too toxic, Walisa began to change her farming practices after only one try with the toxins. As part of a new generation who has studied agriculture, Walisa joined the village’s community enterprise promotion centre, where she had a chance to learn how to grow pesticide-free rice.
And so she started doing so a few years ago, with a good quality yield of the Riceberry variety.
The first year saw Walisa immediately cut almost all farm investment costs, especially those concerning chemical fertilisers and pesticides.
To keep her rice field free of toxins, she makes her own composted fertilisers and pesticides. It has reduced her expenses to only labour costs associated with ploughing and growing rice – less than Bt2,000 per rai.
Walisa grows less rice than her father now, who farms a 20-rai plot he rents from his neighbour. But she can earn more than him because the price of Riceberry rice is far higher, at about Bt50 baht per kilogramme, or around Bt40,000 per rai, compared with Bt7,000 offered in the market for ordinary rice.
Walisa said she understands many farmers may still have to farm rice using chemicals because they have to rush for yields and clear their debts.
If the government wished to help farmers, Walisa said, it need not come up with price-guarantee policies. Instead, it should seriously consider supporting farmers to shoulder production costs, which were truly a heavy burden.
But most importantly, farmers themselves should not desperately wait for help. Walisa believes they are able to help themselves if they can consider their situations, identify what is needed and, just as importantly, what is not.
“If we have a chance to think a little bit, I think we can do it,” Walisa said.