Life on The Margin
By Burmese writer
Beyond the high city buildings, their houses are small and low. Beyond
the noisy city streets, their roads are quiet. But beyond the rushed life
of the city, their lives are also a struggle.
The farmers on
the edge of Chiang Mai city have lived a peaceful and stable life for many
years. But as the city has rapidly expanded, they must face new realities
to survive. In Mae Fack Mai village, about 20 kilometers from the city
center, the farmers have taken up the challenge.
has started to practice "integrated farming" – a change from the
"intensive" farming of the recent past. The reasons are complex – social,
environmental, economic. Professor Phrek Gypmantasiri, chairman of the
agricultural system programme at Chiang Mai University, describes
intensive farming as a technique from the "Green
He adds: "It is only concerned with
productivity. To boost productivity, high use of pesticides and chemical
fertilisers are essential. After 40 years of the green revolution, people
are starting to sense the bad side of it. It’s a silent damage to nature.
In the long run, the harm it does to human health is
Can the new method benefit the farmers? Wandee,
a farmer from Mae Fack Mai village believes it can. "Organic food demand
in Chiang Mai is growing. So we have to reduce pesticides and other
chemicals. But these things have a bad impact on us, too. They make it
hard to sustain our land and environment over the long
Manit Ompont, chief of soil and fertiliser at the
Northern Biogas Center, a project nearby which turns pig manure into
energy, also believes the new method is necessary. “Farmers can’t neglect
environmental costs because farmers mainly depend on the environment. The
land will be destroyed in the long-term. They can’t postpone the
According to Professor Phrek, integrated
farming method is a form of mixed farming different from monoculture "cash
crops". He adds: " We take value in diversity. We try to combine farming and
breeding to create a "closed loop" system – using waste from breeding
animals as fertiliser for farming, and vice versa, to reduce rural
pollution and sustain soil quality. This is better than relying on
external sources such as pesticides and chemical
In the UK land farmed organically is under 3% of
the total farm area. In Austria the figure is 10%; in Thailand it is
probably less than 1%. So where is the market for the organic farmers of
Mae Fack Mai?
Chiang Mai has only one organic food market, at
Imboon. Shoppers at Imboon say the main reason they go there is concern
for their health. Some believe his products are 100% pesticide-free;
others are skeptical. “I come here for safety reasons – I think the food
here is safer than any other," one shopper said. Another said: "I
don’t think these foods are totally pesticide-free. It’s impossible. Maybe
they’re 60% or 70% free. That’s good enough for
Professor Phrek is sure that attitudes are changing.
According to one study, organic food demand in UK is growing 40% a year.
According to one environmental expert, Imboon organic food market may be
small but " it’s the face of future, so the villagers have to embrace
Many factors threaten farmers on the edge of the city.
Urban sprawl pushes them from their land, air pollution and waste can harm
food production. But Dr. Phrek is optimistic about the prospects of rural
– urban integration. "To maintain the city’s " carrying capacity ", it is
important to have a sound rural agricultural sector," he
If urban sprawl and other pressures continue, cities will
face increasing difficulties getting fresh food, many experts believe.
Transporting food from many hundreds or thousands of miles away –
so-called "food miles" – increases energy consumption and global
too, we all are on the margin – living in a world
that is both divided yet connected. " Urban and rural are related,"
Dr. Phrek adds." Cities don’t exist in