SOWING SUSTAINABILITY: Rice commodity pathways, NGOs, and farmers’ engagement with alternative agriculture in northeastern Thailand

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Wood, Beverley E
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Rice is the cornerstone for much of Thailand’s agricultural development, but moving from subsistence farming to commercial agriculture has greatly altered its role in the country’s northeast region. Particularly, the Green Revolution impacted farmers’ livelihoods, environment, health, and culture. In response, grassroots non-governmental organizations (NGOs) emerged to provide an alternative to the newly modernized agricultural system. The impact of these NGOs is considered through research in six communities across the Northeast, where I analyze both the various pathways of the rice commodity system and the effects of organizational involvement on alternative agricultural practices and values of farmers. I find that farmers in non-governmental organizations express a greater degree of engagement with alternative farming practices, value of native rice varieties, and practice of agricultural customs. However, I also find that farmers are primarily focused on markets, indicating the role of market pressure and practicality in their decision-making. I discuss these findings through the lenses of development frameworks, as well as non-governmental and social movement literature. In doing so, I conclude that these alternative organizations are effective due to their successful recognition of the practical, short-term priorities of farmers on balance with long term goals of environmental and cultural resilience. Moreover, that these groups are unique in their organization, such they blend elements of both NGOs and social movements to create a hybrid network. I recommend that practitioners and researchers looking to sustain themselves in the region recognize the unique features of these networks, and ultimately propose future research plans that would aid in furthering the understanding of northeast Thailand’s alternative agriculture movement.
NGOs, alternative agriculture, native rice varieties, social movements, fair trade, organic