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Meet our rice farmers
Surin Cooperative: Phakphum
Phakphum grew up in Thailand’s northeast region, where he has been working in his family’s field since he was seven years old. When he was 13, he dropped out of school to help his single mother with the farm work.
The family used to struggle greatly with the financial imbalance of conventional rice farming practices, making a meager profit after extensive fertilizer, labor and herbicide costs to maintain the yield of the depleted soil.
Now Phakphum no longer worries about loosing his ancestor’s land because he, his sister Sohm Rien, and his mother Coo-eye represent one of the 7,500 families currently selling organic Fair Trade rice through a farmer cooperative. The Fair Trade price has allowed Phakphum to make the three-year transition to organic farming. Subsequently, his pesticide-related respiratory illness has subsided, and the health of his fields has improved. He has not only been able to pay off the debts he incurred under conventional trade, but also has invested in more land and buffaloes.
Phakphum is the leader of his village’s committee through which farmers annually set the rice price and enforce organic standards. This cooperative structure also gives Phakphum and his neighbors yearly dividends and a community savings fund.
Most important to Phakphum has been the return of his dignity. As he looks out over a golden rice field he says,
“I like to be self-reliant. Rely on my two hands and my head. It’s safe for my life and other people’s lives.”
More about our rice
Rice is so central to the world diet that in many Asian countries, the literal translation of “I’m hungry” is “I’m hungry for rice.” This celebrated crop has been cultivated in the lush tropical terrain of Thailand for centuries; archaeologists have found primitive rice seeds and ancient farm tools dating back 9,000 years.
90% of the world’s rice is grown by small-scale farmers. While conventional farming practices, monoculture crops and the global grain market have driven many of these families to lose their land and their livelihood, co-ops like Surin are helping them get back on their feet. These direct relationships are also helping to reestablish lost heirloom varieties, as the farmers hold the memory and the seeds to expand both palette and palate.
How is our rice grown?
Our white jasmine rice is grown with natural/herbal compost, fertilizers and pesticides, and is cultivated using principles of Systemic Rice Intensification (SRI) to minimize water usage. Cooler fall temperatures and sun drying after the November harvest help preserve the famous fragrance as the grains make their journey from Surin to your kitchen.
The black rice that goes into our Thai Purple Sticky Rice medley was once abandoned for monoculture cash crops. Through direct relationships with our producers, we have been able to reintroduce the cultivation of these ancient, original and highly nutritious seeds. In fact, black rice is now part of a local program in Surin Province aimed at educating children about sustainable agriculture.