Back to Thailand

Earlier this year I had a phone call out of the blue from a friend in Thailand, Khun Wipa. I hadn’t spoken to her since 2007 when we were travelling and filming grassroots perspectives on climate change. She was phoning me on behalf of Ajarn Yak who wanted me to come back to Thailand to contribute to a grassroots gathering of the Agri-Nature Foundation. I was subsequently in Thailand for just over a week, from 16 to 24 March. I haven’t yet written about this trip, but it’s on my list of things to do!

The point of this is that I am heading back to Thailand next week. My initial motivation for returning was to attend the Asia-Pacific Climate Change Adaptation Forum. I will be showcasing some of the work that I’ve done over the last decade as well as helping profile the work of the Agri-Nature Foundation. I’ve already given them some assistance in the translation of some of their information. Here are the two posters that I will be putting on display:

Poster 1: Lessons from farmers in eastern New Zealand (2.33 MB)

Poster 2: Lessons from people in different countries (2.04 MB)

I’ve also been invited to act as provocateur for a session on climate uncertainty. In preparing for this last week I recalled that uncertainty was the topic of my first ever talk on climate change in 1991. I’ve certainly learnt a few things since then.

Following the adaptation forum I will again be hosted by my friends at the Agri-Nature Foundation. We’ll most likely be going to the Agri-Nature centre at Maab Uaeng in Chonburi province.

En route to Ho Chi Minh city

We had a long, but fascinating, train journey from Hue to Ho Chi Minh city. With more time we would have stopped at a couple of places along the way, but with only four full days left in Viet Nam our focus now is to get down into the Mekong Delta.

The first part of the train journey, between Hue and Da Nang, was quite spectacular as we wound around the coastline, in and out of tunnels and with stunning views. Along the way we saw a few bunkers, obviously from the Viet Nam war. In our four berth sleeper compartment we had a power connection so were able to plug the laptop in and watch a DVD to while away part of the afternoon. Then it was a fairly short sleep and a very early wake up call!

En route to Ho Chi Minh city
En route to Ho Chi Minh city

Ho Chi Minh city has a real buzz to it, which we are all enjoying in our one full day here. After working very hard to do things in Viet Nam things seem to be coming together for our trip to the Mekong Delta. A contact through our Thai friends is assisting with people to visit and we have a very good guide who is presently organising things.

As I think I mentioned in an earlier post from Hanoi, one of my main goals in Viet Nam has been to do some good work down in the Mekong. This region, the rice basket of Viet Nam, is presently being affected by drought, fire risk and salinisation in some places. I have been partly inspired to go here by a New Zealand farmer, Doug Avery. Doug came here about two years ago and when down in the Mekong spoke with a Vietnamese farmer. It was at this time, talking to another farmer about changes in the weather and water supply that he was experiencing, that Doug became convinced that climate change was a reality.

Reflections from Thailand

This morning we were up early to go to the temple with Khun Yai, and then back to Bangkok. We’ll be up early tomorrow morning to catch our flight to Hanoi. As I’ve already said before, we have met some wonderful people here in Thailand. The issues we are facing are global. Local people are observing and experiencing changes in climate. However, we don’t need to feel helpless or depressed. The only true solutions in my view will come about from positive local actions, and that view has been strongly reinforced by the people we have met in Thailand. There is real potential for Thailand to provide us all with leadership for the future, towards a more balanced approach to working with our environment. The self sufficiency economy is founded on long-held wisdom that the true foundation of a sustainable economy is a well-balanced ecology. Working with nature, not withdrawal from nature or against nature, is the key.

Naku village farmers

Pacharee, friend of Khun Yai, looked after us for the morning along with Mr Santi Jeeyapan. Santi works as a facilitator to support villagers doing farm based research. We drove out to Naku Village, near Ayutthaya, where we met with three local farmers: Pattapee Poungsuwan, Somnuk Sanksem, and Yaowaluck Sukseeleang. We interviewed all three together in quite a challenging setting, a small roadside cafe. All three farmers have decided to move towards organic production because of concerns with degradation of the land and the high cost of inputs. The climate has definitely changed with more erratic weather patterns than in the past. Last September there was widespread flooding in Thailand and Ayutthaya Province was one of the worst affected, because it is low lying. They were all clear that the cause of the problem is people and that there is a need for a more balanced approach working with nature.

Farmers from Naku village - Somnuk Sanksem, Yaowaluck Sukseeleang, and Pattapee Poungsuwan
Farmers from Naku village - Somnuk Sanksem, Yaowaluck Sukseeleang, and Pattapee Poungsuwan

Yaowaluck Sukseeleang and Pattapee Poungsuwan both had their farms right next to the cafe,  so we went into the field to talk to them some more.

Yaowaluck is an amazing woman. She learnt rice growing from her parents, beginning when she was 10 years old and has now been a rice farmer for 29 years. Yaowaluck farmers 56 rai (about 20 acres, or 8 hectares) on her own. At times in the past she has felt depressed and tried other work. People think farming is a dirty job, but she is clearly very passionate about her work and life as a farmer. Yaowaluck is a true leader for the future.

Yaowaluck Sukseeleang (on left), organic rice farmer, Naku Village
Yaowaluck Sukseeleang (on left), organic rice farmer, Naku Village

We then walked down the road to Pattapee’s farm. He stopped growing rice and shifted to organic vegetable production for the Bangkok market. This was a more financially viable option for him, as well as good for the environment.

Pattapee Poungsuwan, organic vegetable grower, Naku Village
Pattapee Poungsuwan, organic vegetable grower, Naku Village

Ayutthaya

Fortunately today has been a bit quieter, a short trip (1 hour) by taxi to the old city of Ayutthaya and visiting some of the old Wat (temple) ruins (in incredible heat and humidity). We actually ordered the taxi to take us to the train station, but then the taxi driver said he would take us all the way for 700 baht (less than NZ$30).

Tomorrow we’re going out to a local village, our last bit on the ground in Thailand.

We spent part of the afternoon visiting some of the ruins of Ayutthaya with our new host, Khun Yai. In the evening we went to a night market for dinner by the river and then drove around to enjoy the ruins lit up at night time.

View from the ruins of Wat Ratcha Burana, Ayutthaya
View from the ruins of Wat Ratcha Burana, Ayutthaya
Night scene at Ayutthaya
Night scene at Ayutthaya