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WWF on Tour “The New Rice Festival 2023” at the Sustainable Agriculture Foundation (Thailand)
07 February 2023
Every year between December - January when Thailand is entering the winter period, there is a big annual event related to Thai rice known as the "New Rice Fair" or the "New Rice Festival." This is because rice is cultivated and will be harvested from all regions across the country during this time, except for southern rice which is harvested in March. In 2023, the New Rice Festival was held on Saturday, January 28, 2023 at Sustainable Agriculture Foundation (Thailand), Sai Ma, Nonthaburi.
When entering the festival, Mrs. Supa Yaimuang, the director of Sustainable Agriculture Foundation (Thailand) gave an opening speech and briefed the history of the New Rice Fair. The New Rice Fair is a local tradition for celebrating harvested rice. Farmers will celebrate the new rice through making merits with new rice, giving new rice to monks before consuming or selling. This is because rice provides ‘food and economic security for farmers.’ Nowadays consumers only consume a few rice varieties causing farmers to grow only popular rice, especially jasmine rice. As a result, native rice varieties have disappeared from rice fields and caused a decrease in genetic diversity of rice.
Mr. Ubon Yuwa from the Alternative Agriculture Network in Northeastern Thailand talked about the issue of local people who gave up farming occupation to work outside their hometown due to the rising cost of rice production in conventional agriculture, resulting in lower income from rice sales. He mentioned a lack of measures that help strengthen the farmers' communities, preventing them from developing their own knowledge. This causes the producers to rely on governmental policies and lack adaptive ability. As a result, farmers are susceptible to the impacts of climate change coming in the form of unavoidable natural disasters.
Hosting the New Rice Festival is an effective way of communicating a variety of local rice and encouraging consumers to consume more varieties of rice. Enhancing rice biodiversity is key for climate adaptation, paving the way for growing rice in uncertain climates. Thus, consumers can contribute to farmers' ability to adapt and produce rice in the face of global warming by promoting the consumption of a variety of local rice.
Motivating consumers to eat a variety of food, requires creating a space between producers and consumers to exchange their experiences and feedback. At the New Rice Festival 2023, WWF therefore talked to three farmer champions in sustainable agriculture to get to know them and their products better
Mr. Parkphum Inpan, from the Community Enterprise of Organic Agriculture Group - Alternative Agriculture Network, Surin Province, presented the story of local rice named "Paka Ampeul" (Khmer language: tamarind-flower rice). The rice is an upland local rice is a variety that farmers prefer to plant in the area after developing new paddy fields. Paka Ampeul rice often absorbs a small amount of water and has a short harvesting period. Its root is so strong that it has to be cultivated by sowing instead of planting the shoots.
The industrial agriculture system caused this rice to be almost lost from the community for 30 years. The group of producers brought this rice to plant again to conserve the local rice diversity and communicate about it to consumers. Paka Ampeul rice gained good feedback from the market. Although it is less aromatic than jasmine rice, it has similar softness fitting for those who just started eating half-milled rice.
Mr. Boonsong Matkhow, Non Yang Community Enterprise - Alternative Agriculture Network, Yasothon Province, a community that gathers and collects a large number of rice varieties. The group has the intention of inspiring consumers to eat a variety of rice, therefore, brought many varieties of rice to sell and communicate about them with consumers at the New Rice Festival. One of the best-selling products is rice mixed with five varieties.
Mixed rice of five varieties is a mixture of red jasmine rice, jasmine rice, hom nil rice, red rice, and yellow rice. The good smell comes from jasmine rice and red jasmine, Hom Nin also has a soft aroma. Yellow rice contains folate, while energy is provided by red rice. The rice mixture is low in sugar making it suitable for patients recovering from diabetes, heart disease or kidney disease. This product is fit for health lovers
Natha Chaiphet, from the Alternative Agriculture Network in Songkhla province, plants Leb Nok rice and Sangyod rice, which were unavailable for sale at the festival because their harvesting season is in March. She brought many edible plants from the south so urban people at the event get to know more diverse plants varieties. This includes no less than 30 species of tubers, medicinal plants, and fruits.
There are three edible plants from the southern region have been selected to be present in this article. The first plant is soft lemongrass, a southern native lemongrass, which is softer and more spicy than regular lemongrass. It can relieve stomach pain and flatulence. Torch gingers is also an edible plant. Its flower is often mixed with Nasi kerabu and its tuber is sour and often used in sour soups. The last plant is a whip spring onion, which has a whip-like appearance. It is often mixed with pumpkin curry.
There are many varieties of rice and other edible plants that need to be communicated to raise awareness among consumers. The green markets are therefore the key in being a space for communication between producers and consumers, developing sustainable food systems, and conserving biodiversity in local communities.