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© Jittrapon Kaicome for WWF Thailand
Project Quick FactsLocation: Thailand
Duration: 2017 - 2021
Organization: WWF Thailand
Transforming the Food Service Sector to Combat Climate ChangeThailand, with a population of around 69 Million people, went through an export-driven industrialization in the 1980s and 1990s that led to high growth rates and fundamentally changed the country's economic and social structure. However, after years of declining poverty levels, the trend reversed. The poverty rate increased from 7.2 percent in 2015 to 9.8 percent as of 20181. With a rapidly aging population and one-third of the working population employed in agriculture, poverty and equity remain relevant issues for Thailand despite its status as an upper middle-income country. The growth in agricultural production has led to an increase in conversion of forest land to agricultural land. This has also driven the replacement of traditional peasant farming by monoculture systems, entailing high social and environmental impacts.
Challenges and ObjectivesAn increase in demand for cash crops, meat and animal feed across the globe has led to a variety of environmental and social issues in Thailand. The cultivation of maize, used mostly in animal feed, has driven out forest cover in northern Thailand, causing erosion and soil degradation and agrochemical pollution. The monocropping of maize has also brought socio-economic challenges, such as vicious debt cycles for vulnerable peasants2 . Farmers that switched to maize cultivation are dependent on bulk buyers that define their mode of production. With little power to negotiate prices, the revenue they receive is not enough to cover the cost of production itself3 . The country’s political instability throughout the whole project period and global market price variability have rendered farmers yet more vulnerable. The primary aim of the project is to address the interrelated environmental impacts associated to unsustainable farming practices by promoting and integrating sustainable practices in both consumption and production activities through a value chain approach.
Trade-offs and synergiesChanging eating habits such as incorporating less and “better” meat into diets reduces the need for land – for grazing and for feed cultivation - significantly. However, changing behavior is particularly challenging in Thailand, where meat has become an important part of the local cuisine. Transitioning from monoculture cash crops to mixed agricultural systems involves uncertainty, particularly with regards to finding access to new markets. Further, environmental, social, and economic benefits of transitioning to sustainable agricultural systems are usually not felt immediately by those who carry the costs and risks. For consumers there are also trade-offs that are difficult to navigate. The price of sustainably produced food may be higher compared to ‘conventional’, deterring its demand
StrategyFollowing a systems-based framework, which requires working with actors and their activities from production all along to consumption, the project took a three-pronged strategy, tackling several leverage points at once: working with businesses to adopt sustainable practices and business models; raising awareness and mobilizing the public; and supporting government with developing transformative policies.
ToolsVarious types of engagement platforms were established such as social media platforms and consumer forums to encourage changes in consumer behaviour.
ResultsThe project aimed to find common ground and effective ways to create synergies with a wide range of stakeholders to contribute to the shift to sustainable food systems. The FLR349 mechanism was implemented in two northern provinces of Thailand, Chiang Mai and Nan. A total of 600 hectares of maize plantation were converted away from monoculture, of which 118 hectares were dedicated to forest restoration. A policy briefing platform was organized to inform the government and other stakeholders about mitigation opportunities through actions in the food system. In the collaboration with one of the largest retail conglomerates in the region, Central Group, the project promoted sustainable supply chains, raised consumer awareness through information tools, supported landscape restoration through a traceability platform, and supported farmers’ markets across many provinces as key transformation catalyzers. Various activities such as workshops, farm trips, and farm-to-table dining events were developed, aimed at building an organic food network by connecting producers and consumers. Until September 2020, 40 workshops with more than 200 participants took place.
Ricult application training workshop with FLR349 smallholder farmers Nan, Thailand © WWF Thailand
Aerial shot of an FLR349 project site, Ban Wat Chan, Galyani Vadhana District, Chiang Mai Province © WWF Thailand
ConclusionsThe project convened a wide range of stakeholders along the agri-food value chain for the challenging goal of transforming practices that cause environmental and socio-economic impacts – and to transition to more sustainable production and consumption. At production level farmers shifted away from monoculture systems to mixed, diverse systems that mitigate carbon emissions, restore land and protect biodiversity, while fostering community resilience. Through a better understanding of consumers current knowledge on how ecosystem degradation relates to their food choices, the project was able to design a tailored communication campaign to trigger behavior change. By partnering with major retail companies, which have the capacity to shape sizeable food environments as well as define agri-food sourcing policies, a growing demand in sustainable products could be met with both better provision of consumer information and a greater supply of sustainable produce. For the smallholder farmers challenging effort transitioning away from harmful monoculture practices, the project piloted the FLR349 fund, together with governmental, civil society and private organizations
Footnotes1: Yang, Judy et al. 2020. Taking the Pulse of Poverty and Inequality in Thailand. Washington, D.C.: World Bank Group.
2: Arunrat, N. (2017. Farmers' intention and decision to adapt to climate change: A case study in the Yom and Nan basins, Phichit province of Thailand. Journal of Cleaner Production, 143, 672-685.
3: Riwthong, S. 2017. Agricultural commercialization: Risk perceptions, risk management and the role of pesticides in Thailand. Kasetsart Journal of Social Sciences, 38(3), 264-272.