Many third-party organic certification bodies offer services to Thai producers. Two local bodies are the Organic Agriculture Certification Thailand (ACT), a private non-profit foundation, and the Organic Crop Institute, a public agency under the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives. The government certification body offers a free certification service, but because of lack of international recognition it is used only for domestic markets. ACT offers its service on a fee-based system. Each has its own organic standards and labeling scheme. ACT offers the IFOAM Accreditation scheme as well as those of the EU, NOP, and JAS. Several foreign certification bodies are operating in Thailand, and a few have an office or an agent in Thailand. Only 25% of organic producers are certified by local bodies, the rest by foreign certification bodies, mainly EU-based agencies.
The National Office of Agricultural and Food Commodity Standards (ACFS) has set voluntary national standard guidelines for organic agriculture in an attempt to set up a regulatory framework compatible with the EU system. So far, however, no one has shown a strong interest in adopting them.
A large majority of producers are certified in a group certification system. There is one participatory guarantee system for a local producers’ group in Chiang Mai.
The overall impact of having established an organic certification system is that it has facilitated access to export markets and, to a much lesser degree, the development of the domestic market. The drawback of this is that many government agencies are overly preoccupied with the development of the whole guarantee system, i.e. standards, inspection, certification, and accreditation, and far too much resources were devoted to this, with less made available in much-needed areas such as extension, conversion supports, or consumer education.
Organic agriculture policy
General agricultural policies still favor conventional farming with subsidized agro-chemical farm inputs. The import taxes on these products are set lower than for other farm inputs. There also is an indirect subsidy of pesticides, e.g. distribution of free pesticides upon a perceived outbreak of crop pests and diseases, or to farmers participating in special extension projects. There has been strong lobbying by some Thai research institutions and private companies engaged in GM technologies to allow GMO crop production in Thailand. Some illegal field trials of GMO crops by research institutions also exist, already resulting in GMO contamination at the seed level for at least two crops, papaya and cotton. This will inevitably lead to further GMO contamination, endangering Thailand’s organic development.
However, Thai consumers are aware of the danger of pesticide residues in the food chain thanks to the successful campaign of the public health organizations. This puts pressure on producers to adopt safer use of agro-chemicals. Also, the prices of agro-chemicals have risen and producers are further pressed to cut down their use and adopt some organic farming methods. The efforts by the royal family, especially the king, to promote a ‘self-sufficient economy’ concept has led to many sustainable agriculture projects, both pilot production and research projects.
The National Agenda’s Organic Agriculture is a new government program implemented in October 2005. The 5-year program is aimed at supporting 4.25 million farmers (0.85 million in 2006) in using organic inputs instead of agro-chemicals, reducing total imports of agrochemicals by 50% as well as boosting organic exports by 100% annually. The program’s key strategy is to supply the market, especially exports, and the aims are to be achieved through various supports and intervention mechanism, including seminars, training, general promotion, and setting up organic fertilizer factories. 26 agencies from 6 ministries are involved in this program, which is coordinated by the Land Development Department.
The Santi Asoke, a Buddhist sect, has long been promoting ‘non-toxic’ farming, a system that does not use chemical fertilizers and pesticides. They have a strong influence on organic production, especially at the extension level.
A few international institutions play a supportive role in Thailand’s organic agriculture policy development. The FAO regional seminar on ‘Production and Export of Organic Fruit and Vegetables in Asia’ and the IFOAM trade conference on ‘Mainstreaming Organic Trade’, held in Bangkok at the end of 2003, helped to increase the general interest in organic agriculture among public agencies and the private sector. In early 2005 the International Trade Center (ITC) project on ‘strengthening the export capacity of Thailand’s organic agriculture’ had some additional impact on promoting organic agriculture among government agencies.
There was little input or consultation with key stakeholders in the policy formulation process; rather, politicians and bureaucrats hold the initiative and control the process.(Author: Vitoon Panyakul)
(Adapted From IFOAM, Building Sustainable Organic Sectors)
Further Reading about the Early Organic Sector in Thailand:
Case Study Overview
Organization, Structure, Lessons Learned
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