By: James Lee, ECHO Intern
The path became increasingly harder to see much less follow, but Rick seemed to know the way like the back of his hand. He bent over a large branch to reveal the path’s next course. We winded up and down through the trees and the soft rolling brook, occasionally prying off rattan tree spikes off our clothing. The trees were so dense and full, filling the upper story we said our goodbyes to the sky when we entered in. Conversation came to a lull as the trail became slightly more difficult to handle for the group. As we climbed down into a ravine, the damp clay became slippery under our feet and we began to slide. Each of us quickly held onto the person after us for support as we gently lowered ourselves down. Finally as we went up the ravine on the other side there was a break through the trees and we saw the midday sun shining familiarly in an unfamiliar place. As we all cleared the break, we stepped out onto the clearly etched paths, in front of us rolled hills after hills displayed with an array of different food crops and agricultural techniques. This was the hilltribe village’s farmlands.
Rick Burnette, having spent 19 years working in this area of Northern Thailand, was very familiar with this village and spent much time working with them to utilize different agricultural techniques. He quickly led our group through the paths showing us the different farmer’s fields and the variety of farming practices they were applying. We saw many different plants, some familiar and others we had never seen before. Field corn was abundant on these fields mixed in with a variety of different species of trees and leguminous cover crops. Rick explained the various techniques he introduced to the village, which farmers chose to implement them and the different outcomes. He went on to explain that because of how steep these hills were, the farmers spent much time and effort in reducing soil erosion by using different plants to hold the soil in place.
As we made our way back to the village and loaded up into the red taxi trucks, the locals refer to as Songthaews, I thought about what I saw today and how it fit into what I have been learning for the past year.
As an ECHO intern, I spend every day learning about how to use agriculture to improve the lives of the marginalized. How to take innovative farming practices, crops and techniques to implement them to fit into communities where they will be successful and useful. However, what I saw that day in Chiang Dao, Thailand hit me a little harder than I expected.
If I was a farmer in that village farming on those hills, I do not think I would be able successfully feed my family. The hills those Thai farmers were working on are way beyond the degree of sloping for “agricultural use”. Anything past fifteen degree slope is considered at best “limited agricultural use” and these hills were on average forty-five degrees, which would never be advised to be used for farming.
Around the world poor farmers are given the very worst lands to farm in, which are often steep slopes on mountain and hill sides. With soil erosion rates increasing, especially on hillsides, farming is increasingly becoming more difficult producing lower yields. Thailand was an unforgettable experience where my paradigm opened to more clear perspectives.
By: James Lee 01/16/14