On October 22, 2019, the country’s National Hazardous Substances Committee passed a law banning these chemicals, which was supposed to take effect on December 1, 2019.
However, after demonstrations by farmers and a request by the US government, the incoming committee unanimously rescinded the ban on glyphosate, opting to re-adopt a previous resolution limiting its use and postponing the ban on chlorpyrifos and paraquat until June 1, 2020.
Like most things pesticides in and of themselves are not necessarily harmful. It's the amount used that can be toxic.
A study by Mahidol University in Bangkok illustrated how reliant Thailand is on these chemicals, noting that 28 pesticides are widely used in Thai agriculture. When testing three types of vegetables from both local markets and supermarkets, they exceeded the maximum residue levels (MRL, a standard set by the European Commission for the highest level of a pesticide residue that is legally tolerated in or on food) by between 35% and 71% depending on the vegetable type and where it was purchased.
Undiluted, these chemicals can cause neurological and kidney damage, headaches, dizziness, vomiting, and birth defects among other things.
Although some stores in Phuket offer organic vegetables, they are often sold in plastic containers wrapped in more plastic. So what is a health and environmentally conscious consumer to do?
Introducing Phuket Farmers Club (PFC), a community of gardeners and artisans with a mission to create a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle for people by reconnecting them with nature.
At the helm of PFC are Romain, Najib and Damian. The three friends fell in love with Phuket while travelling through Thailand and wanted to find a way to stay while doing something meaningful, socially conscious and that they were passionate about. They combined their interests in living more sustainably and launched their business in April 2016.
Funded largely by their own savings and donations from an Indiegogo campaign, they are only now starting to turn a small profit, but as Najib says, “It is great to wake up and love what you do.”
Their environmental philosophy is permaculture which emphasises working with and respecting nature, rather than working against and damaging it which is common in conventional farming techniques. The philosophy is bound by three core tenets: care for the earth, care for the people and care for the future.
Although permaculture is not new, it is becoming more popular since many climate experts agree that having healthy topsoil and using regenerative agricultural practices is important in fighting climate change and feeding the future population. By keeping the planet healthy, we are also keeping ourselves healthy – the two are inextricably connected.
While their fruits and vegetables aren’t 100% organic, they are grown using natural fertilisers and pesticides made from fermented fruits and vegetables rather than synthetic ones made from chemicals.
Never content, the team is constantly experimenting with new gardening techniques and trying to improve their skills and knowledge of growing plants and vegetables in a tropical climate. To promote permaculture and a healthy, sustainable lifestyle, they currently offer three services.
Delivery of groceries and artisanal health and home products
Members of PFC receive a weekly newsletter with a list of naturally grown seasonal fruits and vegetables as well as artisanal health and homecare products. The list includes many of the things that are commonly available at night markets and grocery stores, such as bell peppers, pineapples and mangoes, as well as some items that are harder to find, like baby carrots, baby potatoes and organic, free-range duck and chicken eggs.
Where PFC really shines is in their artisanal product line which includes exotic offerings like lemongrass kombucha, lime and hibiscus jam, and raspberry chilli organic chocolate.
In addition, they carry a wide assortment of beauty products, supplements, a pro-biotic, eco-friendly cleanser and a non-toxic mosquito repellent.
The products are provided by a group of growers and artisans based in Phuket, so every baht goes back into supporting the local economy. Customers place their order between Wednesday and Thursday morning and the goods are delivered on Friday, either to their home (anywhere on the island) or at a central drop-off point, making it both convenient as well as eco-friendly.
Workshops for schools and individuals
The second service that PFC offers is a series of workshops at their learning centre in which they teach hands-on, sustainable gardening techniques while raising awareness about preserving the environment. Some of the skills taught include planting seeds, composting, baking bread and building planters. The courses can be customised to individual needs.
PFC has collaborated with many of the international schools on the island, including QSI Phuket, HeadStart International School, UWC Thailand and Shining Stars, teaching keen, green students the ropes of organic gardening for growing food and medicinal plants and turning food waste into natural fertilisers and pesticides.
PFC’s final service is eco-consulting. They help individuals and businesses to set up their own organic garden for food, medicinal plants, flowers or a combination of all three. They also advise on the best produce to grow based on the location and elevation of the garden.
Part of their service includes designing the layout of the garden and irrigation system and selecting the materials that they’re built with. The team offers different levels of support, from simply supervising a project to fully managing it from top to bottom.
Some examples of their consulting projects include building the new rooftop garden at HeadStart and maintaining the food garden at PRU, a farm-to-table Michelin-star restaurant located at Trisara in Layan. They’ve also designed, built and maintained 10 other projects for individuals across the island.
Now more than ever people are concerned about living a healthier lifestyle that is in balance with nature and the environment. Through their farm-to-table products, workshops and eco-consulting services, Phuket Farmers Club is making it easier for our island community to reach this goal and live healthier, happier lives.
For more information, visit www.phuketfarmersclub.com. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram for news on upcoming workshops. To visit their learning centre or engage their eco-consulting services, email email@example.com
Palmer Owyoung is an environmental activist who uses nature and science to keep Phuket clean and beautiful. He works with the Kamala Green Club.