Testimonio / Vitoon Ruenglertpanyakul

Dr. Vitoon Ruenglertpanyakul is the founder and director of GreenNet, a social company founded in 1993 by a few Thai citizens to facilitate the access of small farmers dedicated to organic agriculture to markets. At first they sold products from small farmers only to Fair Trade organizations, but after a few years, they decided to contribute more actively to the diffusion of organic agriculture. They wanted to attempt to help the Thai people convert to organic, which is why they created Earth Net Foundation. The foundation promotes a totally organic sector, from farmer to consumer.

“My decision to start this path and promote organic agriculture,” Vitoon tells us, “came from the idea that we shouldn’t just help the farmers have a source of stable income thanks to Fair Trade, but should also promote sustainable use of resources and respect for the environment. The idea of development is based not only on calculations of immediate economic profits, but also on concrete long-term improvements of living conditions of the farmers, their families, and their towns. That’s why it’s important for the farmers to take part in the network of commercial connections based on respect of the criteria of Fair Trade and that they promote a type of agriculture that won’t damage our earth.”

Thailand is one of the biggest exporters of rice in the world even though only 0.2% of the plantations are cultivated organically. In spite of this, Vitoon’s organization has gone against the logic of the market and has converted to organic because “It’s better for the farmers themselves. It helps them lower production costs, which would otherwise be very high because of fertilizers and chemicals that we don’t make in Thailand and that we would have to import from other countries.”

For Vitoon, other advantages of organic agriculture are the health and environmental benefits like improvements in the diets of the farmers or a reduced risk of illnesses, in particular skin diseases caused by contaminated water.

“To help the farmers convert to organic,” says Vitoon, “it’s important to guarantee them technical support, continuous education, and economic support. Training is necessary so that the farmers can understand the philosophy behind the organic method and understand how to optimize costs and maintain adequate production levels.”

Vitoon goes on to note that switching to organic agriculture after twenty or thrity years of conventional cultivation is difficult, and that’s why they have to give a lot of information and support, above all during the transition period, which is the most critical. “We must help the farmers understand that organic agriculture doesn’t take more effort, but more attention and care for their crops and the search for better quality.”

GreenNet offers farmers fair and organic agriculture, which means that using these instruments they can improve their living conditions, health, and environment in which they live, in addition to their profits. On one hand the farmers contribute to improving the environment in which they live, thanks to using natural methods; on the other hand, thanks to fair trade they can support themselves economically and motivate their elected officials to convert to organic.

In addition GreenNet has various social programs for farming groups, like the one about food safety, which is one of their main programs and has been for many years. They also have a program promoting biodiversity and protecting different characteristics of local rice, and another program of adaptation to climate changes. “Food safety,” Vitoon believes, “should start at the family level, and families should have the same committment to produce and keep rice for their own consumption. In Thailand many farmers believe that having enough rice for the whole year can guarantee food safety, but that diet is based only on one type of food, and is not balanced. Our farmers include in their diet vegetables that grow in the same rice field or with other food, like crabs and fish. We encourage farmers to have a vegetable garden near their house and we help them build a small irrigation system so that they can have enough water for the vegetable garden year-round.”

When asked about the future, Vitoon answers that it’s difficult to make predictions because until now they have concentrated on the right strategy for them and the farmers to adapt to climate changes quickly.
His very positive answer is that spreading the culture of biodiversity could be the key to helping the farmers live with climate change and increase the possibility of different types of crops.

Vitoon leaves us with a final important message, “In my opinion, it’s important to understand that differences that can only bring more harmony. This is clear in agriculture, where biodiversity brings a balanced ecosystem in which the different parts are in harmony. This concept can also be applied to our society, where more harmony in the world could come from differences in thought, taste, and religion. We shouldn’t promote a conformist, homogenous society, but should instead value differences.”
Grupo productor