At the Fortune Community Centre, one of the five programs they run here focuses on the environment; a large proportion of the community outreach the centre does takes them to farms where families depend on a good crop.
However, there are numerous challenges that the group faces in this department. The first is, as every seasoned Thailand traveller would tell you, in the hot summer months there is so much smoke in the air that at times it can be difficult to see for more than 500 metres. We had one of those days just yesterday, when the mountains that surround this area could not even be seen through the smoke.
This smoke is caused primarily by farms being burnt to restore nutrients to the land. Much of the produce of Northern Thailand struggles to grow in the high temperature, low rain period of March to May, and so farmers take this opportunity to burn through their land and help with next year’s crop.
Whilst in principle not a bad idea, when all the farms are doing this, it causes major health issues and increases the rate of climate change in Asia; the cloud eventually spreads across the Golden Triangle, permeates over much of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, and into Myanmar and China, carried by wind and supported by similar techniques in those countries.
Whilst the burning of plant material, even on this scale, is nowhere near as disastrous for the climate as the animal industry or automobiles, the health hazards are very real. Bad air contributes to everything from stunted child growth to cancers. The issue has become so bad that in recent years the Thai authorities have banned the burning of farmland. I have seen however that is clearly still ongoing.
The second issue facing local farms is the battle over pesticides. Again, this is something that is very noticeable here. At a wedding the other day, we were out at a farm for about an hour, and three times an unavoidable odour swept over the ceremony for a few minutes before passing on. This odour only invades the senses around farmland- I have not experienced it in the town yet. That is just one of the effects of the pesticides.
Many of these pesticides stay with the foods, going into the processing plants and then coming back out again to be sold, and then enter the digestive systems of the consumers. This is obviously a problem experienced across the world, but the community here are aware that a lot of the food grown here ends up back on the plates and bowls of the same people who are growing the produce.
The counter-argument is that the pesticides ensure the crop survives an environment where bugs rule. The people here depend on a full crop in order to survive. The problem is that this desperation for survival is in turn poisoning them, slowly.
The Fortune Group here are trying to improve standards through education, but is a small, slow process. But it is one that every country in the world is going to have to start to consider. Environmental sustainability cannot be solved through one, two policies. It is a vast swathe of issues, and in my time here I have learnt more and more about local, on the ground solutions being carried out.