The Charis Teaching Farm aims to serve the small farmers in the local area of Maesot. Practically, this means coming up with accessible resources and ideas. As you’ll see in our other articles, we have made strides to do this by establishing SRI rice farming during the rice season. We also have begun planting trees in parts of our fields, intercropping them with vegetables and fruits as a way to demonstrate how farmers can diversify their plots and create a financial padding for those years when their larger fields fail them.
These methods were chosen for various reasons. SRI is a tested and proven superior method for farming rice and other grains. It requires less input and gives more output. It is a method easy to teach to any who are interested and speaks loudly to a culture in which a meal is not considered complete without rice. Planting trees in fields employs scientific research and natural ecological systems into a financial farm plan. The trees support the life of all the other crops through below ground bacterial and nutrient networks while above ground leaf litter returns organic matter and nutrients to the soil. This model serves as a financial buffer once the trees reach maturity in the form of fruit and firewood.
Both these ideas are easily implemented, are inexpensive (free in the case of SRI), offer financial gains above former practices, speak to cultural values and are easily taught. This sums up the characteristics that must be present in a new idea or product if the people we serve are to consider adopting our methods.
Something we are working on now is a seed storage system. Storing seed in a tropical environment is a nightmare. The humidity during rainy season, insects constantly looking for protein sources in the way of seeds, and heat during the summer causes seed viability to drop dramatically in a short period of time. We have experienced this on our own farm. We decided that if we were going to create a seed storage system, it must be one that would be accessible to a small farmer as well.
We are thankful to ECHO Asia for doing research on seed storage systems. Because of the long-term experimentation they did, our decision to use their design for a bicycle-pump vacuum sealer was an easy choice. This build is very inexpensive, the glass jars being the most costly part of the system. Buying a new bike pump, glue, tape and a PVC cap, we paid less than 400 baht which comes to around $12 USD. This is an expense that will easily pay for itself after one season of increased seed viability. To decrease moisture content and boost viabiltiy, we add a small pouch of silica gel beads, about 3 baht each.
In order to lower temperature, we had to think of a method that would be applicable anywhere in Thailand that utilizes cheap or free resources. After some research, we designed a below-ground storage container which requires two used tires, sand and a small trash bin. We are currently testing the temperature-lowering efficacy of the build to ensure its benefit.
We hope this article serves not just to demonstrate what we are doing, but that it would serve as a standard for non-profits like us to adhere to. The ideas we offer need to be understandable, valuable, accessible and effective if they are to be adopted. If the idea is designed with the help of those you serve, all the better! They will keep your ideas grounded in the reality they experience and they will also offer ideas of their own that you would never have imagined.