|Live Fair, Live Organic|
|02 October 2012|
By Michael B. Commons
Green Net Cooperative, is now approaching its 20-year anniversary. Founded in October 1993, Green Net started with working to link farmers practicing organic agriculture methods to consumers interested in supporting farmers doing the right thing, and even more interested to eat healthy food free of pesticides and chemical residues. Starting small and local, it quickly became apparent that while there were a few courageous organic pioneers, there were many other farmers seeing the need for change yet not ready to do it alone. The farmer groups involved also may have been good at growing food, but often lacked experience and knowledge on how to maintain consistent quality and do proper packaging. Thus, as must be familiar for many in the Fair Trade world, when starting out what turned up great sometimes is not always fit for sale.
This need, combined with an interest from Green Net’s longest Fair Trade partner, Claro of Switzerland, for a supply of Fair Trade rice grown under sustainable farming methods, meant that Green Net transformed from organizing market linkages to helping farmers in organic production. Our role expanded, which includes helping farmer members develop their capacities in organic production, training new farmers and farmer groups within their networks on how to practice organic farming, management and accounting, quality, and how to run a cooperative. Green Net also received important support from its fair trading partners, including particularly from Claro and CTM, to work in developing and improving the packing and management system to deliver consistent high-quality organic rice to Fair Trade consumers in Europe.
The 19 years gone by was not without its bumps. However, I think it is this sense of partnership and continuous capacity building, between partners and Green Net, between farmers’ groups and Green Net, and between farmer members and Green Net, that is the real strength of Fair Trade. When many years ago a shipment of rice was rejected because of problems, rather than drop us as a supplier, our partners sent a quality management expert to help develop our capacity. Concrete example of the benefits of capacity building is our staff, Ms. Krisana Wilaiwan, who is now our manager for Green Net’s Packing Plant that recently received GMP certification. Ms. Krisana has gone on to share this knowledge with many others, joining me in training on developing quality management systems for rice farmers groups in India, Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Bhutan.
While getting a fair or good price is good, it is this capacity development, as well as being part of a network, that is the real jewel for the farmers of Green Net. I have now nine years working for Green Net. My first task was to interview farmer members of the cooperative, to hear their stories. I continue to have this opportunity, and even until today, it is one of my favorite jobs. For almost every time come to visit a farmer again, they have always things to tell. Good things, like the soil is even better, they can grow onions and garlic in the dry season after the rice harvest without watering. Someone else has learned and applied a new green manuring technique that is easier and better. Another farm now has over 50 different species of vegetables, fruits, and herbs. The stories are positive.
The latest news I got was from Ms. Chutima Samsee, Mill Manager for the Nature Care Society of Yasothorn, one of the first groups associated with Green Net. She told me that they now have local “organic” green markets three times per week, and that many of the farmers who are now growing vegetables year-round with better water-management capacity (developed with the help of a Green Net/ Oxfam project for climate change adaptation) are earning impressive returns. A few are earning around 40000 Thai Baht (1000 Euro) a month selling organic vegetables at local markets at fair (inexpensive) prices. Having her own rice, organic vegetables, and other produce, and little use for money, one woman gave 5000 Euro to the temple to help build a new roof. Chutima’s other news is about a group working to protect and revitalize the remaining local forest areas, and some are applying organic agroforestry on parts of their land.
Green Net Cooperative is a bit unique in that at least with our rice, we have a Fair Trade supply chain from seed to ship and sometimes to sale. Our mills, like the one Ms. Chutima manages, are farmers-owned and operated. Green Net has an export license and the coop manages the product supply chain until it is boarded. About 90% of the coop members are our farmer members with another 10% being local organic consumers, Green Net staff, and a few others who want to invest in doing things the right way.
Green Net exports organic rice, organic coconut milk and has a number of other products sold mostly within Thailand. It is however this magic of being linked with our many organic farming family members, and organic and Fair Trade partners around the world and seeing that we can make the world greener and healthier and have fun doing this, that is the joy of being a part of Green Net.