Kanya Onsri of Thailand was recently named the winner for the ‘Achieving Results’ category in the LEDS Leadership Awards. In this interview, Cathryn Poff finds out how Kanya’s community-based work for sustainable, healthy food has grown over the years to have a wide impact in her home country.
Sustainability and organic agriculture are Kanya Onsri’s passions. She has worked tirelessly in Thailand to translate those passions into reality. To help her fellow citizens pursue these goals, she founded the Environmental Conservation and Alternative Career community group. This group fosters organic agriculture among its members, encouraging and helping residents grow and market a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and rice. They’ve branched out into livestock husbandry, raising pigs on organic feed and using their by-products for natural fertilizer and as another source of income.
Kanya’s inspiration and her belief in sustainable communities began with her first job at an NGO that worked with community forests and the environment, “way back in 1997,” she says laughing. “I was also shaped by my father’s position at the head of the village, and I wanted to make my village a better place to live.” She briefly went on to work in a poultry processing plant in Bangkok, but soon went back to her hometown to start rice farming and pursue her advocacy of sustainable, organic living.
“My work in sustainability came about gradually,” she says. “I started to ask myself if farmers in Thailand have to be trapped in poverty, and if there is any way to help them from being exploited by the middle man.” Kanya believed organic agriculture could improve her community’s standard of living, since organic produce would yield higher prices and the community would not have to depend on external production materials like chemical fertilizers. She set about learning agriculture by focusing on best practices and local wisdom, and added new knowledge and ideas to improve organic production processes. Though crop yields initially decreased when they began farming organically, yields eventually stabilized at relatively high values. And, as Kanya likes to emphasize, organic farming has improved the villagers’ health.
Kanya started a Saturday green market in Surin Municipality. The market launched in 2003 with nineteen farmers and today numbers nearly eighty. Before participating in the market, farmers earned an average of less than 4,000 Baht per month (about US$ 113). They now earn up to 15,000 Baht a month (about US$420) selling their organic produce at the market. The green market has been recognized as a model for other communities to emulate. Leaders from other communities regularly visit the market to study and learn from Kanya and her colleagues.
Kanya notes that farmers’ incomes have increased by almost 150% in the years since the organic cooperative was established. And while it’s hard to directly tie health to any one factor, she points out that there are far fewer sick people in the village every month, from about seventy when she started working on the project to less than five currently. Finally, she says, “We’ve been able to successfully bridge the gap between the organic sellers and buyers in my village and surrounding areas – maintaining trust, good will, and a win-win approach.”
Kanya’s goals are to “keep working towards full integration of health, food production, and sustainable development. It is possible to do it all together, for the benefit of all – farmers, consumers, communities.”
Watch a short film (2 minutes) about Kanya’s work in Surin Municipality here.
The other categories for the LEDS Leadership Awards were as follows:
For more information on our LEDS GP Leadership Awards, please see here.