UPLift--Poverty Alleviation For The Ultra-Poor

UPLift is a program designed to empower communities on the Thai/Burmese border that lack food security, opportunities for income, and education. Through the use of small grants and skills trainings, these families receive the opportunity to pull themselves out of poverty without having to rely on external aid indefinitely.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Compost In A New Light--Chokchai Integrated Farm

Today we visited the Northern Sustainable Development Learning Center in Chiang Rai province.  Located halfway in between Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai, it was a convenient place for us to visit.  Using what we learned about integrated farming, our school garden projects in Mae Sot will yield additional benefits to the Burmese communities there!

After over 50 years of serving as a community development worker the founder of this organization, Khun Chokchai wants to change the attitudes of local farmers in order to overcome two important problems: poverty and debt.  Poverty comes from the lack of knowledge and support to gain income on a consistent basis, while debt comes from the costs of growing rice and raising animals in the conventional Thai manner. 

Having an integrated farm (using everything available from the natural surroundings and not using expensive cost inputs like fertilizer and pesticide) can solve both poverty and debt.  Chokchai mentions that one rai, or 2/5 of an acre, can result in 200,000 baht (US$6000) of annual income by using integrated farming.

Fermented pig food using cheap natural ingredients found around the farm

Using bottles to water plants efficiently
Using everything in an average village's surroundings helps an integrated farmer get past some difficult challenges.  Egg shells become sources of calcium for plants, empty beer bottles become water tanks for individual plants during hot season, and pigs do most of your labor for making food and compost!

The most impressive aspect of what integrated farming can achieve is composting.  This involves finely chopping a mixture of dry and living grass/leaves (free) and layering the bottom of a pig pen with it and some rice husks (extremely cheap).  The pigs are fed on a diet of fermented banana tree stalk (free), rice husk (very cheap), some corn (very cheap), and banana leaves (free).  The manure they produce is then mixed in with everything else by the pigs, their nature being to kick everything around.  Removing the mixture on a monthly basis and replacing with another batch is a great way to create high quality compost that outperforms dry compost made by conventional methods. This technique also removes all smells usually associated with pig rearing, as the bacteria in feces and urine are broken down almost immediately by the composting process.

Pigs play the role of worker by making compost for you

In terms of quality, quantity, cost of production and final sales price, compost that is made by this method is excellent.  For example, five pigs raised for six months can produce four metric tons of compost!  This compost can be sold at 6 baht per kilogram, meaning that one year of small scale compost production yields
48,000 baht income.  This is from owning just five pigs and using free materials from just one rai of land!

Of course, the pig compost can also be used for intensive vegetable growing, as this lettuce bed showed.

However, it gets better! Mixing the pig compost with some ground bonemeal and a little corn allows one to make pellets which can then be used to raise chickens, which are kept in a closed coop so that the eggs can be collected each day (one per chicken from the 100+ chickens in this farm). And, of course, the shells are collected to be included in feed or fertilizer.

We are excited about using these concepts to help the migrant learning centers in the Mae Sot area to increase their food output, and will now be planning a training/demonstration center near Mae Sot to provide training to teachers and pupils at participating schools.

To see all photos from our trip today click here.