Bangkok Post, 20 September 2005
Thai farmers head to the US
As senior bureaucrats from Thailand and the US prepare to enter the fifth round of negotiations over the historic Free Trade Agreement (FTA) to be held in Hawaii later this month, two Thai organic farmers have already started their own campaign in the US, part of the "Fair Trade Rice Campaign" project.
Phakpum Inpaen and Kanya Onsri from Prasat district in Surin province left the country yesterday (September 19) on a 23-day circuit tour to talk to people about how the FTA deal will threaten their survival.
The two farmers will join a dozen other farmers — from India and Mexico — who will also travel to the US under the sponsorship of the California-based Educational Network for Global and Grassroots Exchange (Engage).
"Once the FTA is knocking on our door, our self-sufficient and chemical-free community will be ruined," Phakpum said.
"Our independence will become impossible and small farmers will be affected. What we need is fair trade, not exploitation under the disguise of ’free trade’."
The two farmers will visit farmers’ cooperatives, consumer groups, and trade and agricultural fairs in five different states in the US.
Kanya said she would try to relate to the US audience the plight of farmers in the North who have been badly affected by the Chinese-Thai FTA.
Arat Saengubon, Surin-based coordinator of the Alternative Agriculture Network, who will join Kanya and Phakpum on the US tour, said a visit by real farmers from Thailand would help make US consumers understand and appreciate Thai rice. His group has been seeking ways to establish a direct link between organic farmers and US consumers.
"We hope that after an intensive exchange, more people in the US will buy our organic rice, not only because of the attractive prices but because they appreciate the human value in it," Kanya said.
Chris Westcott, Engage coordinator, said the "Fair Trade Rice Campaign" will be conducted for the whole year in 25 states in the US with such activities as exhibitions, discussions and sales of organic crops as well as exposure of producers like Thai and Indian farmers to their US counterparts.
The US NGO was founded about five years ago and comprises former students in the Thai-US exchange programme at Khon Kaen University.
Engage focuses on fair trade and would link consumers to producers through auditing by an independent group called the Fair Trade Labelling Organisation, which would set standards for fair trade systems while connecting producers, cooperatives and consumers.