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From City Girl to Modern Farmer: Nattawan Kamklai on Thailand's Organic Rice Movement

Nattawan Kamklai, 29, was once your typical city girl. After graduating in Asia-Pacific studies in Japan and completing a master’s in interior design in Italy, she’s at the forefront of a growing organic rice movement. Dubbed a modern farmer, she’s the owner of a social enterprise called Ploen Khao Baan, which promotes organic farming in Suphan Buri.

By Monruedee Jansuttipan | Jan 28, 2014

  • From City Girl to Modern Farmer: Nattawan Kamklai on Thailand's Organic Rice Movement
What got you interested in organic food?
Health. I was living life to the extreme. As an interior designer, I worked hard, played hard and drank hard. My body couldn’t take it anymore. I got up one day and suddenly passed out in the bathroom. I didn’t know what happened. Doctors could only guess at my condition, but no one could really tell what me what was going on. One day, I met Dr. Satis Intarakamhaeng, the master of Thailand’s organic food movement, Chivajit, who told me I would soon have Alzheimer’s if I continued living my life the same way. So I started eating healthy food and growing some vegetable at home.
 
How did Ploen Khao Baan begin?
My home was one of those affected by the big floods in Bangkok in 2011. I realized then that no matter how much money you have, during a disaster those luxury items are just a waste. All we need are four requisites: food, home, medicine and clothes. I wanted to learn more about rice, our main food source, so I went to the Khao Kwan Foundation, which oversees the preservation of rice seeds. I went to work at rice fields around the country. I was so surprised to find we have more than 10,000 different types of rice seed. I later got funding from Change Fusion to do Ploen Khao Baan. It aims to encourage farmers in U Thong district in Suphan Buri to grow and sell organic rice grown from good-quality Thai seeds. Part of it is offering field trips for city people who want to learn about how to grow rice. It’s free of charge. You just need to get to the paddy field by your own means.
 
Why should we care more about our rice consumption?
Our farmers are trapped in a chemical loop. They’ve got bad seeds that need chemical fertilizer and insecticide, including weed killers. Some of the farmers that I’ve met even say they feel guilty that they put so many chemicals in their rice. They don’t even eat their own rice. They buy organic rice for themselves. Some of them also feel sick from coming into contact with those chemicals. So farmers want change too.
 
Having experienced both urban and rural life, what do you think of the situation?
I used to sympathize with rural people facing hardship, but after spending time with them I realized that urban people are actually poorer than them. Farmers know how to live on their own, finding and growing food independently, not like city folk who need money for food. Urban people forget what’s natural. They think they can control everything with money. They never think of self-reliance, which is a basic fact of healthy living. 
 
What can we do to improve things?
We should stop going crazy about how things look, then farmers won’t feel pressured to use chemicals for perfect-looking produce. Remember that nature isn’t perfect. As end users, we’re the most important in this cycle. If we request organic food, then farmers will produce more.
 
Buy from Ploen Khao Baan at www.facebook.com/ploenkhaobaan
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