Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Thailand's and East Kent's fun of the fair - and pick of the organic crop

What an interesting time Khun Anchalee Kongrut must have had at the Kasesart Fair in her “Organic Life” article for the Bangkok Post:


The range of flowers and fruit and vegetables sound a feast for the senses along with the Courageous Bangkok and Lemon Tree programmes. And from my experience, Kasetsart hides its light under a bushel as not just one of the leading agricultural universities but a very dynamic hub for international students.

If the range of orchids is extensive then it's only outclassed by the numerous and involving links with universities in ASEAN and Taiwan and Japan – and the importance orchids – to Kent featuring in 007’s Moonraker, as well as Thailand - featuring in today’s Independent newspaper although the article isn’t online as yet it’s by one of the world’s experts and part of an ecosystem of such features:




In my Kent politics role I hope those international links will be deepened and hopefully Kasetsart will link in with the work of Hadlow College here in East Kent, affiliated to Imperial College in London, and one of only half a dozen specialist agricultural colleges in UK.

And why not too deeper links with Danang Univeristy in Vietnam the largest UK educational investment in ASEAN?

Kent’s universities are already pulling on their wellington boots and striding out across the fields with CCU University in Canterbury working with DaNang on nursing courses and Kent University linking in with Hiroshima and Tokyo universities.

Kasesart or Mahidol could well be the first Thai universities linked in to Meiji Kent. Why should Chula or Thammasat always get first pick of the crop?

It's interesting the point Khun Anchalee makes in not just repurposing her chemical spray container and hose as a supersoaker for Songkran, but the growth of organic food in Thailand. Clearly only 1% organic is a massive opportunity for Thailand’s farmers: UK organic sales are a little higher but dwarfed by USA at 5%$ and Denmark nearly 8%:


Here in UK organic food has moved from specialist shops - and the socks and sandals types - to the mainstream supermarkets such as Tesco (and Tesco Lotus in Thailand). As well as more broadly-based organic food shops such as Planet Organic and farmers markets and popup markets.


As with the acres of plastic greenhouses in Almeria glinting in the sun and maximising every possible yield of food there is a certain limit to the Green revolution of previous years. East Kent’s mega-greenhouse s of Holland’s Thanet Earth brand is one route but it’s interesting that one of the best Xmas ads in UK at the moment is Lidl’s emphasis on free-range turkeys and apples:


It’s all the more unusual as Lidl was one of the Continental brands notoriously focused on discounting to the exclusion of any other brand promises but now actively waving the flag for organic and animal welfare – and the consumer urge driving that.

In a previous article Khun Anchalee mentioned the attention Thailand pays to soil health and the recent UN Year of the Soil which detailed the real nitty-gritty of potentially only a maximum 6 more harvests from topsoil.

Relevant to for Kent’s preservation of seedbanks and trees beyond pollution scandals such as Thor mercury in Margate, Kent’s Klity Creek, Cato Ridge and Flint Michigan rolled into one:




While one benefit of warmer summers and Climate Change is the return of champagne and sparkling wine to Kent, nestling next to the acres of hopfields, micropubs and barrels of Kentish - and Belgian - ale.

Surely in maximising crop yield, but with fewer if any harmful chemicals, or the unknown effect of genetically altered food is where Thailand and Kent could reap an abundant harvest?

AMR antibiotics in animals is the latest farming danger in the UK - the public's natural immune systems being reduced by overuse of antibiotics in animals again to maximise yield.


While King Bhumibol's Royal projects around the Sufficiency Economy should be as important here in UK, not just the rare Kent orchids, but also farm techniques around bees and hedgerow planting.

Rice paddies and other flooded soils have contributed to Climate Change with increases in methane-producing microbes as have the planet's 1.5BN cattle as methane has soared by 153% to 1,834 parts per billion since the 1800's.

And there’s a UK-Thai need especially pandemic alerts: Kent as of last week facing a mini version of the Hunger Winter that affected Netherlands and the Liberation Route Europe during WW2 with a bird flu attack on the Great British Xmas Turkey.


It's not that long as with the Netherlands Hunger Winter that German Uboat attacks meant oranges and bananas were rarities in England and non-existent in Russia, but now so commonplace as to be thrown away after being shipped halfway around the world.

If there's a shortage of Brussels sprouts or Jersey spuds from the Brexit silliness then UK might well need to tap in to Thailand's rice reserves for a balanced Xmas diet. And whatever the colour of your shirt, why shouldn't UK and Thailand cooperate on financing the redistribution of the Yingluck rice reserves around ASEAN and India and Europe for Thailand's farmers?

The UN has forecast ASEAN as the next hotspot for human or animal pandemics in the next decade, surely calling for closer cooperation with farmers and supermarkets and hospitals and universities?


Luckily the farm and media alerts have ensured most of the UK's Xmas turkeys have been prepared for the dinner table rather than affected by a quarantine as with similar types of Bird Flu.


And moving from Loam to Foam if you will with an integrated land and fisheries UK-Thai policy?

And even the Great British Fish and Chips could take on more of a Thai twist as Squid and Chips, with the North Sea becoming warmer resulting in an increase in squid and reduction in cod and haddock. Kent's Ukippers now almost extinct too.

CEFAS Fisheries College reported this week on squid increases of 300% while cod fell by 75% since 1971 to its lowest level of just 124,000 tonnes in 2004. While other warmwater fish such as red mullet, mackerel and sardines were also on the increase given much more of a Mediterranean climate based on 114 years of data.

Even the Surin Thai restaurant nestled by Ramsgate's gorgeous harbour occasionally has to comply with restrictions on sea bass (try it with lime juice!) each year. And Ramsgate as the largest fishing port and yacht marina on the South coast (Kent's Phuket if you will) still has an active fishing trade, and even the occasional beached whale searching for declining fish stocks.

Thailand's Royal Navy work with IUU fishing could well pave the way for a lifting of EU restrictions to maximise Thailand's role as the largest exporter of canned tuna and seafood.


Couldn't the UK's Royal Navy and fishing fleet and RNLI help chart a course to that end too? The HMS Kent warship is either tied up in port and rusting away for lack of anything to do or drifting around on aimless Ambre Solaire tours.

Why not exchange programmes with the Thai Royal Navy whether that's fishing patrols or tsunami resilience work or piracy patrols around Singapore? It’s perhaps fitting for the Magellan Anniversaries of the next few years and with Kent as the home of naturalist Charles Darwin.

As with wonky fruit and veg initiative, and orchid policies, by Asda to reduce the 30% of food wasted at farms or in supermarket warehouses or shelves or at home, Kent's fishermen have been active in reducing the thrown catch.

And UK and Thailand could well take lessons from France in passing legislation on reducing food waste as well as healthier initiatives on a Sugar Tax and HFSS (High Fat Salt and Sugar) foods. Big HFSS reforms as critical to public health as was Big Tobacco?

Thailand's crop expertise could well be honed around healthy Superfoods, given the supersizing of USA with 72M adults now obese with a medical surcharge of $1,429 per person, such as coconut water or pineapple as well as more exotic crops to British palates such as dragonfruit or rambutan.


The example of avocados shows the potential for crop fashions: 193,700 metric tons supplied to USA in 1998, leaping to 713,900 tons in 2012 - a similar boom occuring now in UK.

The bee collapse is even more pronounced in USA as it relies on the European honeybee to pollinate 33% of its food supply: apples, peaches, cranberries, melons and blueberries. If nothing else that’s an opportunity for the cool uplands of Loei beyond just tourism.

So desperate is USA's honeybee problem for its crops that there are in effect bee-tourists being taken from California's plums and cherry fields in February, to Dakota's sunflowers in April, and then onto the watermelons of Texas, then Florida's blueberries and Massachusett's pumpkins and lettuces.

Their frequent flyer miles must be huge.

While southwest China is already having to resort to pollinating its apple and pear orchards by hand and using paintbrushes to apply pollen to flowers. Farming as an art as well as a science that would appeal to Ramsgate's resident artist Van Gogh and his sunflowers.

But rather than mere farming and seafoood expertise, couldn't Kent and Thailand dive into the 21st century with Digital Farms?

The advances in RFID transmitter sensors for soil quality along with robo-tractors and robo-rice-ploughs would not just efficiently maximise crop yield but take out some of the drudgery and backbreaking work from farming.

Whether that's under the hot sun of Thailand (and Kent) or the snow (just Kent).

It's a hot topic for UK with the vast majority of farmers now over the age of 65 and few governments would want to loosen national food security before the UNSDG30 are achieved.

I'm urging with Produced in Kent and Visit Kent Tourism, not just Farm to Fork traceability (even Tesco now ensuring DNA testing for animal produce), or a beefing up of press visits and food tastings, but also a Raspberries and Raspberry Pi digital approach.

Every Kent schoolchild shouldn't just be planting 1M trees each year - how absurd that the Garden of England should have lost 90% of its orchards in the last 70 years as business-parks and retail-parks encroach on park-parks.

But Kent's schoolchildren, as with the Surin School Charity and Ellington School, could be active in cooperating with Thai schools and universities on computer programming, MOOC courses as with the Open University, and STEM work.

Shocking figures this month show only 8% of UK girls taking science courses - in contrast to the prestigious Women in Science awards in Thailand, while programmes such as the Raspberry Pi computer or server farms and mobile phone apps with True or TAT for farm management would beef up Thailand 4.0.

Thailand and UK agricultural and fisheries cooperation on such as Digital Farms could ensure computer chips with everything (or at least Space Food research) - but to the benefit of everybody’s diet.


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