Alternative agriculture in Thailand and Japan


The demand for alternative agricultural systems has grown in response to the failures of conventional agriculture and to set this analysis in context the introduction provides a summary of these failures both generally and then specifically for Thailand and Japan. A brief overview of the agricultural development of both Thailand and Japan is presented to provide a background to the study. A literature review was undertaken to document other studies on alternative agriculture in the two countries and to help establish a definition for the term 'alternative agriculture'.


Japan, Thailand

Problem Overview:

High use of chemical fertilizers by farmers and the erosion of rural agrarian communities

Agriculture in a country needs to be highly efficient and be economically viable in order to be competitive and to sustain farmers livelihoods. At the same time the production methods should be environmentally friendly and sustainable and the food produced must be safe to consumers. Agricultural development, post 1945, has been leaning toward achieving the first goal while neglecting the second. This is not a sustainable basis for agricultural development. The systems were developed in response to the failure of conventional agriculture to achieve these twin goals.

Problems associated with conventional agricultural practice in Thailand:

The Thai government has promoted high input, export orientated agricultural systems in a bid to increase the country's growth rate, however the environmental and socio-economic effects of this agricultural strategy has resulted in the retardation of the country's agricultural sector. More specifically poor farm management techniques and inappropriate use of agro-chemicals has resulted in soil erosion and soil exhaustion (Tantemsapya 1995).

At the same time forest land has been cleared to make way for agricultural land, between 1961 and 1989 the area of forest land decreased from 187.5 million rai ( 1 rai = 1600 square meters ) to 85 million rai (Office of Agricultural Economics 1992). This deforestation has created more erratic rainfall patterns, increased flooding, loss of top soil and a decline in the availability of traditional supplements to farmers diets in the form of wild birds, fowl and fish (Suksawasdi 1996).

Death and illness to farmers caused by pesticides is a serious problem in Thailand. This stems from the Thai farmers’ lack of knowledge with regards to agro-chemical application and safety procedures. In 1988 the number of people reported to be suffering from pesticide poisoning was 4,234, while the number of deaths from pesticide poisoning was 34 (Alternative Agriculture Forum 1992).

Problems associated with conventional agricultural practice in Japan:

Japanese farming is the worlds most intensive. The OECD (1993) estimate that the energy consumption in farming per hectare in terms of megajoules (this represents fossil fuel usage) is 46,400 MJ/ha compared to the world average of 1,734 MJ/ha.

Two main problems specific to Japan relate to the high use of chemical fertilizers by farmers and the erosion of rural agrarian communities. Yamauchi (1995) reported on these problems and noted that in 1990 Japanese farmers used 100 Kg/ha Potassium, 88 Kg/ha Nitrogen and 85 Kg/ha Phosphate. This is 5 times higher than the rate of fertiliser use in Thailand. Problems created by these high application rates include: nitrate contamination of city water supplies; production of Nitrous Oxide, a greenhouse gas, by Nitrogen fertiliser; depletion of soil’s natural fertility; and low quality produce, relative to organic produce, because of the unnaturally high speed and concentration of nutrients supplied by chemical fertilizers. In addition denitrification activity is high near the soil surface . At the same time the use of organic fertilizers in Japan has actually declined from 5500 kg/ha of compost and 300 kg/ha of straw in 1965, to 2000 kg/ha and 100 kg/ha respectively in 1995 (Yamauchi 1995).

In Japan over half the farmers are over 60 years of age and only 34 % of the farming population is engaged full time in farming (Pretty 1995). Farm work in Japan has become heavily mechanised and this has substituted to a large extent for human labour. This, in turn, has had an adverse impact on agrarian communities as the number of people living in farming households has fallen from 30% of the population in 1960 to 14 % in 1991 (Iwamoto 1994).


The demand for alternative agricultural systems has grown in response to the failures of conventional agriculture and to set this analysis in context the introduction provides a summary of these failures both generally and then specifically for Thailand and Japan. A brief overview of the agricultural development of both Thailand and Japan is presented to provide a background to the study. A literature review was undertaken to document other studies on alternative agriculture in the two countries and to help establish a definition for the term 'alternative agriculture'.


It has become increasingly clear to farmers, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), international agencies, academics and governments that the conventional practice of farming, based on the Green revolution in Asia, is fatally flawed. The unsustainable nature of conventional agriculture is manifesting itself in terms of stagnant or declining yields, increasing ecological degradation, and worsening rural socio- economic conditions (Lucas and Debuque 1993).

Conventional agriculture requires the use of inappropriate technologies characterized by high yield variety mono- cropping and the heavy use of off- farm inputs, this has led to the erosion of indigenous agricultural practices and knowledge (Lucas and T.Debuque 1993). In addition the high use of inappropriate off farm inputs has resulted in declining soil fertility through the over use of chemical fertilizers in Asia (Dahal 1993) and increased mortality and illness attributed to pesticides (Conway and Pretty 1991). Inclusion of the associated health aspects of rice production in economic analysis have shown that the indirect effects of pesticide on the health of farm workers outweigh the economic benefits of pesticide use (IRRI 1992).

Social problems such as family disputes over farm resource use, migration and family breakdown have been exacerbated by conventional agriculture. Self-reliant local agricultural economies have been broken up as farmers were encouraged to produce crops for external markets. In addition high use of external inputs such as machinery, fossil fuels, and agro- chemicals have displaced workers in Asia, this in turn has put rural communities under pressure as local peoples have been forced to migrate in search of work (Pretty 1995).

Literary Review

There is a large body of literature on the subject of alternative agriculture in Japan and Thailand.

Most of the literature for Japan is concerned with organic farming, which is the most widely adopted system of alternative farming in the country. A general overview of the organic farming movement in Japan can be found in the work of Senta (1981), Aoki (1991), Hasumi (1988), Ohira (1983), and Yasuda (1986). Arguments and analysis of why there is a need for organic agriculture have been documented by Kurin (1993), Hoshi (1994) and Hasumi (1991). For an economic analysis of organic farming in Japan see Yasuda (1981). Sakamoto et. al. (1981) examined aspects of the ecological agriculture movement in Japan. The spiritual side of alternative agriculture in Japan has been studied by Kaneko (1994) and Tamanoi et. al. (1984). Note that these publications are written in the Japanese language, although English summaries are available.

For a general overview of the alternative agriculture movement in Thailand see Suksawasde (1996), Tantemsapya (1995) and Chamarik (1996). The role of sustainable agriculture in Thailand has been covered in a number of studies in recent years, these include: Jitasaknuan (1994) which examines sustainable agriculture in relation to Thailand's food policy; Boonsawasdi (1990) which outlines the history of sustainable farming, and its future, in Thailand; and Kanayama (1993) who studied the various soil management techniques which are central to sustainable farming in Thailand.


Definition of 'alternative agriculture'

A review of the literature on this subject shows that there is no universal definition of alternative agriculture. Parr (1990) and Schaller (1993) describe alternative agriculture as being a general concept that embraces more specific terms such as 'low input', 'biological', 'ecological regeneration' and 'natural'. Similarly alternative agriculture is seen by Beus and Dunlap (1990) as encapsulating certain key values, most importantly independence, decentralisation, community, harmony with nature, diversity and restraint. The National Research Council (1989) refer to alternative agriculture as a systems approach to farming that incorporates knowledge of the farms natural cycles and biological interactions. This systems approach is defined as 'wholism' by Harwood (1990) who notes that natural systems must act as a model in the development of alternative agriculture and that conventional agricultural technologies should be incorporated into alternative agriculture systems where appropriate (his examples were improved crop varieties and soil nutrient testing technology). While not specifically defining the term, Pretty (1995) refers to alternative agriculture as being differentiated from conventional agriculture by its greater use of local resources and indigenous knowledge. Alternative agriculture practices are defined by Cook (1991) as being those which take advantage of the biological relationships which occur naturally and are sensitive to maintaining environmental balance. Benbrook (1991) defines alternative agriculture as being a term which encompasses efforts to achieve sustainable agricultural systems.


Critical to the definition of alternative agricultural is recognition of the inter-linkages between the socio-cultural, economic and ecological aspects of farm production. An alternative agricultural system provides socio-economic and ecological benefits in terms of: increased self-reliance (both in terms of food production and by enabling the farmer to break away from the cycle of debt created by the high cost of off-farm inputs); a balanced diet for farming households; sufficient income; and an improvement in the farm environment. Equally important the system must be environmentally sustainable and at the same time provide the farmer with a satisfying lifestyle.

Present status of alternative agriculture in Thailand and Japan


The impact of alternative agricultural systems in both countries is minor, it is estimated that only 0.4 % of Thai farm households (Panyakul 1993) and 1 % of Japanese farm households (Udagawa 1993) are practicing some form of sustainable farming.

An examination of alternative agricultural systems in Thailand and Japan

This paper next examines the impact of 7 of the most widely adopted and influential alternative agricultural farming systems in Thailand and Japan. Each system is examined in this study in terms of its history, farming techniques, theme, the farmers motivation to adopt and its present status in Thailand and Japan. The systems are: Fukuoka nature farming; Mokichi Okada nature farming which is sub-divided into the Kyusei and Mokichi Okada Association nature farming systems; Santi Asoke nature farming; integrated agriculture and aquaculture; Permaculture; and organic farming.


Fukuoka Nature Farming



Following a philosophy of "do nothing farming" Mr. Masanobu Fukuoka first began natural farming in 1938, in Japan his homeland. He was educated as a microbiologist and soil scientist but gave up his career to practice simple agriculture as a spiritual undertaking. In his book 'The One Straw Revolution' (Fukuoka 1978) Fukuoka explains how natural production is more appropriate than manmade production. The underlying philosophy is that humans have been destroying the power of nature rather than harnessing its power.


The practice of Fukuoka farming is based around the concept of minimal interference with nature, namely no ploughing, no weeding, no chemical pesticides, no chemical fertilizers and no pruning. He also pioneered the use of 'seed balls' which consist of the seeds of many different crop species being combined into a clay mixture and formed into a small ball. These are then scattered over the farm creating many different micro-ecosystems.


The founder, Masanobu Fukuoka, developed this system of farming in response to his belief that:

the ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings" (Fukuoka 1978). Hence this system was not developed as a commercial enterprise – instead more importance is placed on the spiritual aspect of farming. Thus Fukuoka nature farming can be said to have very little market orientation. In reality, however, farmers and non- governmental organizations (NGOs) have tried to adapt Fukuoka nature farming into a sustainable, commercially viable system that will allow the farmer to provide both food for his family and a surplus for sale.

Farmers motivation to adopt:

The important spiritual aspect of Fukuoka farming and the low degree of market orientation means that only those farmers with a strong commitment to Fukuoka's belief of man working in harmony with nature are motivated to strictly adhere to this minimalist system of farming.

Fukuoka farming in Thailand and Japan:


Fukuoka is the pioneer of Japans modern nature farming movement though his ideas have been more influential abroad than they have in his home land. Fukuoka nature farming first arrived in Thailand with the translation of his book, 'The One Straw Revolution', into Thai in 1987 . This was followed by a visit by Fukuoka himself in 1990 and another visit followed in 1991. Following his visit 80 rice farmers in the North-eastern region of Thailand choose to experiment by adopting the principle of no ploughing. The farmers encountered various problems, the main ones being a shortage of rice straw for covering the soil, drought, compacted soil, poor sowing techniques and poor water management. The latter factors meant that without ploughing, weeds were restricting the rice plants growth.


By 1995, of the original group of 80 farmers, only 10 farmers still practised some nature farming techniques, in this case green manuring, mulching and agro-forestry. The latter techniques, apart from mulching, are not explicitly promoted by Fukuoka, but they are appropriate nature farming techniques given the poor soil and water availability on these farms. The situation has changed more recently as the price of organic produce has increased. This in turn has led to another 17 farmers from the original group of 80 to try some of Fukuoka’s techniques for a second time in order to take advantage of increased prices. By 1997, 27 farmers in total, of the original 80, are still practicing some of Fukuoka's nature farming techniques.


Although most Thai farmers found the full adoption of Fukuoka’s nature farming to be impractical at present the farmers, through Fukuoka, have become more aware of the need to nurture the soils natural fertility. Fukuoka’s philosophy has also inspired a number of intellectuals within Thailand's agricultural NGO sector to promote increased awareness of nature farming amongst Thai farmers.


Fukuoka is credited with popularising nature farming in Thailand. However this system's impact in Thailand is greater on the philosophical level rather than the practical level. That is to say although many NGOs and farmers currently working in the field of nature farming in Thailand were first introduced to the concept and goals of nature farming through Fukuoka’s book "The One Straw Revolution', apart from a few isolated cases, few Thai farmers currently practice Fukuoka nature farming.

Mokichi Okada Nature Farming


Mokichi Okada first started practicing nature farming in 1936 in his homeland Japan. His farming philosophy was initially labeled as 'no-fertilizer farming' this was changed to 'nature farming' in 1950. The basic principle of this agricultural system is to eliminate poison contained in the soil and let the soil itself return to its full natural productive power by using traditional agricultural practices which are carried out in accordance with a holistic view of nature.

The most high profile proponent of Okada nature farming today can be found in the 'Sekai Kyusei Kyo' organization, which was established by Okada in the 1930's. This is a religious sect which, aside from its religious activities, advocates the practice of Mokichi Okada nature farming under the title of 'Kyusei nature farming'. Kyusei nature farming is promoted in Asia by the Asia-Pacific Natural Agriculture Network (APNAN), the International Nature Farming Research Center established in 1985 in Atami, Japan, Kyusei experimental farms and Sekai Kyusei Kyo sect offices located throughout SE Asia.


In 1980 the Mokichi Okada Association (MOA) was formed by a breakaway group from Kyusei. This group considers the use of effective microorganisms (EM) (for a description of EM see the 'system' section under Kyusei Nature Farming) to be inappropriate for nature farming because it is an industrially produced product. MOA is now fully independent from the Kyusei group. In 1982 an MOA experimental farm was established in Ohito, Japan. Its mission is to demonstrate the scientific validity of the benefits that can be made possible by optimizing the inherent natural properties of soil.

Mokichi Okada's nature farming system emphasizes the need to: avoid the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides; utilize natural systems and biological cycles to ensure healthy productive soils; utilize on-farm resources; and conserve energy.

The two organizations which promote Okada nature farming, the Mokichi Okada Association and Kyusei Nature Farming, are examined next.

Kyusei Nature Farming



'Kyusei' literally means 'saving' in Japanese and the strategic objective of Kyusei nature farming is to save the world and mankind through natural farming methods. Breaking this objective down, Kyusei nature farming has 5 main objectives:

1) To produce high quality food.

2) To be economically and spiritually beneficial to farmers and consumers.

3) To be sustainable.

4) To be environmentally sound.

5) To be able to produce enough food for an expanding world population

(Matsumoto 1993).

The core approach of this method is the promotion, production and sale ($1.25 per liter) of effective microorganisms (EM). EM was developed by Dr. Teruo Higa from the agricultural department at the University of Ryukyu, Japan. Effective microorganisms are used as a microbial inoculant to improve soil quality, enhance plant growth and increase crop yield. More specifically EM can be used in a number of ways:

The application of EM on farmland stimulates the micro ecosystem of the soil and so improves soil quality.

The spraying of EM directly onto crops has been shown to reduce the necessity for weeding.

When EM is applied to a sewage disposal facility, the sewage is purified to the extent that the water can be used to irrigate crops.

Spraying EM in livestock pens reduces the odor of the animals.

Applying EM to manure and kitchen waste makes their use as a fertilizer more effective.


EM has proved very effective in accelerating seed growth, compost development and EM's positive impact on crop production has been demonstrated for rice, tomatoes, carrots and peanuts in Japan, Thailand and Taiwan (Higa 1989). Kyusei recommend an EM application rate of 2-3 liters per 1000 square meters per year.



This system takes a pragmatic view of the spiritual aspects of farming meaning that Kyusei nature farming is a system which primarily promotes EM and farmers are encouraged to adopt Mokichi Okada's farming philosophy and techniques as a supplement to EM use. In their mission statement the need for Kyusei farming to be economically viable for farmers is stressed.


The fact that Kyusei's production and sale of EM is managed along business lines means that this system tries to incorporate the spiritual side of Okada's nature farming, which has a low degree of market orientation, with the promotion of EM which has a high degree of market orientation.

Farmers motivation to adopt:

Most farmers come into contact with Kyusei through EM. The demonstrated effectiveness of EM is the main motivation for farmers to initially express interest in Kyusei farming (though in the end many farmers use EM without adopting any other of Okada's farming techniques or philosophy).

Kyusei nature farming in Thailand and Japan:

Kyusei nature farming was first introduced to Thailand, in 1968, at the Fang Agricultural Vocational School in Chiang Mai, by a Japanese missionary, Rev. Kazuo Wakugami. Before the introduction of EM this system had little success because of the need for large quantities of compost and problems associated with plant diseases, pests and weeds (Pairintra et. al. 1993).


At present there are 2 Kyusei experimental stations in Japan located at Tochigi and Kyoto. There is also a Kyusei research laboratory in Nagano. Sekai Kyusei Kyo runs one-year training courses for individual farmers who wish to become familiar with Kyusei nature farming and there is a 2-year course for those people who wish to become Kyusei 'technical leaders'. The International Nature Farming Center has been lobbying, with some success, for Kyusei nature farming to be in the Japanese school curriculum. In 1993 EM was introduced to Thailand at the newly established Kyusei nature farming school in Saraburi province. The effective microorganisms are produced in Thailand at a factory in Pathumthani province. Farmers have to pay 40 baht per liter for the EM solution. In Japan EM is produced at three factories based in Okinawa, Shiruoka and Fukuoka.

The demonstrated effectiveness of EM, as shown by improved crop yields and livestock production (Pairintra et. al. 1993), led to the Thai Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, the Green Isarn Project, Khon Kaen University and Sekai Kyusei Kyo organizing the First International Conference on Kyusei nature farming at Khon Kaen University in 1989. The conference was sponsored by Seakai Kyusei Kyo. At this meeting the Asia- Pacific Natural Agriculture Network (APNAN) was founded with the brief of promoting research in, and promoting the use of, Kyusei nature farming and EM.


Since this conference a number of organizations in Thailand have carried out experiments with EM to test its effectiveness. Although EM has proved to be effective in the short term there is no information available yet about the long-term effects of EM use on soil fertility and quality.


It is estimated that there are more than 20,000 farmers using EM throughout Thailand. Some farmers simply use EM as a supplementary input in their conventional farming system while others have fully adopted the Kyusei nature farming system. The majority of farmers using EM lie at some point in between conventional farming and Kyusei nature farms.


Apart from the integrated agriculture and aquaculture system Kyusei nature farming and EM have had the greatest impact in Thailand in terms of the number of Thai farmers involved. This is explained by the fact that EM is proving effective in practice and this nature farming system is backed by a well-established infrastructure, which coordinates and promotes Kyusei nature farming in Thailand. This infrastructure comprises the Kyusei Nature Farming Center in Saraburi, the Kyusei Center in Bangkok, and APNAN also in Bangkok.

Mokichi Okada Association


The MOA promotes Okada's belief that the spiritual realm predominates over the physical and that the spiritual and physical realms are inherently indivisible. The basic principle of nature farming in this system is that the soil must be allowed to exert its natural productive power fully. Agro chemicals, EM and other industrially produced inputs applied to the land cause the 'spirit' of the soil to weaken.


Farmers are encouraged to acquire an expert knowledge of their soil by evaluating its characteristics. The MOA also promotes composting, green manure, mulching, integrated pest management and crop rotation.


The MOA has a closer relationship to farmers than Kyusei in that the MOA buys produce from farms which strictly follow all of Mokichi Okada’s nature farming techniques and spiritual guidelines. The MOA then sells this produce in markets which are often not open to individual small farmers i.e.: specialist shops, hotels and hospitals.

Theme: This system has a low degree of market orientation because the priority is to get farmers to strictly adhere to Okada’s spiritual philosophy and farming techniques. The strict guidelines that farmers have to abide by are balanced by the support that the MOA provides in providing a market for the farmers produce.

Farmers motivation to adopt:

The MOA encourages farmers to strictly follow Okada's philosophy and farmers who work with the MOA are strongly motivated in contributing to Okada's goal of creating a new more sustainable and fairer society.

MOA in Thailand and Japan:

The MOA opened its Bangkok office, the first in Thailand, in 1989. Currently there are 15 Thai farmers in Chantaburi, Chonburi and Lopburi provinces who have fully adopted MOA nature farming. The MOA buys produce from these farmers, which is then sold to restaurants, hospitals, government department canteens and supermarkets in Bangkok. In 1993 the MOA worked together with the King's Agricultural Project to hold a conference in Pattaya entitled 'Sustainable agriculture: alternatives for survival'.

The MOA has three experimental farms in Japan located at Ohito, Nayoro and Ishigaki. The largest farm, at Ohito, receives over 10,000 visitors per year. There is a MOA nature farming school, which runs training courses throughout the year, at the Ohito site. The MOA corporation, which processes and distributes nature farm produce, is essentially a commercial organization. This corporation has 9 regional head quarters in Japan. Farmers associated with the MOA are also encouraged to sell produce through their own networks and communities. According to the MOA there are an estimated 4800 farmers practicing MOA nature farming in Japan.

The MOA is the major sponsor of the World Sustainable Agriculture Association (WSAA) which promotes the cause of sustainable agriculture and civilization living in harmony with nature.


Santi Asoke Nature Farming


Santi Asoke, a Bhuddist sect, was founded in Thailand 25 years ago by Phra Bodhiraksa. This sect did not become involved in agriculture until the farmers who were Santi Asoke members began to adopt Fukuoka's methods in order to complement their Bhuddist beliefs of working to enhance nature The Santi Asoke organization began nature farming on a large scale after it received donations of suitable farm land. Santi Asoke now promotes nature farming in Thailand and particular emphasis is placed on the Bhuddist precept which forbids the killing of living creatures.


Santi Asoke has developed a system of farming based around organic farming and Fukuoka nature farming. Unlike organic farming however, Santi Asoke farming does not allow the deliberate killing of pests through integrated pest management or the use of inorganic inputs. Effective microorganisms are seen as an unnatural industrially produced input and because of this EM is not used by Santi Asoke.


Although Santi Asoke grows farm produce for sale in their own vegetarian restaurants and shops (the income from these activities is used to fund Santi Asoke's charitable and spiritual activities), the farmers of Santi Asoke are primarily concerned with practicing a form of agriculture which is in harmony with their belief in Bhuddist and Santi Asoke philosophy i.e.: no killing, no industrial inputs and working to enhance and protect the farms natural ecosystem. Given that practicing a farming system in line with Bhuddist beliefs is their main goal this system can be rated as having a low degree of market orientation.

Farmers motivation to adopt:

The main motivation to adopt this system is spiritual. Farmers who practice Santi Asoke farming do so in order to fulfill their Bhuddist beliefs.

Santi Asoke in Thailand:

By 1996 Santi Asoke had 5 main centers of agricultural production each ranging from 50 to 100 rai in size. The 5 centers are based in Sisaket, Nakon Ratchasima, Nakon Pathom, Nakon Sawan and Ubon Ratchani provinces. The produce from these centers allows Santi Asoke to be completely self-sufficient in vegetables and rice; the surplus produce is sold in Santi Asoke's own natural food shops and vegetarian restaurants. The profits from the latter enterprises are used to fund Santi Asoke’s activities around Thailand. There has been no research to date to determine the number of farmers in Thailand who practice a Bhuddist farming philosophy.

Integrated Agriculture and Aquaculture


Compared to the traditional system of integrated agriculture, modern integrated agriculture and aquaculture farming places more emphasis on the symbiosis of livestock, crops and fish and utilizes less agrochemicals. It is characterized as alternative agriculture because of the awareness and exploitation of this symbiosis. The first record of modern integrated farming in Thailand dates from 1957 (Wetchagarun 1980).



The integrated agriculture and aquaculture system is designed for small-scale farms and takes advantage of the mutually reinforcing linkages between crops, fish and livestock. In order to increase the productivity and profitability of farms using this system a balanced strategy of organic farming and off-farm inputs is recommended. Emphasis is placed on the full use of all materials produced or found on the farm. Unlike the other systems examined in this paper chemical fertilizers and pesticides are used minimally when necessary.


This system has a high degree of market orientation. The objective is to achieve an on-farm ecological balance where a sufficient variety of crops, livestock and fish are produced to meet the farm family's food and cash income needs. Y.Shang (1983) listed a number of studies in Asia which showed that modern integrated agriculture and aquaculture generated greater profits than monoculture farm systems through improvements in the productivity of resources and reductions in the costs of production. In order to acquire these profits a high degree of market exploitation is required.


As reflects a system which was developed with input from such a large and diverse group including NGOs, higher education establishments, government agencies and farmers, there is no all-encompassing spiritual philosophy behind this system of farming.

Farmers motivation to adopt:

The majority of farmers adopt this system because of the increased productivity, reduced input costs, increased profits and long run sustainability that can be gained. It is especially attractive because this system is proving more profitable than conventional farming and certainly more sustainable.

Integrated agriculture and aquaculture in Thailand and Japan:

By 1980 this system was seen mainly in the central provinces of Thailand. Edwards et. al. (1983) found that 51 % of farms in this region practiced integrated farming. There are currently 3,000,000 rai (1 rai = 1600 square meters) of land in Thailand being farmed with this system (Arunee Pinprayong 1997). The promotion of the system of farming whereby each farms land should be divided into 30% rice, 30% orchard, 30% pond and 10% living quarters, as suggested by the Thai King, has helped to promote the concept of integrated farming in Thailand.


Studies by the Thai government Department of Agriculture found that a 6 rai integrated farm generates an annual profit of 24,770 baht compared with 6,500 baht from rice growing alone (Wethchagarun 1980). Because of its income generating potential, the integrated agriculture and aquaculture farming system was introduced into Northeastern Thailand in the early 1980's as a solution to the failure of conventional agriculture. More recently the Thai Department of Agricultural Extension (DOAE) has encouraged farmers countrywide to convert to an integrated farm system by stressing the potential increase in income and the decreased risk involved with the production of a variety of produce instead of a single crop under a monoculture system. The DOAE uses a variety of methods to extend the idea of integrated farming including arranging farm visits for farmers to model integrated farms; regional competitions such as the 'Best Integrated Farm in the Eastern Region'; and seminars for farmers to learn about, and discuss, the mechanics of integrated farming.


The pattern of farm production according to the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture (MAFF 1995) is as follows:

Type of Production
Percentage of
Total Farms
-- rice
-- vegetables/fruit
-- livestock
-- others

Semi-integrated Farms

Integrated Farms
5 %


Only 5 % of farms are classified as being integrated in Japan, this illustrates the extent of the prevalence of high input conventional farming in the country.



The term permaculture was coined by Bill Mollison, an Australian ecologist, in 1978. Permaculture's goal is to integrate human dwellings, micro-climate, annual and perennial plants, animals, soils and water management into stable, productive communities. Permaculture promotes organic farming methods and a return to small-scale community or household farming where food is grown and eaten by the same people. Specifically he wanted to promote a new farming system in response to the failure of the worlds food production system. He noted that the international commodity market has turned food into a good which is speculated on for profit and that food is commonly used as a political bargaining chip i.e.: food aid (Mollison 1988).


Permaculture is not a farm production system, per se, but rather a land use planning philosophy. However farms run according to permaculture philosophy are encouraged to practice a number of common activities:

- organic farming techniques;

- agro forestry, in particular a heavy emphasis is placed on tree crops because perennial crops are seen as being inherently sustainable, multi crop systems that mix perennials with annual crops are preferred;

- the adoption of appropriate technologies compatible with the local environment and cultural traditions;

- aquaponics (the integration of hydroponics with aquaculture).


The ethical basis of permaculture is that all life should be allowed to thrive while at the same time the earth must be cared for. This allows human access to resources and provisions, but not the accumulation of wealth, power or land beyond our needs. The main purpose of farming within the whole philosophy of permaculture is to provide an environmentally sustainable supply of food to the farm household and, if there is any surplus, to the local community. This system has a low degree of market orientation.

Farmers motivation to adopt:

Farmers who practice permaculture farming do so in order to follow the permaculture philosophy, the main goal is to make sure that their farms contribute to the overall aim of creating sustainable and largely self sufficient communities.

Permaculture in Thailand:

Permaculture has had very little impact in Thailand and Japan. In Thailand this is partly explained by the fact that agro-forestry (an important component of permaculture agriculture), has, until recently, not been favored by small holder Thai farmers. Trees were seen by the farmers to block sunlight to other crops below and hence reduce crop growth. In addition, the small size of Thai farms means that trees were perceived as taking up too much farm space. Mollison's book ‘Permaculture: a Designers Manual' (Mollison 1988) has not been translated into the Thai language.

There are no permaculture societies or groups operating in Japan though Mollison’s book has been translated into Japanese by Dr. Tsuneo Taguchi from the University of Ochanomizu.


Organic Farming


The origins of modern organic farming can be found in the establishing of the 'organic' movement in Britain, in 1943, by Lady Eve Balfour (Lampkin 1994). This movement emphasized the need for healthy, fertile soils as a necessary pre-condition for the production of healthy crops which in turn would benefit human health. In the last 30 years organic farming has been influenced in its development by three major factors: environmental concerns with the pollution and unsustainability of modern high input farming; human health concerns over agro-chemicals; and social concerns over the destruction of rural farming communities.



Organic farming means more than using organic inputs, it is a method which needs effective ecosystem management in order to be successful. The main characteristics of organic farming include:

- maintaining soil fertility by protecting organic matter levels in the soil;

- nitrogen self-sufficiency by using legumes to encourage nitrogen fixation;

- the recycling of on-farm organic materials, especially crop residues and livestock waste;

- controlling weeds, disease and pests using crop rotations, natural predators, organic manuring and resistant crop varieties;

- careful attention to the impact of the farm on the surrounding environment and the conservation of wildlife and natural habitats.

(.Lampkin and Padel 1994)


In Western societies the number of farmers engaged in organic farming has grown in response to the increased demand from consumers for a healthier more, environmentally friendly food product, thus organic farming in the West has a high degree of market orientation as farmers try to respond to the needs of the market place. In Asia the growth in organic agriculture has been stimulated both from the supply side, as many Asian farmers adopted this system as an alternative to the failure of conventional farming and from the demand side in response to the growing demand for organic produce. However, the present demand for organic produce in Asia is low and is confined mainly to the larger hotels and specialist shops catering to the relatively small, but growing, middle classes. Organic farming involves a high degree of market orientation as farmers need to be able to exploit the growing demand for organic produce.

Farmers motivation to adopt:

Of all the alternative agricultural systems discussed here, organic farming is the most diverse. Farmers practice organic farming for many different reasons ranging from the desire to make money from the increasing demand for organic produce to the desire to follow a more earth friendly, sustainable form of farming.

Organic farming in Thailand and Japan:

There are only a small number of farmers engaged in organic farming in Thailand. As an indicator it was estimated that in 1993 pesticide free vegetables were grown over an area of 5000 rai which is about 0.0031% of the total land area used to produce vegetables in Thailand (Agriculture Extension and Cooperatives Department 1993).


Interest in organic agriculture is growing in Thailand and this interest has been stimulated by a pioneering organic rice project which began in 1990 in Kadcham district, Surin province. Here a cooperative of 600 farmers, together with outside financing from Bangkok business people, bought a rice mill to process pesticide free rice and to provide an alternative from the local rice millers who frequently cheated the farmers. One third of the rice produced by the farmers is pesticide free and they adapted the milling technology to allow pesticide free rice and chemically produced rice to be processed in the same mill. In 1997 a similar scheme started in Roi Et province in Northeast Thailand. One obstacle to the growth of organic farming in Thailand is the lack of a recognized national certification scheme, this is not the case in Japan where in 1993 the Japan Association Standard, administered by the Ministry of Agriculture, forestry and Fisheries, was introduced to classify organic produce into six different categories.


The size of the market in organic produce has increased significantly in Japan in the last few years as can be seen in these statistics showing the yen value of the organic market from the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO):

1995- 100 Billion Yen

1996- 180 Billion Yen

1997- 250 Billion Yen

(JETRO 1997)


It is estimated that 1 % of farm households in Japan practice organic agriculture, producing mainly rice and vegetables (Udagawa 1993. A survey of 1,459 organic farming households showed that in 1991 only 32% practiced chemical-free farming; the remaining 68% were classified as practicing 'reduced use of agro-chemicals' organic farming (MAFF 1993). The organic vegetable production in Japan in 1993 was 200,000 tons. This represented 1 % of the total vegetable production in the country that year (JETRO 1994). The prices of organic vegetables are between 20- 50% more than the price of non- organic vegetables.

Because the demand for organic produce outstrips supply in Japan, large chain stores and consumer cooperatives have begun to import organic produce (no data exists yet on the quantities involved) (JETRO 1994).


In 1993 the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries issued guidelines for the labeling of organic produce. These guidelines classify agricultural produce into several categories based upon the amount of pesticides and chemical fertilizers used in the production process. Examples of the categories include: 'organic agricultural produce'; 'agricultural produce grown without pesticides' ; and 'agricultural produce grown with reduced amounts of pesticide'. These guidelines have been incorporated into the Japan Agricultural Standard (JAS) legislation which guarantees the quality of agricultural and fishery products.

Click to view table

The systems are categorized (based on Kicuchi (1993)) as:

) Technocentric-accommodating: agricultural development with a pragmatic approach to environmental conservation, market orientated.

) Ecocentric-communalistic: small-scale agricultural development based on appropriate technology, local resources and concentration on revitalizing local agrarian communities, no environmentally damaging farming techniques practiced, low degree of market orientation

) Ecocentric-Gaianistic: belief that humans have no right to alter the ecosystem, agriculture must be integrated to fit into local ecosystems not vice versa.


Analysis of the alternative agriculture systems

In terms of farming techniques and philosophy, Fukuoka and Permaculture are the furthest from conventional agriculture whilst the integrated agriculture and aquaculture system is the most closely related system. The systems can be further divided into those which are based around a spiritual farming philosophy ( Fukuoka, Santi Asoke, MOA, Permaculture and to a lesser extent Kyusei) and those which are concerned with the technical aspects of improving farm production, environment and income (integrated agriculture and aquaculture and organic farming.)


The systems focusing on the spirituality of farming have the more restrictive approaches towards sustainability in farming. This can be seen in the table overleaf. The actual approach towards sustainability ranges from the Fukuoka nature farming system which is ecocentric-giaianistic, to the integrated agriculture and aquaculture system which is classified as technocentric-accommodating. The latter term means that under the integrated agriculture and aquaculture system farmers take a pragmatic view of farming and its effect on the environment.


The integrated agriculture and aquaculture and the organic farming systems are the most widely adopted alternative agriculture systems in Thailand and Japan. Of these two, the integrated agriculture and aquaculture system is particularly suitable for risk-averse farmers because it is closely related to conventional agriculture in terms of farming practice. Other factors which have contributed to the widespread adoption of these systems include the absence of a spiritual philosophy, which allows farmers greater flexibility in farm management decisions, and a high degree of market orientation.

Problems associated with alternative agriculture

There are four key obstacles which most farmers will have to overcome in order to successfully adopt an alternative agricultural farming system. These are outlined below:

1) Farmers have to deal with the financial and food supply implications of a drop in farm output during the transition phase that occurs during the switch from conventional farming to the alternative farming system. It can take several growing seasons for the farm soil to regain its natural fertility after the prolonged use of fertilizers, during this period crop production is likely to fall relative to previous production obtained under conventional farming.

2) During the transition period farmers come under family and peer pressure to revert back to conventional farming which is perceived as being less risky.

3) Whereas farmers in developed countries who adopt alternative farming systems are able to take advantage of efficient markets and the premium prices paid by consumers for natural produce, farmers in less developed countries are faced with a less developed market infrastructure for natural farm produce.

4) For alternative farming systems to be run effectively, farmers need an in-depth knowledge of the farm’s physiochemical and biological factors (crops, livestock, farm pond and the local ecosystem) and the way these factors change and interact with each other (Hsieh 1993).

The costs involved in the transition to an alternative agriculture system

The costs that a farmer will have to face in converting to an alternative farming system are outlined below:

1) Farmers have to deal with the financial costs, and food supply implications, stemming from the drop in farm output which occurs during the transition phase. It can take several growing seasons for the soil to regain its natural fertility after the prolonged use of chemical fertilizers. In addition crop production may decline as the farmer masters new growing techniques.

2) During the transition phase farmers often will face a social cost in the form of family and peer pressure to revert back to conventional farming which is perceived as less risky.

3) For the successful adoption of alternative, more ecologically sound, farming systems there is also an 'education cost' as the farmers have to devote time and resources to learning about the farms physiochemical and biological factors (crops, livestock, farm pond and the local ecosystem) and the way these factors change and interact with each other (Hsieh 1993).

4) There is a marketing cost as the farmer has to take time to identify and exploit the markets for natural produce that may exist in his region. This cost is significantly less in industrialized countries where strong consumer demand means that there is more likely to be a well-developed market infrastructure for natural produce compared to developing countries.

Potential for alternative agriculture in Thailand and Japan

This paper identifies 5 key factors which act as catalysts for the development of alternative agricultural systems in a country, these are listed below together with an assessment of their presence in Thailand and Japan. (X~ poor/ poorly developed, XX~ good/ well developed)


Catalyst for Alternative Agric.




Market for Natural Farm Produce



Organic Certification Scheme



Government Support



NGO Support



Average Farm Income




Alternative agricultural systems require a certain minimum level of farm infrastructure in order to be successful (Lucas and Debuque 1993). In particular good irrigation and drainage systems help to control weeds and farm ponds are important in the whole farm system as a source of water, fish and for their capacity to recycle animal wastes back into the farm system. Thai farms lag behind Japanese farms in terms of farm irrigation in that only 22 % of Thailand's crop land is irrigated compared to 62% in Japan (FAO 1993). Both countries have a well-developed tradition of on-farm fishponds.

An efficient market infrastructure in natural farm produce is a necessary prerequisite for the widespread adoption of alternative agriculture in a country. In Thailand at present, there are a small number of regional market outlets for natural farm produce, for example the 'Tammada' shop in Chiang Mai, the 'Payao Group' shop in Payao, the 'Green Garden' shop and the 'Trinity Way' supermarket both located in Bangkok (Jitpleecheep and Keeratipipatpong 1995). However accessing these outlets is inconvenient for both farmers and consumers. The Santi Asoke and MOA alternative farming organizations provide markets for farmers associated with their systems but the number of Thai farmers involved is very small. There is no nationwide marketing network for natural produce in Thailand.

In Japan there is a well developed marketing network coordinated by two groups: the Japan Organic Agriculture Association, established in 1971, which founded the Tekei alternative marketing system; and the Nature Farming International Research Foundation. In addition natural farm produce is sold at most grocery, department stores and supermarkets in Japan (Udagawa 1993).

A nationally recognized natural farm produce certification scheme benefits farmers because consumers sometimes doubt the authenticity of farm produce which is simply labeled 'organic', 'natural produce', or 'chemical free'. One obstacle to the growth of alternative agriculture in Thailand is the lack of such a scheme. This is not the case in Japan where, in 1993, the Japan Association Standard, administered by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), was introduced to categorize organic produce into six classes.

The Japanese MAFF is promoting the need for low-input, sustainable agriculture though their concept includes the use of agro-chemicals where appropriate (Udagawa 1993). Similarly the Thai government has gone some way in promoting alternative agriculture. The Seventh National Economic and Social Development Plan (1992-1996) stressed the importance of natural pest control methods, organic fertilizers and environmental preservation in agriculture. The plan also prompted the Thai Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives to establish a "Committee on sustainable Agriculture" to examine ways to rectify the consequences of conventional agriculture. However, the Thai government’s agricultural policy remains focused on achieving maximum crop productivity through the use of agro-chemicals if necessary. This policy creates a bias against sustainable agriculture.

Non-governmental organizations are very effective at promoting sustainable agriculture as they are working at the grass roots level with the poorest farmers who are worst effected by the failures of conventional agriculture. In addition, compared with governmental agriculture ministries, they are more responsive to farmers inputs into the decision making process. An FAO survey in Thailand found over 50 non-governmental organizations and a number of people’s organizations working to promote sustainable agricultural production (Lucas and Debuque 1993). These NGOs have played an important role in promoting alternative agriculture in Thailand and in the development of appropriate farming techniques (Panyakul 1993). In Japan the major NGOs working in the field of alternative agriculture are the Japan Organic Farming Association and the Nature Farming International Research Foundation. These are large organizations which work throughout the country as opposed to Thai NGOs which are much smaller and usually concentrate their work in specific areas in Thailand.

Finally, the average farm income in Japan is more than 20 times greater than in Thailand where the figure is $888 per year (Agricultural Statistics of Thailand 1994). This makes it easier for Japanese farmers to switch to alternative agricultural systems as they are more able to cover financial losses that may be incurred during the transition period.



Thai farmers are under more immediate pressure to adopt an alternative agricultural system compared to the Japanese. This is because the Thai farmers are in a position of increasing vulnerability stemming from the problems generated by conventional farming. The economic problems arising from conventional agriculture are more acute for the Thai farmers all of whom faced falling incomes and increased debt. Japanese farmers are able to maintain the economic viability of conventional farming but only through the massive application of agro-chemicals and through support from government policies which indirectly subsidize Japanese farmers. For example, the price of rice in Japan is kept significantly higher than the world market price (IRRI 1995).

Aside from the economic pressures it was found that alternative agriculture farmers are typically associated with some form of spiritual and/or environmental group. These groups give the farmers a number of non-financial motives for adopting alternative farming, the main examples are concerns over health and environmental damage and/or philosophical and religious factors.

There is a perception amongst many farmers that a shift away from conventional high input agriculture will result in a fall in farm income. This is exacerbated by the risk-averse nature of farmers who have to be able to support and provide for a family. Generally in the case of Japan, where the alternative agricultural product market is well developed, the existence of a premium price for organic produce more than compensates for any decline in yields. Alternative farmers in Thailand are not so market orientated. Markets for alternative agricultural produce are not well developed and most farmers are still selling their alternative farm produce at the same price as standard farm produce. Nevertheless, many farmers engaged in alternative farming claim that the non-monetary rewards compensate for the lack of a premium price.

This paper demonstrates that environmentally sustainable alternative farming systems are viable for farmers in both developing and industrialized countries. Although the present status of alternative agriculture in Thailand and Japan is small, in terms of the number of participating farmers, it is true to say that there has been an exponential growth in the number of farmers, consumers, NGOs, multilateral organizations and governments who are expressing concerns over the failure of conventional agriculture. This increased awareness has generated a demand for alternative farming systems and, as this paper demonstrates, there are a wide variety of alternative farming systems and philosophies for farmers to chose from.

Finally conventional agriculture, although exported around the world, was developed in the West taking into account Western resource and infrastructure availability. Alternative agricultural systems differ in that they have been developed in both developing and developed countries. Significantly this exchange and cross-fertilization of ideas has resulted in the development of agricultural systems which, as this paper has documented, can be successfully adopted by farmers in countries which are at different stages of economic development. This bodes well for the future spread of sustainable alternative agricultural systems around the world.


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Submitted by:

Sununtar Setboonsarng and Jonathan Gilman
Asian Institute of Technology
School of Environment Resources and Development
P.O.Box 4, Klong Luang, Pathumthani 12120, Thailand
Tel: (66-2)524 5474
Fax: (66-2) 524 6200

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