Grow Ahead partnered with the The Assembly of the Poor, nationwide organization of grassroots community-based organizations and groups of people affected by Thai government’s policies and economic development projects, for the Community-led Reforestation in Food Sovereignty campaign. The project worked with 4,000 Farmers + Community Members to plant 65,000 trees and supporting plants. We recently caught up with the Kok Edoi Community in the Thapparat sub-district, Ta Phraya district, Sra Kaeo province, Thailand to talk about the progress of the projects and importance of their work.
Tell us about yourself, in what zones you are working, and your story with The Assembly of the Poor.
Kok Edoi Community recently celebrated its 25th anniversary of settlement on January 13, 2023. The villagers have struggled almost 30 years to get the rights to land. Their original agrarian lands were confiscated by the government. After many years of struggles under the banner of Assembly of the Poor (AOP), the government promised to give them the land. But that land was used by a company for growing eucalyptus trees for the paper industry. As the government did not transfer the ownership of the promised land, the villagers decided to occupy the land and established Kok Edoi Community. The community continues to fight for land ownership until now.
What is climate justice to you?
Because Kok Edoi Community is located on occupied land, it is not the official village. The villagers cannot access to electricity, water supply and other public utilities. People do small-scale agriculture and forest product collection for a living. So, the villagers do not use electricity and not produce greenhouse gas. But the industries do. Therefore, it is not fair to accuse people like Kok Edoi people as the cause of climate change crisis and then force them to accept fake solutions such as carbon credits.
Why are you promoting integrated farms, agroforestry farms, community forests, and family food forests?
Land insecurity and land rights violation is the major problem for peasants. When villagers occupied the land and built Kok Edoi Community, the land was a degraded forest area. The confiscated eucalyptus plantation destroyed the soil fertility. The area has low rainfall and suffered droughts and forest fires. This hardship made agricultural production difficult. Additionally, the villagers faced constant intimidation and harassment from officials and capitalists. People started seeking jobs outside for survival. The question at that time was how to make people stay on the land that they occupied.
Villagers of Kok Edoi Communities have the skills of forest product collection, such as forest vegetables, mushrooms, etc. They started to collect forest products for eating and selling. But it is not easy because the community is located near the National Park and the officials there are not friendly. Therefore, the villagers decided to make family food forests and community food forests.
Kok Edoi leadership proposed that the ‘Assembly of the Poor’ should join La Via Campesina activities. Inspired by Zapatista’s Council of Good Government, Kok Edoi Community has the Community Council, rotating leadership system and numerous working committees. The land management, land allocation and zoning were decided with full participation in the Committee Council.
Every household is allocated the 1-rai plot for residence (0.4 acre), the 6-rai plot for plantation (2.36 acres), the streamside half-rai plot (0.2 acre) for production, as well as family food forest. In addition, there are collective food forests, collective plantation, community forests, fish and bullfrog sanctuaries, and the 4-acre land for future Agroecology School. The Communal Area consists of Meeting Hall, Discussion Circle, kitchen and the community’s roadside market.
For individual production in their 6-rai plot, at the beginning, many Kok Edoi villagers did the monoculture of cash-crop, mainly casava for income. Nowadays, the number of people doing monoculture is shrinking because they gradually shift to agroecology, particularly agroforestry. By growing forest food plants in the formerly eucalyptus-filled family food forests, the soil becomes gradually fertile. Family food forests and family plantation plots are able to yield more food. Even near their house, almost all families grow kitchen garden agroecologically.
Shortly after the establishment, Kok Edoi Community built a roadside market to sell the forest products grown and collected in the community. The market turned out to be a good business, allowing the community to be economically self-reliant. Many consumers are city people. They gain more understanding about the community’s way of production and attempt to take care of nature and native food culture.
After 25 years of hard work, nowadays, Kok Edoi Community is changing from the drought-ridden areas to the greener village with more native trees, increased forest food varieties, and richer biodiversity.
Kok Edoi is an autonomous community. As the land dispute is not yet settled, the community cannot access public services and public funds. But with economic self-management, the villagers form the Saving Fund and the Market fund. The profit from the two funds is used for community development projects, for example, deepening the swamp, making water pipe systems in the plantation areas, improving sanitation of Roadside Market, the community welfare, etc. The economic situation has improved and many young people can earn a good living at home.
What do you think will be the biggest challenge the next generation of farmers faces? What do you think needs to be done to ensure farmers stay in agroforestry farming in the coming years?
Every year, Kok Edoi organizes Children Day, which happens to be the same day as the Community’s Anniversary Day, and more than 100 children join the event. Although the children have to leave the community for education when they grow up, they still have a bond with their home village. Many youths return to live and work in Kok Edoi in the plantation and in the Market.
In 2022, a small group of young peasants in the Assembly of the Poor formed a group called “The AOP Forest Youth Collective”. They started to do activities to reconnect the rural children with the ecosystem in their neighborhood that sustain agroecological production. The day-camp “Nature’s Classroom” brings the children in Kok Edoi to know their forests, native genetic resources, trees, animals, agroecology and the story of their village. The activity was very successful. The peasant youth group in Kok Edoi is planning more activities in 2023, for example, growing native trees to preserve native genetic resources and improving family food forests.
The youth group in Kok Edoi Community is very committed to work with children and youth from peasant families. Even without the official land ownership, Kok Edoi today can attain a good level of land security and can provide good livelihood for them to stay in rural areas and continue the unfinished struggles of their parents and grandparents.
However, the new generation of the peasant families have more choices of livelihood in the rural areas. With their education, they can participate differently in rural economic activities. For example, in the 2022 Nature’s Classroom Camp, the children and youths learned to do dying with natural items in their community forests. Some participants have the idea of making the naturally dyed products for souvenirs. Others thought of producing seedlings of forest trees for sale, while some talked about ecotourism.
What can people in the cities do to support the projects that you are involved in?
The way of life and production in Kok Edoi Community does not produce greenhouse gas. But industries and cities do. The greenhouse gas emission is the cause of the climate change crisis. It is then peasants like Kok Edoi villagers who are affected by irregular climate patterns and unusual natural disasters like drought, flood, heat, etc. Therefore, Industries and cities owe the peasant and rural communities a great debt. They must support us to do agroecology, agroforestry. They must support us to keep our forests. They must help us to get land rights. They must stop industries that cause greenhouse gas emission. They must support us to use renewable clean energy and other things that do not cause troubles to the world.