By Niwatchai Suknaphasawat
In March 2020, CMIRC approved a sustainable agricultural production project, namely the Avocado Gardening Project (AGP), a three year project, aiming to assist 45 selected Lahu families who live in three village groups in Mae Hong Son Province, situated in the northwestern area of Northern Thailand along the border with Myanmar. A sub-project of the AGP, focusing on providing improved breeds of native pigs and black-boned chickens to these same families is also planned to be integrated into the program in 2021.
The total budget of the AGP is over 400,000 baht with the Thai Thaim Foundation providing approximately 75% of the funding with the balance from the Wooddale Church, both in the U.S.
The major objective of this project is to assist targeted families in their struggles of transforming traditional agricultural practice of slash-and-burn cultivation into a sustainable, multiple perennial cash-crop production system by using new promising crops -- avocado trees with the integration of tea planting and wild honey beehives kept in the same plantations.
During 2020, the participatory project planning was conducted by voluntary project staff members and participating families in which the following major activities were planned to be implemented in the three year project duration of 2020-2022. The project was divided into three groups of families and distributed 750 avocado seedlings to the first 15 families with 50 trees per family in June 2020 to transplant into their own avocado gardens (right).
Then, in October 2020, AGP purchased 7,000 avocado seeds imported from Vietnam and grown in the nurseries in Wanaluang and Huay San Nai (left) project villages and the seedlings are now growing and planned to equally share them between all 45 project families in June 2021. Each of those project families will be receiving around 150 seedlings to transplant in their individual plantations in June 2021. By the end of June 2021, a total of 7,700 avocado trees will be growing in the plantations of around 450 rai (75 hectares) of the 45 project families who live in Wanaluang and Huay San Nai villages.
Based on the existing project budget, AGP could provide only 7,700 avocado trees as a starter for their plantations. Therefore, AGP is planning to motivate and build capacity for those families to expand their own plantations after the AGP is phased out in early 2023. As part of the encouragement and capacity development of the project members, AGP has planned to conduct a training exchange trip to three selected Lahu villages where villagers are getting family incomes from avocado fruit selling and/or the honey of wild bees, and a tea nursery where tea seedlings are raised to distribute to AGP project families in June 2022 and surplus going to other interested families in Mae Hong Son and other provinces of Northern Thailand.
A three-day, two-night training exchange visit to a villager's avocado garden in Chiang Mai province and wild honey bee-keeping colonies and a tea nursery in Chiang Rai province are planned for December 2021. Members of CMIRC are invited to join the Lahu villagers in the tour and will see sights such as mature avocado trees (left), wild honey bee colonies (center) and a tea nursery (right).
In December 2022, a final experience-sharing and exchange seminar of the project families will be organized in Wanaluang village. The outcomes of this seminar on best practices will be shared in the form of an AGP Newsletter in Lahu and will circulate to all the Lahu Lands of Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Yunnan China after the seminar, in addition to uploading to YouTube and broadcast through the Radio Broadcasting Station of the Department of Public Relations in Chiang Mai. Constructive advice and suggestions on AGP’s project activities mentioned above are welcome.