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Making the most of Mother Nature. A Journey inspired by the King's project.

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In the final series of the "Power of Human Energy" project, farmers learn how to apply the sufficiency economy principle to benefit their land and our climate.

Sunita "Nual" Haewnok is a lawyer by profession, but her legal mind also engages in indigenous farming practices with much flair.

Her Sa-ngiamkam Agriculture Farm in the Chakkarat district of Nakhon Ratchasima province has been selected as the first destination of 2022 for training sessions and collaborative farming activities known as "Aou Mue" under the "Power of Human Energy: A Journey Inspired by the King" project.

People from everywhere come together on the "Sa-ngiamkam Agriculture Farm" in Nakhon Ratchasima for the "Aou Mue" activity under the "Power of Human Energy: A Journey Inspired by the King" project.

Initiated and implemented by Chevron Thailand Exploration and Production, the project promotes His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej's sufficiency economy philosophy in the management of soil, water, forest and human resources.

"This year, we will be running 'Aou Mue' activities in three provinces in the Pa Sak River Basin. We are starting at Sa-ngiamkam, then moving to Ayutthaya in February, and to Saraburi in March to network, exchange ideas and encourage each other in addition to promoting the project,” says Artit Krichphiphat, Chevron's business support general manager.

“I believe that this activity will motivate a new generation of farmers just like Nual who was inspired by HM the late King's philosophy," Artit adds.

"The aim of this project, which has been running for nine years, is to serve as a driving force in giving knowledge and setting the standard for collaboration on our online platform, which has been very successful with almost 700,000 views. Many more people are interested in 'khok nong na' [indigenous farming practice] to make the best use of their land, and these activities help clear up any misconceptions as well as instil new ideas,” he adds.

Nual demonstrates how to prepare salted egg.

The project, which is designed to motivate people to acknowledge the importance of recovery, development and local wisdom to sustainably solve the problems of floods and drought, will conclude this year.

"Natural agriculture is now the best solution for climate-related problems, but it hasn't been easy to instil the knowledge to achieve this. We need knowledge to transform this world and make it livable but we must practice virtue at the same time. In Buddhism, we learn that 'dharma that depends on us and other people' and that we must be virtuous in how we proceed, have a willingness to give a helping hand as well as diligence and skill in managing all affairs of our fellow men," says Dr Wiwat Salyakamthorn, aka Ajarn Yak, the president of World Soil Association and the founder of Agri-Nature Foundation.

The winding ditch runs around the swamps.

Nual, who is regarded as a driving force in the Pa Sak River Basin, applied the King's philosophy of "3 forests 4 benefits" on her 6 rai [0.96 hectare] of land, but was not supported by her mother and siblings who prefer to generate their income from sugarcane production.

"They have all watched me and seen the results but they still don't agree with what I have done. I have transformed my share of the sugarcane plantation to 'khok nong na' with six 'nong' [swamps] and 'khlong sai kai' [winding ditches around those swamps]. Of course, I don't earn as much money as they do from their sugarcane plantation, but I am happy that we can eat chemical-free vegetables and fruit. Yet even today, they pity me for my lack of income,” says Nual.

Nual is the second of four children from a farming family. After completing her compulsory primary education, she helped out on the farm, worked in a factory on the orders of her mother while studying at the Department of Non-Formal Education on her day off. Her hard work and keen intelligence paid off and she was picked to work in the legal department of a sugar factory in Phimai district and then promoted to the secretariat.

She earned her bachelor's degree from the Faculty of Law, Nakhon Ratchasima Rajabhat University, and her master's from the Faculty of Law, Ramkhamhaeng University. Today she works as a lawyer at Nakhon Ratchasima Primary Educational Service Area Office 2.

“I enjoyed working with lawyers in the legal department of the sugar factory in Phimai,” recalls the 47-year-old. “I also saw the sadness of the farmers at being exploited by a middleman.”

Nual’s interest in HM the King’s philosophy was sparked when she watched "Saeng Chak Phor Soo Khwam Yangyuen", a special programme on Thai PBS paying tribute to HM the late King. She was later invited by Traiphop Khotwongsa, the president of the Agri-Nature Foundation, to work as a volunteer. That led her to sign on for training in natural agriculture at the Bhumirak Dharmachart Project in Nakhon Nayok province, in space design at Wat Nong Song Hong in Chachoengsao province and participate in the Pa Sak Watershed Restoration led by Chevron.

Villagers help building a weir.

This year's "Aou Mue" activity drew many volunteers from the natural agriculture network in Korat, Chaiyaphum, Lop Buri and Suan Lom Sri Rin in Saraburi as well as students from Lahan Sai Wittaya School in Buriram and Ban Pong Ket School in Saraburi. They worked together in preparing the plots and fences for growing organic vegetables, mending the winding ditch running around the field and the swamps, building weirs, covering the soil with straw, and applying dry and liquid natural fertilizer. They also learnt how to make a natural water purifier, a solar energy water pump, how to produce wood vinegar as well as how to make soap from squash, shampoo from butterfly pea and fermented bananas, lemon grass tea and salted egg.

Nual was proud to show off her "Khon Aou Than", a learning base for producing wood vinegar and charcoal, which is protected from the elements by a vetiver roof. Vetiver grass is also used to protect the banks of the swamps and the ditches.

A woman uses dry fertilizer on houseplants that are covered with straw.

"When we plant crops using the '3 forests 4 benefits' principle, we will receive benefits from the forest. We cut and clear the small branches and burn them to form charcoal. That reduces the cost of fuel. In addition to charcoal, we make wood vinegar as a natural pesticide. We prepare it in a dehumidification oven made out of a 200-litre steel drum. Natural wood charcoal burns at very high temperatures reaching between 800-1,000 degrees but contains a special substance that prevents it from being carcinogenic.

Sunita "Nual" Haewnok, owner of Sa-ngiamkam Agriculture Farm, explains the process for producing wood vinegar at "Khon Aou Than".

“At the beginning of the process, the smoke is dark but after three or four hours, it turns white. We then seal all the holes so that the air can't go inside. The whole process takes two days and produces one to two litres of wood vinegar."

Nual has also perfected the technique for making a natural water purifier. "Clean water is very important to our life. Today, we pay for bottled water. Formerly, our grandparents could use water from the rain but nowadays that's full of chemicals. My traditional water purifier consists of four plastic water tanks with four elements – big and small stones, sand and coal, which must be washed for a full month.”

The natural water purifier is filtered through big and small stones, sand and coal.

Her handmade solar energy water pump, priced at Bt30,000, saves a lot of money, though it must also be used judiciously and that means planning, Nual points out.

The handmade solar energy pump drains water from the biggest swamp into others through a winding ditch.
"First of all, we will have to calculate the water management for one rai, how much water we can store in the swamp, winding ditch, and 'khok' [mound]. Here, the amount of rainfall is 1,200 millilitres per year. I use the water pump just a few days at a time."

Kitchana Lersakvanitchakul
Special to The Nation

Published : January 19, 2022