Fellow Since 2009
Grassroot Innovation Network
This profile was prepared when Nawee Nakwatchara was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2009.
The New Idea
Nawee is empowering small farmers to make their own informed decisions in pursuit of decent livelihoods from their agricultural endeavors. In the 1-ngan (0.1 acre) learning plotsthat he encourages farmers to set aside and employ, Nawee has developed an unusually effective tool for prompting farmers to ask questions, experiment, and contribute to a growing knowledge of locally appropriate agricultural practices. Working with small landowners in the northeast of Thailand, the countrys poorest region, Nawee is enabling farmers to break the cycle of debt and dependency using unviable farming practices.Nawee s work is a marked departure from the conventional packaging of rural assistance. He asks farmers to explore their own solutions, employing a familiar and tangible medium of communication: Land. The 1-ngan plots of individual farmers host collections of promising alternatives for increasing productivity and cutting production costs, with an emphasis on integrated farming, low-cost technology, and drawing on local wisdom. Farmers decide what to experiment with in their 1-ngan plots, while Nawee provides technical assistance in transforming the best of their ideas into widely replicable agricultural practices. Unlike traditional definitions of the word, Nawee believes that true self-sufficiency requires a cash surplus. To enable farmers to invest in their future, Nawee integrates the 1-ngan learning plot with a profit-generating production model. He works closely with the 300 member households in his Grassroots Innovation Network with the aim of transforming the most successful findings from the learning plots into readily replicable and commercially viable production techniques and marketable products. Nawee has also formed a microcredit cooperative to provide financing and established a business firm to undertake larger-scale production and marketing tasks on behalf of the network. During the four years in which Nawee s initiative has been underway, all of the 300 participating families have remained on their land, successfully resisting the strong pull of migration to urban areas. He is also actively advocating the adoption of his approach by government agencies charged with promoting rural development, and the national Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives recently launched a pilot project using his 1-ngan learning plot approach.