Fellow Since 1995
Community Biodiversity Development and Conservation Nan Project
This profile was prepared when Sumruay Phadpol was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1995.
The New Idea
In Nan Province, along Thailand's northern border with Laos, Somruay Padpol is reinvigorating subsistence farming. For many centuries, Thai farmers have developed and preserved plant species that are compatible with local conditions, such as many types of bananas–more than 1,000–and virtually innumerable paddy (rice) breeds which vary according to soil and rainfall conditions from region to region. However, following a worldwide trend, many small farmers are turning from their subsistence practices and attempting to mass-produce crops that they can sell for profits. Thai conservationists and their colleagues around the globe have called attention to the social and environmental costs of such a shift. Somruay is creating mechanisms to generate a counter-trend in Nan, in a model that is spreading into other farming areas, including neighboring Laos. He empowers local farmers to stay on farms that feed their families, maintain their communities, take care of the land and generate a little surplus to sell. His organizing focus is the plant species that are disappearing from the province. With consultation from modern agricultural scientists, he is helping the Nan farmers to systematize their collective knowledge and breed their local plant varieties efficiently. He believes that restoring these natural resources will ultimately help conserve biological diversity and sustain development at the community level.