Guest contribution by Saint Cyr Dimanche, Bria Kaplan, Isabel Meeds, Talley Morton, Bailey Nelson-Grant

RASI SALAI, SISAKET – A group connected to the Wetland Association of Rasi Salai, representing communities affected by the Rasi Salai dam, plans to set up an organic agriculture network to sell their produce in a new green market in Sisaket’s provincial capital.

The Wetlands Association is a community-based organization that seeks to remedy the socioeconomic consequences of the Rasi Salai dam, built in 1992, that disrupted the lives of thousands in Sisaket province.

The green market group hopes to expand the number of organic agriculture producers while gaining greater insight about potential consumers. Working with a team of American students, the group conducted two surveys.

A group connected to the Wetlands Association meet at its Learning Center to discuss the surveys. The Learning Center was built near the Rasi Salai dam in 2010 and serves as place for members to talk about ways of improving the livelihoods of those affected by the flooding of the wetlands

One survey gaged interest for the market in an effort to develop a strategy to maximize its consumer base. The other survey was conducted among local producers to determine what was to be sold, and the best day and time to hold the market.

Of the more than 100 people surveyed in the provincial capital, 92% thought there was a consumer demand for organic produce, and 83% were interested in buying organic. About 90% understood the benefits of eating organic food and were willing to pay a higher price for it.

A much smaller number of producers were surveyed. Of those, though, all were interested in learning more about organic farming and wanted to sell their produce at a green market. In fact, most producers surveyed already derived a majority of their income selling organic produce. A large majority (90%) were already familiar with the certification process for organic farming.

The international student team concluded from the surveys that there was a consumer need for a green market but more producers are needed to make such a market viable. One contrast in the surveys was that producers wanted to have the market on a weekday, while consumers overwhelmingly wanted it on the weekend.

Surveys were administered at bus stations, yards, police stations, the provincial office, and markets.

The group sees that a green market would be a centralized place for vendors to sell organically-grown foods and healthy meals free of MSG and harmful chemicals. Unlike other vendors and farmers who follow the organic food trend and advertise their goods as chemical-free, this envisioned market will have a system of certification for producers and will provide training on growing organic produce.

Unlike other provincial capitals like Yasothon, Surin, and Khon Kaen, Sisaket does not have a green market. At present, there are only certain vendors at some of the city’s existing market who claim to be selling organic produce.

At a meeting earlier this week, group members said that the idea of setting up a green market in the provincial city has been often discussed by the association, which set up a green market in Rasi Salai’s district office four years ago.

The Rasi Salai green market is the result of a successful collaboration between the Wetland Association and the district office. For the new green market in the provincial city, the group hopes to collaborate with the province’s Department of Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives

The survey team meets with officials of the Department of Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperative in Srisaket’s provincial hall

The association believes the market is not just another place to sell goods, but is also a symbol of community and resilience, as well as another source of income for farmers.

“For the green market, organic means we grow [produce] ourselves,” said Pranee Makkanan, who is also a member of the local Wetlands Association group. “We make compost ourselves and rely on ourselves. We don’t use chemicals; we use compost that we make ourselves.”

The group also discussed a “green” stock market for shoppers to invest in. The money could go toward providing transportation to and from the market and establishing certification for organic goods.

The group emphasized the importance of the market’s creation from the local level without assistance from the government.

“If we don’t rely on ourselves,” Ms. Pranee said, “We will have to rely on someone else.”

Saint Cyr Dimanche majors in International Relations at Brandeis University. Bria Kaplan and Talley Morton study journalism at Northwest University. Isabel Meeds is studying public health at Tulane University of Louisiana, and Bailey Nelson-Grant is a psychology major at University of Colorado Boulder. All of them have been studying about development and human rights issues in Khon Kaen this semester.