By Kitchana Lersakvanitchakul
One of three provinces in Thailand’s Eastern Seaboard designated for the development of the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) along the soon-to-be-built Bangkok-Rayong high-speed train network, Chachoengsao has also been selected to host a smart city.
A designation given to a city that incorporates information and communication technologies to enhance the quality and performance of urban services such as energy, transportation and utilities to reduce resource consumption, wastage and overall costs, the smart city aims to enhance the quality of living for its citizens and visitors through technology.
Welcome to Baan Suan Melon
The younger generation of the province’s farming community has taken the smart concept to heart. Known as young smart farmers (YSF), they are actively taking part in the development of the smart city concept by switching to technology and organic farming.
“This YSF group wants to get rid of old idea of farmers being always exhausted as well as poor,” says Jittakorn Phadejsuk, president of the province’s Highly Safe Fruit and Vegetable Cooperatives and vice president of the local Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s hard to work alone in trying to develop the country and improve agricultural productivity, so we gathered together a group of the young smart farmers from all districts and formed a cooperative to raise farmers’ status.
"It makes my family life stable, prosperous and sustainable," says Pakuna "Kaew" Boonkorkuea.
“People often say that Thai farmers are a disappearing race. I disagree. All the members of our cooperative are part of the new generation of farmers, aged between 20 and 40 years, who hold bachelors’ degrees. They have developed their knowledge and raised the quality of their produce. The highly safe agriculture is chemical-free and we are receiving support from Buddhasothorn Hospital, which has signed a memorandum of understanding with the group,” he adds.
The young smart farmers have been practising pesticide-free farming on a 3-rai parcel of the 46 rai owned by Jittakorn. Each farmer pays Bt1 a year to cultivate the land.
“It’s actually non-arable land. We took the group of young smart farmers to Mab Aung Natural Agriculture Centre to learn how to practise natural agriculture without insecticides and adapt His Majesty the late King Bhumibol’s new theory of sufficiency philosophy. Today, we are a learning centre for natural agriculture or highly safe agriculture as it is sometimes called,” says Artorn Chuaynarong, headman of Bang Phra.
“We also signed an MOU with Thai Airways International to provide five agricultural products.”
The IoT-based agricultural solution used on Kaew's melon farm.
“We are building a GMP (good manufacturing practices) room to clean vegetables and fruit before delivering them to the hospital. We produce melons, Chinese kale, bok choy, napa cabbage, and yard long beans. Tourists can visit our farms before purchasing our products,” says Jittakorn. “We focus on cleanliness and safety. We are promoting our chemical-free agricultural products and consumers can rest assured that our fruit and vegetable will leave no residue in their bodies.
“Today, we are working on both orders from outside and selling straight from the farm. This is a kind of agrotourism that allows visitors to learn how the young smart farmers work on their land, the tools and technology they use and how they make their money. It can serve as a guideline for other new farmers,” he adds.
Melon is processed for food, smoothies, and cake.
Pakuna “Kaew” Boonkorkuea is one of the cooperative’s members and runs a successful melon orchard, Baan Suan Melon, based on HM the late King’s sufficiency economy philosophy. The melons are grown in 17 greenhouses on her four rai of land in Baan Pho district.
Kaew laughs as she tells me that she didn’t start growing melons for business but because she was so shocked when her husband, who has a passion for melon, bought one of the fruits grown in Japan for Bt3,000.
“I learnt by trial and error and I have now been growing melons for three years and have turned the orchard into a learning centre. I studied the late King’s philosophy and adapted it to my land. I divided it up into 30, 30, 30 and 10 parcels as he advises. The first 30 is a coffee shop designed in the shape of melon and a meeting room near the entrance. The second 30 is for economic crops, in this case melon, and the third 30 is for our economic crops. The 10 per cent is where I built our home.
Baan Suan Melon also offers organic vegetables.
“I planted three types of melon – Chanchai, Baramee and Snow Green – which are easy to grow in the laterite soil we have here. Our melon is a little salty. Chanchai is crispy and sweeter than Baramee melon and is orange while Snow Green is the least sweet but soft. I also grow Kimoji Japan melon, which is priced at Bt150 per kilogram, while the other Thai melons go for Bt100. As production grew, I faced a shortage of labour. That persuaded me to adopt smart farming, using the internet-of-things-based agricultural solution developed by Dtac for my garden. No matter where I’m in the country or the world, I can manage my farm through the internet. For watering the garden, I installed the primer, which is set to work automatically.
“I don’t only plant melons but also tomatoes and cowpea, and breed ducks, chickens and fish. I follow the late King’s sufficiency philosophy to the letter. It has made my family life stable, prosperous and sustainable,” says Kaew.
“I want consumers to visit my farm and pick the melons they want before paying for them.”
Chachoengsao is promoting agrotourism along the Bang Pakong River from Wat Sothon Wararam to Wat Tha It.
“We will have a taxi boat run between the two temples to allow for trade on both banks. That will help reduce traffic on the road. We will also use the pier at Wat Tha It as a flea market where farmers can sell their produce every Sunday,” says Jittakorn.
“Wat Tha It is planning to build a big Buddha statue, which will be 10 metres wide. It will serve as a landmark and our agricultural products will support tourism. Wat Sothon is always packed with people. In the future, visitors will be able to park at Wat Tha It and travel by boat to Wat Sothon.
“And before going home, they can stock up on their favourite vegetables and fruits,” adds headman Artorn.