We are a group of farmers and sweetcorn-ears is an important product for us. Since a few years we have competition from a Thai producer. Thailand is a warm country with a lot of agriculture and a low cost profile. Maybe we should buy our corn in the future from them ? Or produce it overthere ? We decided to go there and check it out. We visited 3 universities and spoke to a few professors and a few researchers and scholars. No one of them wanted to confirm that it was possible to grow organic sweetcorn. Then we visited several processors. A number of them had some organic produce in their list. But no one could or would produceorganic corn ears. One had a ’trial’ going on: organic ears were sold to Taiwan. They had trouble, that much was clear.
Some of these ‘informants’ mentioned our Competitor. They had supposedly selected a variety of sweetcorn that was immune to all the bugs and diseases that one can encounter in a wet and hot climate where it never freezes. They never spoke more than one sentence about it, as if they themselves were not too convinced about this miracle corn variety.
Time to go and check out this little miracle ourselves. The Competitor’s plant wa not difficult to find. Their adress is on the internet. But how to find the farm or farms? The problem is that those Thai that speak english and do know the answer to our question, will be cauteous and reluctant to answer. If our intentions were harmless to the Thai producer we would ask it to the Thai producer himself, that is what they would rightfully think. But we could not go to our Competitor, because we are not certifiers, we want to know the truth. And one can only find a fraud if one visits a farm unannounced.
Then I was lucky. I googled the name of our Competitor and had found a presentation from our Competitor for the Thai government. In this presentation, which was put on the internet by the government, our Competitor announced the big hopes for an organic future of their company. They appeared to have 3 farms themselves, and they buy organic products from farmers in 3 provinces. Two of the farms had uninformative names, but the third one had a name which could be a village. I started searching the maps for this name, but did not see it.
I then followed another approach. I went to the agricultural office of the province, and asked for organic farmers in general. After one hour they had found one. The next day I went there. It was really difficult to find, and because of the language. Finally I had found the village and asked for the farmers name. Nobody understood what I wanted. Then I decided to call the man. He picked up the phone, I gave the phone to the locals with whom I had just spoken. They understood that I wanted to meet this man whose number I had called, and a little later he came to us. He showed me his asperagus, but he did not even speak one word of English, so I could not ask him if he knew any other organic farmers, and more precisely our Competitor. Another flop.
Driving around I had asked people for the name of our Competitor’s farm which might also be the name of the village. One man was really sure and told me it was 50 kilometers west. The next day I had printed out detailed little maps from my Thailand CD rom, and had found the little village on the map. I went there, and asked the local youth for ‘sweetcorn’. One of them took me to the entrance of a farm. The guard let me in and I drove until I came to a small office. Then I saw that I had found it, as my competitor’s name was written on a shield. The farm had a Eurep gap certificate, I read on the shield.
I asked a girl for ‘organic farm’ and she understood what I looked for. She drew a little map and I went there. The guard at the gate was gone and I decided to drive slowly onto the farm, which was situated behind a small wood. I noted all that I saw onto my voicerecorder. All fields had a length of about 240 meters, and a width of about 35 meters. In the middle was a path over which a water-canon with a long tube could be rolled out. On the farm I saw about 6 or 8 of these machines. Central on the farm was a huge waterpump. Not far from there the mechanics-place. Driving slowly it took about 20 minutes to drive through the farm. I came out via the dust road that was used by the workers to go to the village , to their homes after work. I took a break, wrote down all that I remembered and made a second drive over the farm.
The rest of the story can be read below by clicking on the links:
Here are some emails which were written a few hours after detection of fraud at the Thailand farm. For juridical reasons we will not disclose the name of the farm ( our competitor) nor the name of the town ( K.) or the name of the village where the farms are situated ( B.) The competitor has two farms there: a conventional farm B1 and an organic farm B2.
In northern Thailand I saw a conventional farmer who threw artificial fertilizer in a watertub, stirred it around until it dissoved and then he injected it in the soil beneath each potato plant. Every plant received an instant dose of nutrients. He did it because the fertilizer was too expensive to risk loss by strong rains, or through no rains at all. If a fraudulent Thai organic farmer would do this, he would never be ‘caught’ as it leaves no traces, controlls are always announced, and there are no neighbours to call to the certifiers. This is only one of the reasons that transparancy is essential for the future of organics. Now there is no transparancy.