The Born-again Farmers
A Thai couple left the corporate world and started a farming living.
A Thai couple in their late thirties, both holding finance degrees, were well on the corporate ladders in Singapore, realized something was missing. They left their jobs to return to upcountry in Thailand to grow brown rice in Saraburi.
After almost three years working in Singapore, the couple left their jobs to grow non-toxic, organic brown rice in 2010 on 12 rai of land they bought in Saraburi.
Soon after, Karn Traithong and his wife founded Mee Farm Sook (Mai) Co Ltd (Happiness Unlimited) with Mr Karn's sister, a marine biologist.
Khao Hom Khunyai is the brand name of the company’s rice.
The trio have always been interested in dharma, self-sufficiency and moderation - ideas espoused by His Majesty the King.
"We had absolutely no idea about rice cultivation; my wife's ancestors were farmers, but all knowledge had been lost by the time of her parents' generation," said Mr Karn, adding that he used Google Maps to check the proximity of his land to nearby irrigation systems and Pasak Dam.
"I wanted to start cultivating right away, against warnings of water shortages that come at the end of rainy seasons. But with my finance mindset, I thought: 'What's the big deal, everything can be managed."'
"Very much to our surprise, we learned that rice cultivating is nothing short of a science, biology and chemistry," Mr Karn said. "One had to have knowledge of ecology, photosynthesis and the use of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, and to learn about sowing seeds, ploughing and everything else along the value chain."
The traditional rice farming techniques of the old days have been replaced by modern shortcuts. Thai rice farmers now opt for practices that promote pesticide use and harvest high-yield species of rice, listening to the advice of shop owners who tell.
Thai farmers are also aware of the harmful pesticides that go into their crop. Some farmers won't even stroll down their paddy fields for fear of coming into contact with the chemicals.
"This is the kind of rice that people consume today are full of toxins, when there are safer alternatives that can be made from neem leaves or mangosteen peels," Mr Karn said.
Mee Farm Sook produces top-quality rice with no pesticides. The company has expanded and now grows on 24 rai of land. In addition to the owners, the farm employs four workers who plant and package the crop. The small farm yielded more than 30 tons of rice last year, all of which was sold domestically and independently.
"Our mission is to produce the best non-toxic, brown fragrant rice" and to share that happiness with farmers and consumers alike, Mr Karn said. "Our aim is to increase the network of farmers growing non-toxic rice, to encourage them to have better health," Mr Karn said.
Mee Farm Sook does small orders and provides customized labels for packed products. It sells to Baan Rai Cafe and other retail shops in Bangkok and Phuket. One- and two-kg packages of rice cost 70 baht and 130 baht, respectively.
Last year, the company was selected by the Department of International Trade Promotion (DITP) as an up-and-coming SME with potential to export.
"We want to ensure that happiness is fairly shared among all stakeholders. Not just consumers, but also our farmers, distributors and ourselves.