We adventured ourselves in the campaign outskirts of the Lao PDR capital Vientiane to meet Somchit Phankham on Panyanivej farm. The initial project was founded by Sombath Somphone and PADETC (a non-profit, Lao organization) in 2008 to promote organic farming using appropriate technologies and its values among young Lao farmers. After being solely focused on pedagogy, Somchit Phankham and her husband created the Panyanivej farm in 2014, in order for it to become a concrete showcase. The aims were to apply the teachings given and model a small scale social enterprise on organic agriculture.
“The farm was christened “Panyanivej” – from the two Lao words “panya” (“wisdom”) and “nivej” (“ecology”) – to reflect our aspiration to exercise wisdom in nurturing a healthy ecology in which human and nature co-exist harmoniously.”
On the farm, no chemical is used and everything is 100% natural. “Here, we believe in an “integrated farming” system that promotes interdependence among plant and animal life in a balanced ecosystem.” They use different types of natural fertilizers. Mainly cow manure compost, and then vermi-compost. Finally, the plant Azolla is their third alternative source they use to mix with cow manure compost. Azolla is used in the rice field to enrich the soil with nitrogen. Whereas the cow manure comes from neighbouring farms, the rest of the input comes from the farm itself. The Azolla is grown in a small basin and Panyanivej farm has its own vermicomposts. All the feeds to the latter are from the farm, such as grass and left over vegetables. They use strong smelling fruits growing on their land to produce an insect repellant and protect their plantations. Finally, they use the rice straws from their fields to cover their plantations. The farm is a great example of a really close loop exploitation.
However, for one organic farm, a major obstacle is managing to produce constantly according to the demand of its customers. “Due to the season, climate changes makes it difficult to predict and manage pest and disease. This is our main reason for struggling.” Another one is getting people to understand the importance of healthy food and the detrimental effects behind the use of chemicals on the long term. “It is difficult to sell natural farming products in Vientiane because the city market is full of imported products – from Vietnam, Thailand and China – grown with chemicals and sold at the cheapest price.”
To promote healthy eating among young children, for the past 4 years, Panyanivej has been selling vegetables to school canteens for a cheap price, in exchange of very low profit. The farm also sells its vegetables to restaurants, and directly to consumers, thanks to a basket delivery system.
If you are ever looking from fresh natural vegetables in the Laos capital area, don’t forget to visit the Panyanivej farm and discover their products born from hardworking together with young farmers and a beautiful vision !
Copyright CirculAgronomie 2020