We came across an interesting story from one of our premium members, Total Access Communication PCL. (dtac). With the increasing household debt in every year, dtac has initiated an excellent campaign call dtac Net for Living to help local farmer to go through this crisis.
In 2020, it was estimated that each farmer household had a debt of about baht 225,000 in average. The Office of Agricultural Economics also forecasted that the COVID-19 crisis will lead to an increase of debts of each farmer household by 16 percent this year.
dtac spoke to Tewarak “Fonghwin” Nimcharoen, a 40-year-old farmer who joined dtac Net for Living and learned to use connectivity to grow more resilient income streams for herself. Not only she is now totally debt-free, but she can also pay herself quarterly and biannual bonuses. She also makes sure to share her knowledge with her fellow farmers. The Ban Nee Mee Rak Happy Farm is located in Chachoengsao’s Bang Khla district, to the east of Bangkok.
“I used to be an office worker, working as a manager at a petrol station. But at the age of 25, my father fell ill. So I had to give up my job and came back to my hometown. I had to take over the farm that my father owned and started with almost zero knowledge.” Ms. Tewarak said.
During the first five years, her father acted as a coach, passing whatever knowledge he had to his daughter. Ms. Tewarak also felt compelled to seek more knowledge in a fast-changing world. This former office employee became acutely aware that Thai farmers face many problems, from weather conditions to market mechanisms. But she refused to give up and tried to apply new tactics and concepts to her farm. With a series of trials and errors, Ms. Tewarak described her first five years of running farmland as a transition. After her father passed away, Ms. Tewarak then led the farm by herself. But her business acumen allowed her to break free from the cycle of debt which plagues most farms in Thailand.
Ban Nee Mee Rak Happy Farm consists of 120 rai of farmland. Under Ms. Tewarak’s leadership, their farming strategy is based on the New Agriculture Theory. She raises ducks and chickens and grows banana trees as well as common vegetables to reduce her family’s food expenses while the rest gets sold to support her children’s weekly allowance. Watermelons, melons and coconuts from her farm generate a monthly salary for her. As for the shrimp and fish farms, their output gives her a quarterly bonus and a biannual bonus respectively.
“Farmers don’t have a salary, and most of them don’t have access to financial planning. This, intensified by the existing structural problems, whether economic, social, or political, leaves them exposed to agricultural market volatility and natural disasters. And when extreme drought or floods strikes, farmers tend to suffer huge losses and seek loans to reinvest. They are trapped in this vicious cycle as a result,” Ms. Tewarak explained.
Farming Amid Uncertainties
This year, the COVID-19 crisis has forced the shutdowns of many restaurants and markets. Ms. Tewarak’s shrimp farm is thus not as profitable as it used to be. Each kilogram of shrimp used to fetch baht 200. Now the price is reduced to baht 140 per kilogram. Even though this results in a breakeven, operating the farm during the pandemic crisis is “backbreaking,” she says. Around the New Year, her shrimp farm produced 10 tons of shrimp. Fortunately, she managed to sell them all via the Young Smart Farmer Network and online platforms.
During the pandemic, Ms. Tewarak became aware of the importance of online platforms. She started developing online channels for her farm around 2017 when she attended the digital-marketing course offered by the Young Smart Farm project, a collaboration between the Department of Agricultural Extension and dtac. Back then, she did not really believe that online distribution would generate significant income.
But in 2019, Ms. Tewarak started exploring and learning about digital marketing. Her efforts paid off, with half of her mangoes sold via an online platform. That year, she also joined the Big Mango Field Group – a grouping of mango farmers in Bang Khla district that aimed to increase farmers’ bargaining power in price negotiations. However, since early 2021, wholesalers had stopped buying mangoes altogether during lockdowns. This forced Ms. Tewarak to sell online, where she has sold more than 12 tons of mangoes.
“I feel lucky that I was selected to join the dtac Net for Living program. The team taught me on storytelling, digital marketing, and knowledge on price structures,” Ms. Tewarak said. “The online world has proven itself a source of opportunities for both retailing and wholesaling. And we can remove middlemen from our distribution process and add more value to our brand and products via storytelling.”
In the next five years, Ms. Tewarak’s plan to place a stronger emphasis to digital marketing and engage younger generations in farm development. She wants to prove that farmers can become happy and rich. Under her management, Ban Nee Mee Rak Happy Farm also doubles as a learning center of agriculture, expressing her vision to create a sharing and caring farming community.