Leaving Chiang Mai

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My orientation/language study time in Chiang Mai has come to a close. I’ve learned a lot in a short amount of time. For example: Thai tradition holds that every city is like a body, it has a head, a navel, and, well, a place where the refuse exits. I learned this while visiting Chiang Mai’s navel: the Chiang Mai Cultural and Historical Center, located in a former administrative building near the center of the old city. I also learned that when Thais say, “I’m eating,” they’re literally saying, “I’m eating rice.” And when they say they’re hungry they’ll say, “I’m hungry for rice” even if they end up eating noodles.

I also got to visit a hill to the North of the city (above Chiang Mai’s head), called Doi Suthep. Above you can see pilgrims circling the wat at the pinnacle of the hill. It was a good spot to look over the city. It was too hazy to get a really good picture, but there it is anyway:

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Tomorrow I head up to the seedbank, joining a number of other ECHO Asia staff for the journey. Currently ECHO Asia Director Rick Burnette, along with the head of partner organization UHDP (Upland Holistic Development Project) and ECHO intern Kimberly Duncan are all walking the entire way from Chiang Mai to the seedbank. They’ve been hiking since Sunday, and will finish tomorrow, with yours truly and others joining them for the last leg. It’s called 100 Miles for ECHO Asia. Check out the facebook page for pictures and such: 100 Miles for ECHO Asia.

Bonus: Here’s what I’ve been reading during my time in Chiang Mai:

Oxfam’s blog has been hosting a debate titled The Future of Agriculture. It’s a great mix of viewpoints, reflecting different disciplines and concerns. If you’re interested in a pragmatic look at agricultural development in the context of poverty, climate change and environmental pressure, I would highly recommend it. A good one to start with is Day 2: How Institutional Reform Saved Agriculture–and Us! by Oxfam America Vice President for Strategy John Ambler. It’s a hypothetical look at a best-case scenario in 2050. It’s intentionally idealistic sounding, but it covers a broad set of reforms that are badly needed in the global agricultural sector. Hardly pie-in-the-sky.

Photo courtesy of betterworldbooks.com

And in the world of books, I blazed through Forest Farming by J Sholto Douglas and Robert A de J Hart. With a foreword by E.F. Schumacher (of Small is Beautiful fame–it’s a classic, take my word for it),  you know it’s gotta be good. It’s a great introduction to the field of agroforestry, which ECHO which is an area which ECHO focuses on extensively. Incorporating trees into the agricultural system provides a host of benefits by controlling soil erosion, utilizing nutrients deeper in the soil profile, hosting beneficial organisms and more. Agroforestry is a complex and still-evolving field. This seems to be one of the seminal texts. I’m looking forward to learning more during my stay at ECHO Asia.

photo courtesy of powells.com

This one I confess I haven’t finished yet. Maybe next time I visit the office: Bittersweet Harvests for Global Supermarkets: Challenges in Latin America’s Agricultural Export Boom. This is a great examination of the effects of the increase in exports of “nontraditional” products from Latin America. Nontraditional exports are simply products other than coffee, sugar, cotton and bananas, the mainstays of commodity agriculture in Latin America for centuries. So nontraditional products include cut flowers and fresh fruits and vegetables. The expansion of these products has occurred with the encouragement and funding of USAID as well as Latin American government subsidy, with the hope that greater diversity would strengthen economies and lead to economic growth. While there was some success in the 80s and 90s there is increasing evidence that these new exports actually exacerbated the inequality of land distribution in many parts of Latin America. It’s a complex story, but one that’s well worth educating yourself on. Sadly, it shouldn’t be surprising that the same unjust systems that bring us bananas and sugar now bring us flowers and snowpeas.

Well, next time I write I’ll be up in the hills at the seedbank! Be well.

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