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Restoring the local food system to improve climate resilience and community livelihood in Northern Thailand.

Restore degraded land from monoculture practice to agroecology for environmental benefits, sustainable livelihoods, and local food system

Photo of Arnold Sitompul
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Thailand

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Large NGO (over 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

The Thai Organic Agriculture Innovation Foundation (TOF), is a small local NGO in Chiangmai province, who has been working on sustainable food system and production. TOF will provide training to communities on organic farming practices to ensure all products produced follow the standard of organic agriculture products. Central Group consists of various domestic and international corporations, each of which has become a leader in the retail, property development, brand management, hospitality, digital lifestyle, and food and beverage sectors. Central Group has committed to support sustainable consumption by reinforcing the marketing for the agricultural product, quality assurance, and linking to the end buyer with fair market prices. Mea Kee Muk village group is a collection of small local farmers in one of the pilot landscape who has converted their agricultural practice into agroecology and starting to restore their local food system towards sustainability.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?


Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?


Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Chiangmai Province Coordinates: 18°47′43″N 98°59′55″E Area: 20,107 km²

What country is your selected Place located in?

The Northern part of Thailand, and part of the Dawna Tenasserim Landscape, one of the highest biodiversity landscapes of Southeast Asia.

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

WWF-TH has had a project in Chiangmai province to address the unsustainable issues in the food system since 2017. We work collectively with various stakeholders, ranging from the government, local businesses such as hotels, retailers and restaurants, local NGOs, communities, social enterprises and cooperatives, communities and smallholders. We focus on an area of high priority environmental and conservation values, which is where high deforestation is taking place. Approximately 800,000ha of forest in Thailand has been encroached for maize plantation, most are clustered in the Northern part. Maize is used for animal feed, primarily in the production of meat production, which Thailand exports to the world market. Over the past decades, it has become a major driver of deforestation in Northern Thailand, as well as neighbouring countries such as Myanmar and Lao PDR.  In order to achieve a sustainable food system, it is important to reduce such agrochemical monoculture practices.  In Chiangmai, at least 40% of its forested area, including national parks and protected high biodiversity values landscape is lost due to agricultural conversion, causing damage to forest resources and ecosystem services. The conservation work of WWF-TH also addresses social issues and economic deficiency in the local community, through market transformation work. On the consumption side, Chiangmai is one of the most popular tourism hubs, as well as the hub of agricultural production and consumption in Northern Thailand and Thailand as a whole. We work on promoting sustainable consumption, under the “Eat Better” campaign, for diverse groups from local communities, urban groups, schools, hotels, and restaurants, to mitigate impacts from consumption and achieve transformation towards sustainable food production in the target landscapes.  

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Chiangmai Province is about 685km from Bangkok in the Mae Ping River basin. It covers an area of approximately 20,107km2. Surrounded by mountain ranges of the Thai highlands (highest peak: 2,565m), the province has an abundance of natural resources and is ideal for agriculture. Mae Ping River basin is an upstream of Chao Phraya watershed, the major river in Thailand nourishing the main rice production landscape of the world, the central part of Thailand, and Bangkok. Chiangmai is regarded as Northern Thailand’s capital with a population of 1.76 million. 13.4% of the population in the province are members of the hill tribes, among them the Hmon and Karen. The economic activities are predominantly agricultural, services and tourism. 

Chiangmai represents an emerging urban agglomeration, with high-density settlement at the center and sprawl along highway infrastructure, surrounded by rural, predominantly agricultural activities and natural resources such as forest mountains. The province is the hub of food production, as well as consumption. The current development direction is still not able to cope with income disparity, inequity, and aging farmers' challenges. There is a growing internal migration of farmers from rural areas, especially younger generations, towards urban centers for other non-agricultural jobs such as in the service sector. Being the province's most important tourism hub, the region is filled with restaurants which offer local cuisine made with local ingredients. Each village has its own unique culinary traditions, linked to their agricultural practices, cultural beliefs, and relationships with the land. 

Past economic development has significantly degraded a healthy agricultural and forest landscape, due to monoculture agricultural conversion. Its forest cover has been lost by at least  40% over the past 50 years, followed by degradation of watershed, air and soil conditions, and increased vulnerability to climate impacts. Agricultural practices have become predominantly monoculture, relying heavily on agrochemicals. 

With the above ongoing situations, there have been growing numbers and ongoing collective efforts by smallholder farmer groups, communities, cooperatives, social enterprises, NGOs, and consumer groups in promoting sustainable consumption and production, by means of rehabilitation and restoration of degraded land through organic agriculture, agroecology and most importantly creating a local food market accessible by consumers. This has become a strong movement to turn degraded land in Chiangmai into a healthy ecosystem landscape with biodiversity and landscape for diversifying local food production, and a deep-rooted culinary destination of the country.  

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Unsustainable agricultural: The demand for commercial crops and meats has been a major driver of deforestation. For example, maize, which is used for animal feed, has replaced around 40% of its healthy forest in Chiangmai, associated with land degradation, erosion, landslides, and pollution problems. Ecosystem degradation: Intensive agrochemical practices have caused soil degradation, drought, decline of pollinators, and impacts on agricultural productivity. Externalities: Haze pollution occurs every year due to slash and burn practices in the upstream mountain areas. The forest fires are more catastrophic each year as it is exacerbated by climate change. Failing local food: Its food system is transforming from traditional subsistence and sustainable farming towards monoculture agrochemical practices. The local wisdom on sustainable agriculture has been diminished due to the economic development direction. Local food ingredients become rare, especially in urban areas. Agribusiness control: Production relies heavily on agricultural inputs owned by agribusiness leaving only small margins for farmers. Large agribusiness determines the market price, inputs, products and even influences government policies. There is growing inequality within the food chain of the capital market. Vicious cycle: Deforestation leads to the disintegration of forest landscape connectivity and biodiversity loss. Small-farmers’ income relies on monoculture crops, which has a fluctuating selling price. These exemplify the crumbling of the local economy and failing of the local food production system, people lose their ability to be self-reliant. Climate change: Climate impacts threaten food security, while there are limited adaptation and mitigation practices in place, becoming vulnerable. Over the past decade, climate change-induced drought is exacerbated by unsustainable agricultural practices. There has been less rainfall, impacts on food production, and water scarcity becomes more evident.  Ecosystem service trade-offs: The natural capital of healthy forest landscape and its ecosystem services are being traded off to maize production. High-value natural capital is inefficiently used for food production and exploited by large agribusiness. Forest areas are traded-off at the price of 300 USD/hectare/year, an average farmer’s earning from a hectare of monoculture plantation, without taking into consideration the externalities. Lack of policy measures: Current unclear policy on land tenure have created uncertainties for smallholders’ rights on land access. Land insecurity led to monoculture plantations and encroachment instead of planting perennial crops, as the land could be taken back by the government anytime. Legal and economic measures for promoting sustainable agriculture do not exist. The technology can play an important role but is still limited due to a lack of financial and institutional support.  

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Our vision seeks to address the failing local food system issues, associated with socio-economics and ecosystem degradation by means of improving food consumption and production, local food system, and restoring degraded land that will ultimately improve local communities' livelihood, food security, and overall ecosystem integrity. We must make it a moral issue, agreeing that food consumption and production patterns are key towards sustainability. Externalities: The economic trade-off between natural capital, which provides the ecosystem services to communities, against the production of low-value crops controlled and exploited by big agribusiness, must be eliminated through consumer movements. Smallholder farmers: Smallholder farmers who are the primary producers of food, and the small enterprises who are closely connected between consumers and smallholders, are key actors within the food chain. By connecting them to work collectively towards the agreed vision to showcase an alternative, we will be able to transform the whole food system towards sustainability. Utilization of natural resources: To prevent encroachment into the forest and intensive use of chemicals, proper implementation of the forest-based economy should be conducted, allowing for farmers to produce agricultural products under forest cover and without using agricultural chemicals. Farmers should be educated and trained on sustainable agricultural methods, and maximize the utilization of agricultural waste input for soil enhancement by composting and biochar. Incentives: Given that making the transition often entails high upfront costs and investment, measures such as suspension on debt repayment and provision of green credit to farmers and community based enterprises at concessional rates should be introduced. Farmers should receive additional funding on the use of alternative land preparation methods. The price for sustainable food products are subsidized. Agrochemicals which have impacts on health and environment should be taxed to discourage the use in crop production. Marketing of sustainable food: The local food system should offer a market for sustainable agricultural products to be promoted to curb the adds on costs. To enhance consumer confidence, a traceability system can be put in place to control and trace back the supply chain of agricultural products. Viable economic measures to increase local market channels and retail business units for sustainable produce, alongside the establishment of regulations, standards, and certification will help the market transformation. Consumption: To encourage more widespread consumption of sustainable agricultural products, the concept of “food literacy” should be promoted. Labelling of sustainable agricultural products should be encouraged to provide more product information to the consumers. Products produced with agrochemical should also be labelled, so the consumers can make an informed choice.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

By ensuring sustainability across the food system, Chiangmai will be at the forefront of responsible living and environmental sustainability. It will be a destination for local food and liveable city with a healthy ecosystem sustained for all. The proposed food vision refers to an integrated system of agriculture production towards agroecology, processing, distribution of finished products, whilst building a common vision for food security and stability that balances the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainability. The transformation of Chiangmai's food system will promote and enhance biodiversity and biological cycles. It will recognize that citizens' health is directly connected to the food they eat and ultimately, the soil’s health. Unsustainable agricultural methods by means of deforestation, the intensive use of agrochemicals, and wasteful consumption and production are some of the practices to be publicly regarded as culturally prohibited. The food production and supply chain is decentralized by means of locally managed by cooperatives and SMEs, and local government, without intervention and control by large agribusiness. Consumers and producers are closely connected and take actions towards the same vision. The overall food consumption focuses on local food. Agricultural wastes and food wastes are minimized and returned back to the soil as compost. These collective actions are gearing towards minimization of ecological footprints. Citizens, by leading the food vision and its implementation, will be embedded in the culture, while children can be equipped with the tools to help them become intelligent guardians. Citizens improve their way of living by rejecting unsustainable production and consumption, and embracing a healthier environment.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

This food vision is revolutionary. Chiangmai holds great transformative potential in achieving the vision based on the concept of the local food system, agroecology and liveable city with a healthy ecosystem. This vision explicitly links the health of both citizens and the environment, and will improve their relationship with the ecosystem and will have a positive impact on climate change. As a reaction to the transformation, agroecology farming, organization farming, urban farming, local food, slow food, fair trade and alike are implemented. They address the current food system issues, in particular the failing local food system, disconnect between smallholder farmers and consumers, inefficient use of natural resources, contaminated food from agrochemicals, and deforestation and degradation of the ecosystem. Ecosystem rehabilitation and sustainable agriculture: The key revolutionary action is to shift away from intensive agrochemical monoculture practices, which diminishes soil fertility and health of the ecosystem. The economic trade-off between natural capital of a healthy landscape against the production of primary food production will be mitigated through agroecology approach that values the ecological, economic and social potential, and involved all actors within the decentralized local food system and social movements. Agroecology is used as an alternative to mainstream intensive monoculture agriculture. It promotes agricultural production systems which value biological diversity and the services rendered by natural processes. Food production through agroecology with diversified local varieties and perennial crops will help restore degraded lands and forests, biodiversity and pollinators, as well as restore the carbon back in the soil. This will not only mitigate climate change, but improve ecosystem services. Throughout the landscape, from urban centers to rural communities, agricultural land and forests, eco-tourism and local food will be new economies for communities. Urban spaces, backyards are also used to grow vegetable gardens and fruit trees. The whole landscape from urban to rural are friendly for all living species. The ecosystem service will be fully functional. Improved ecosystems and biodiversity in both agricultural and forest ecosystems will allow traditional wisdom to sustainable harvest nature-based ingredients for food and natural medicines. Transitions towards local food system: Increasingly, communities organize “food hubs” around cooperatives, communities enterprises to anchor local food systems. The collaborative network that integrates sustainable food production, processing, distribution, consumption, and waste management is established. This local food system will play a critical role in building community wealth. The food before reaching the hands of consumers, the integration of sustainable practices will be implemented throughout the value chain, starting from the utilization of natural resources and inputs, production process, processing process, distribution and logistics, marketing and consumption. Growing, processing, and distributing food locally creates and sustains community-based jobs. Direct marketing channels between farmers and consumers (e.g., through farmers' markets) boost local farmers’ incomes. In contrast to large, industrial farms, small family farms are more likely to spend their money in the community on farm-related inputs and engage in farming practices that do not harm their community’s physical environment. Farmers' markets and food cooperatives will ensure money remains and circulates within localities and create more vibrant communities. Younger generations, who left home for cities will return back home as jobs in local communities are created for food production and eco-tourism. In addition, this will encourage urban citizens to turn vacant tracts into productive, income-generating spaces and often include job training or employment opportunities for low-income youth and other urban residents in Chiangmai city. Responsible consumption and production: The producers at the local level, are closely connected with consumers. As sustainable food becomes widely available, both in rural and urban communities, consumers have greater choices in terms of quality and quantity. Food literacy and concepts of responsible consumption will be taught at school, at home and embedded in the local culture. Each citizen will know the value of food, and its connections to the environmental system, and therefore become responsible in food production and consumption. Each citizen will know how to produce sustainable food, or at least how food is produced and consumed at the local level, therefore they will be self-sufficient and food independent. Consumers concerned for sustainably sourced food will drive the expansion of the market. Retail sector will grow interested in sustainable sourcing and have integrated social, ethical, and environmental performance factors into the process of selecting suppliers. The ecological footprints of our all food consuming lifestyles will be minimized through this sustainable food culture, as well as the transformation of food production system towards agroecology and local food system. Climate mitigation and adaptation: Climate change impacts are expected to be more intense over the next decades. The agriculture land in the region is vulnerable, especially to droughts that will have the greatest impacts on food production and security. Chiangmai’s food production sector will be prepared for climate impacts.  Inherently, the agroecology approach is measured for climate mitigation and adaptation. The plantations of mixed local food varieties and perennial crops do not require much water in the long term. Such plantations with organic methods will improve the soil conditions and erosion, and potentially retaining of moisture in soil, drought resistance, as well as water storage and purification. Based on the WWF research, the net greenhouse gas (GHG) emission of monoculture plantation per hectare, such as maize, in Chiangmai area is 3,743 kg CO2 eq.Ha-1yr-1, whereas with the proposed vision with the transformation model through agroecology will generate at least total carbon stock per hectare of 209,294 kg CO2 eq.Ha-1 within 10 years, and will improve productivity and food variety. Together with food security, this vision will contribute to the national GHG mitigation strategy in agriculture, as well as forest restoration attempts. Policy supports for sustainable food system: Set of policy measures will be deployed to accelerate the transformation towards a sustainable food system. These measures will internalize the externalities of unsustainable food production and consumption patterns. The sustainable production, by means of agroecology will be incentivised. Suspension on debt repayment and provision of green credit to smallholder farmers, cooperatives and social enterprises at concessional rates will provide, together with the financial incentives during the transformation, as well as price subsidy for the products. Agrochemicals, in particular herbicides and pesticides taxes will be imposed to discourage and internalized their externalities into the production cost. The use of these agrochemicals will be banned in high biodiversity and ecology value areas such as in upstream forests, and high density residential areas. The sustainably produced food price will be competitive to conventional types of food unsustainably mass produced. Safe food will be widely available and accessible to all. Food independence and sovereignty: An estimated 180,000 smallholder farmers, covering most of the agricultural landscape in Chiangmai, are key catalyst actors for this vision through their shift in agricultural practice, and their roles in strengthening of the local food chain that make stronger market links and productivity improvements. More vibrant smallholder agriculture, with enhanced participation of women and youth, will hold the key to reduce poverty and hunger. Farmers will have a restored local food system and will have more sovereignty on access to food. Farmers will be expected to have less expenses on food as they become self-sufficient, and will have a stable income by growing food crops, fruit trees, and high value commodity in a sustainable way. Food produced and supplied directly from smallholders or communities based enterprises will make all citizens food-independent, by means of reduced margins paid to large agribusiness who controlled the food system, middlemen, facilitate improvements in quality and yield, and sometimes deliver premium prices for a certified fair trade or sustainably produced product. Smallholders in Chiangmai will respond positively to opportunities that enable them to join local food supply chains and will contribute to food security, poverty reduction, and economic growth. Well-being and technology: Residents in Chiangmai and visitors will experience health, happiness, and prosperity through this improved local food system. This wellness will stem from healthy food and a healthy environment. The innovative technology for a sustainable food system will be readily available for all, connecting and addressing the needs of all stakeholders across the value food chain. An integrated advanced application platform, using blockchain technology, advanced remote sensing, micro-climate weather forecasting technology and machine learning, will help farmers in agriculture activities, green finance for banks, a donation platform for consumer participation in restoration of degraded land, traceability and certifications. Ultimately, this vision will improve the local economy and improve the community’s well-being in the future. 

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Join the conversation:

Photo of Daniel Che

Adapting to climate change is indeed essential to sustainable food production. I like your vision a lot :)

You can also check out the vision of our team Maati-Paani-Asha: Regeneration of Land, Health & Hope in the Face of Extreme Poverty & Climate Crisis .

Lots of work on food security still need to be done for the people who need help :)

Photo of Arnold Sitompul

Hi Daniel,

Thank you very much. Your team has a great vision. Indeed a lot of work needs to be done to assist farmers all around the globe, and both our visions realise this which is a great start towards mitigation of the problems. Good luck.

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