Homegrown Solutions

An organic farming project started long before the Covid-19 pandemic relieves food insecurity for migrant workers during the crisis of a lifetime

The spring and summer of 2020 marked one of the most difficult periods in the lives of migrant workers in the orange orchards of Fang, on Thailand’s northern border with Burma.

Because of the economic crash caused by Covid-19, orchard owners had no money to pay the workers to harvest fruit that they could not sell. They let oranges fall to the ground and rot.

Khun Adun, the founder and director of the migrant outreach organization and long-time Partners Asia grantee Group for Children, said the effects of the downturn permeated every aspect of migrants’ lives, right down to the food—or lack thereof—on their tables.

“It wasn’t uncommon to see a family of five sharing two packs of instant noodles among them, maybe their only meal of the day,” he told Partners Asia.

Yet it wasn’t emergency aid that got this community through this crisis: it was locally led initiatives started years before Covid-19 hit.

One was an organic farming project, started in late 2019 on vacant plots of land nestled throughout the orange orchards and near homes in the migrant community.

Today, more than 100 families take care of the gardens, which boast yields of cabbage, mustard plants, beans, and other local staples every two to three months. Prior to the Covid-19 crisis, migrant workers sold excess vegetables to supplement their income, or bartered and exchanged them with neighbors for other goods.

But during the pandemic, those plots of land provided a steady diet of vegetables during a time of food insecurity.

“It has shown how critical self-sufficiency living can be,” Partners Asia Programs Manager Amanda Mowry said of the project.

Because of her fluency in Thai, she explained that she was happy to connect Group for Children with an independent donor who provided direct support for the farming project.

“Our goal is to strengthen the resiliency of our partners,” she explained. “We support our partners in building networks, even if the networks don’t contribute financially to Partners Asia.”

Ours might not sound like a traditional approach to international aid, but in these extraordinary times, we—and the local leaders who guide us—believe that doing aid differently is exactly what is needed.

Disclaimer: Partners Asia makes every effort to link grant makers to local groups and their trusted leaders whenever possible. This story reflects the efforts of Lily Tung and friends.