Wimonlack Blom-Boonvises graduated from Chiang Mai University in 1979. She started her first job at the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) in Vienna. Later, she went to Sweden for her post-graduate studies. She became Assistant to Commercial Attaché at the Royal Thai Embassy in Stockholm between 1985-1990.
During 1991-1995 she joined Sweco Concern, which is the largest consulting company for water, energy and infrastructure. In 1995 she took a job at the Thai-Swedish Chamber of Commerce in Bangkok and was delighted to get the opportunity to be the link between her motherland and Sweden. But when she moved back, another opportunity came up. She was asked by the Swedish Rescue Services Board to be Project Manager for the Risk Assessment in Northern Thailand. It was a tough job. She and more than 200 fire-fighters from Thailand were sent for training in Sweden and it was the beginning of her life back in Thailand.
I met her for an interview at the Oriental Dara Dhevi Hotel on a rainy day in July.
JY: I have followed your work for many years and wonder what was the reason you moved back to Thailand to work with grass-roots people.
WBB: I was brought up by a modern family where my Mom encouraged me to be independent and rely on myself. I travelled to many countries and explored the world when I was young. While working with the IEAE, I heard some key words like "sustainable development to eliminate poverty in the world."
I was always interested in languages and could manage 4-5 European languages already, such as German, Dutch, Swedish and Finnish and English. So I could access current knowledge about organic farming and had ideas to fulfill my dream to be an organic farmer and to work with under-privileged people. I saw that nature was destroyed by conventional agriculture and mono-crop farming.
JY: With your capacity and lifestyle in the past, you once told me you enjoyed your life in Europe, you had quality of life and had no reason to come back home.
WBB: I also worked part-time for the GTZ-German Technical Cooperation and many years for the Eco-Industrial Estate Project and was a successful business woman. One day in 2005 I decided to leave Bangkok to be an organic farmer. My farm was certified in 2002 as the first organic farm TAS No. 001, according to Thailand's organic standard and JAS No. 1123 of Japan.
Today, I have another role as country manager for OneCert Thailand Co., Ltd. for organic inspections and certifications. My company has established a relationship with Maejo University in Chiang Mai.
I believe Thailand with its geographical location and its readiness can have a major role as a Kitchen of the World based on organic farming.
JY: What are the challenges and obstacles in organic farming extension and marketing in Asia?
WBB: Today it is more clear that our organic production should serve first of all our domestic market's need and not only produce for export only like in the past. Our domestic market is not only Thailand but the whole Asian region as well. Free trade without boundaries in Asia from 2015 is something we have to accept and find the way to improve competitiveness to be able to survive in the future.
JY: Do you think that organic agriculture can replace conventional farming?
WBB: We can not deny that conventional agriculture has caused a lot of problems in the world. We have destroyed our soil, our ground water and our eco-systems for the past 50 years with all the agro-chemicals, but still many people in this world suffer from many diseases, caused by food and live in poverty and hunger. I believe that the green movements have done a lot to encourage people whether in the cities or the rural areas to start their own food security program, based on organic farm practices to produce quality food and food as medicine.
JY: What do you mean by food as medicine?
WBB: As a tropical region, Southeast Asia has been a place where we have many kinds of plants and roots in the forest with medicinal effects. But with conventional farming, we have destroyed much of our forests, where we harvest both foods and medicines. Using insecticides and herbicides on a large scale in this region, many species of edible and medicinal plants as well as birds and animals are gone forever.
Nowadays, Asian countries collaborate to promote traditional medicines for preventive purposes and at the same time try to find the way to preserve biodiversity in the forest. Exchanges of knowledge and information among Asian countries about sustainability development are useful to secure the future trade.
JY: What are the obstacles for farmers in Asia?
WBB: Global warming has becomea major problem for farmers not only in Asia but around the world. Droughts and floods are very common in Asia these days. Besides, there is a lack of work force, a lack of young people who have knowledge, skill and know-how about organic farming, and there is a lack of certified organic seeds and organic material inputs.
Still in Asia, there is no compensation from the government to preserve environmental and ground water and still no price mechanism for organic products.
JY: What is your primary suggestion for organic agriculture in Asia?
WBB: Farmers in Asia with small scale farmland need to be united as a grower group to be able to access the organic market together. And the governments in Asia should consider granting financial support and to assist with the marketing for the grower groups, i.e. arranging matching programs between organic producers and organic buyers
JY: What do you offer?
WBB: As facilitator of OneCert, as CB (Certification Body) for organic certification in Asia, I see how important organic standards are for farmers to bring their products to the global markets. Certification by third parties is necessary to gain acceptance among consumers. Organic certification at the international level for both food and non-food products can strengthen confidence among consumers no matter where they are in the world and international labeling will be acceptable worldwide without doubts.
My role as facilitator is to encourage more and more farmers to shift their production into organic. It is not only good for sustaining their business but also good for their personal health. Organic farming can reduce the cost of production and to maintain the healthy soil and healthy environment.
Organic foods are not only healthy but taste better and have higher nutritional values than conventional food. Organic foods also have longer shelf-life.
JY: What do you wish for the most?
WBB: I wish consumers have enough information about the products they buy, both food and non-food products. There will be more awareness about their health and more concern for food safety and traceability.
For food security, more people will grow more of their own vegetable at home for their own consumption. I have seen school children in Singapore grow their own vegetables on their roof gardens and it is delighted to see the results.
JY: You mean that organic is for all?
WBB: Yes, I wish organic farming becomes commonplace and the prices for organic products are affordable. Then mono crop farming will be less and less popular for farmers in this region.
I wish that common small scale farmers through their grower groups will be able to afford the organic certifications at the international level when they have to produce for export. I wish we will see more and more organic farmers, more people who promote organic farming as investors, and who are part of the certification processes as inspectors and auditors. I wish to see more and more organic certified products in the markets such as organic processed food products, organic textiles, organic beverages, organic specialty tea and coffee.
Organic business is about integrity so we have to go all the way with commitment, honesty, trust and confidence. I am also very proud to be part of this beautiful task-force.