Highland Sustainable Development Center

Over the past thirty years, highland farmers in northwestern Thailand have transitioned from subsistence rice and vegetable farming to intensive corn production, clearing and burning the steep hillsides as they expand their fields.  On an ever-increasing scale, the slash and burn monoculture of corn has contributed significantly to air and water pollution, degraded the soil, and limited long-term productivity.  

In recent years, lack of job diversity in many villages has led farmers to leave their families for work in the city or factory jobs abroad. Others have turned to illegal drug trade to make an income. Witoon, a local Lahu farmer, has a different dream for his family and community.  After finishing his master’s degree in Natural Resource Management, Witoon has returned to his village, inspired by his faith, to work towards economic, social, environmental, and spiritual renewal. Witoon’s vision is to lead his community away from dependence on corn and towards mixed organic farming of coffee, tea, fruit and nut trees.  His innovative approach to integrated farming gives farmers more options for sustaining healthy livelihoods. These methods seek to produce food and materials for the family, generate income, and heal the land.

GOALS

  • We hope to see farmers recognize the meaning of “enough”.
  • We want to embrace the local wisdom of the Lahu and Akha peoples, valuing, preserving and sharing their rich cultural knowledge, that they may live with dignity and purpose as highland farmers.
  • We aim to partner with local farmers in implementing creative, long-term, environmentally sound alternatives to current slash and burn mono culture practices.  We seek to restore soil fertility and build farms that better fill the ecological role of the jungles that stood before them.
  • We hope to demonstrate the sufficiency economic model by balancing production for both family consumption and income generation.  
  • We want to show more options for healthy livelihoods, and hope that more families have the opportunity to stay together.
  • We seek to make investments that do not foster dependence, but empower the HSDC to continue free of foreign funding.