Former nurse Chiraphon ‘Rose’ Bhunpeng was one of Saraburi’s 26 smallholders to join the assessment undertaken by Saraburi Mill to achieve Smallholder Standard certification. She made the decision to become a farmer in 2010, becoming one of the region’s many women smallholders. But life as a sugarcane farmer hasn’t been easy, particularly with increasingly unpredictable weather patterns presenting real difficulties.
When the mill launched the Bonsucro smallholder programme, she was curious to hear how she might benefit. She joined the programme in 2018, and has since learnt to increase yields in a more scientific, sustainable way. For example, she has learnt to analyse the health and fertility of her soil, using testing kits provided by local authorities, to determine the right type of fertiliser for her soil type, and how much fertiliser to apply and when. In this way, she has halved her fertiliser costs. She is increasingly using natural fertiliser solutions such as chicken and cow manure, further reducing her costs.
Similarly, she now relies on biocontrol and uses earwigs – provided by the mill - to help control pests on her sugarcane crop, avoiding the need to buy synthetic pesticides. After harvesting, she has also decided to stop burning the cane leaves and residues to clear the field. Instead, she keeps them on the ground to help retain soil moisture and nourish the soil. Avoiding cane-burning also helping to conserve the quality of her community’s air.
And by learning about labour laws, responsible recruitment practices and best practice in healthy and safety, she is better able to protect her workers’ rights and prevent accidents, too. Following her Bonsucro training, Rose is even more careful to ensure that workers wear appropriate safety equipment to cut sugarcane in the heat, including gloves, a long shirt, hat and boots. She ensures that a portable tank of drinking water is taken to the fields to keep workers hydrated, and no-one works longer than eight hours per day. Workers who have travelled a distance from their home town are housed in purpose-built accommodation.