Corporate falsehoods slammed, corn farms blamed for smog

Pointing to corn plantations for the animal-feed industry as the real cause of the smog in the North, experts also linked corn plantation to other problems such as deforestation and unjustified and unsustainable contract farming.

Biothai Foundation director Witoon Lianchamroon said at a seminar yesterday that the industry had uttered four falsehoods to the public. They were: wildfire was main the cause of the smog; the industry had no links to cornfield burning; the industry was not responsible for the transborder smog; and the industry was promoting sustainable agriculture.

“The statistics to back the claim that the wildfire was the main reason for the haze was taken from a National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department study that covered 25,611 rai of forestland. That cannot be used to account for 4.9 million rai of corn plantation areas in the northern region,” Witoon argued.

Regarding the second falsehood, he said the industry was the direct beneficiary from the corn plantations, both from selling corn seeds to the farmers and from buying their crops.

Expanding cultivation

As new land to expand corn cultivation in Thailand was in shortage, firms had to promote corn plantations in neighbouring countries. Hence, when farmers in these countries burn their cornfields, the smog would also affect Thailand, he said.

“Their corporate social responsibility projects also don’t really promote sustainable agriculture, as they encourage growing a single crop rather than mixed farming. They also forbid farmers from planting their own seeds,” he said. “The consumers should realise what is the real cost behind the products they consume,” he added.

Sarinee Achavanuntakul of Sal Forest Co Ltd revealed that since 2007, corn plantations in the North had expanded a lot as seen from satellite images. “The corn plantations also encroached on forestland - about 61 per cent of the expanding cornfields are in mountainous forestland. In the dry season, the farmers cannot bury corn stubble in the slopes, so they burn them instead,” she said, adding that it was hard for consumers to see the links between the livestock industry and corn plantation.

Deputy director of the Community of Agro-ecology Foundation Ubon Yuwa said corn plantation was based on contract farming. It involved management of natural resources for corporate profit, which weakened small farmers and destroyed the variety of crops.

“It is sad that animal-feed tycoons are so powerful that the rule of law cannot effectively apply to them. They can cut down the forests of a whole mountain, without getting caught, to plant corn,” he said. “The corn plantation on the slopes must be stopped and locals should be encouraged to shift to coffee or other local crops instead,” he added.

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