California Students Teach Organic Practices in Thailand

Coffee is a part of many people’s lifestyle. But in a community in northern Thailand, coffee is a key part of people’s livelihood.

A growing coffee farming industry provides much-needed economic stability for Burmese refugees living in Maejantai, which is located in northern Thailand. For decades farmers in northern Thailand have been striving to transition away from opium as the main cash crop. Maejantai found success with coffee, which is now the community’s number one export. But they still face great challenges in sustaining their coffee farms since the soil lacks sufficient nutrients to support large-scale farming operations. As a result, local farmers resort to using synthetic fertilizers to supplement nutrient deficiencies, which can contaminate nearby ground and surface water.

pH Testing

An EWB-USA student member tests the pH of the compost pile with a Maejantai community member.

The community of Maejantai asked the EWB-USA Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Chapter to help them find a lasting and environmentally friendly farming method to sustain their coffee industry long into the future. The team from Cal Poly gladly took the opportunity to partner with this community half a world away.

In March 2014 students from the EWB-USA Cal Poly SLO Chapter traveled to Maejantai to work alongside community members and build two compost piles. The team also held workshops for the community on general compost methodology, soil science and maintenance procedures. But the students’ work began long before their trip to Thailand. Back in California, they built a prototype compost pile on campus. For weeks, chapter members worked on the pile daily, taking temperature readings and monitoring water usage and pH levels.

Building Pile with Comm & Team

The project team and the community work side-by-side to complete the compost pile.

The prototype pile taught the students valuable lessons for instructing the community on building and maintaining their own compost pile. The project taught the students valuable life lessons, as well. Chapter member Michallynn Hoffman, who worked on the prototype and traveled to Maejantai, said, “Knowing that what I do in my daily life can affect someone half a world away gives my life a sense of purpose and direction. EWB-USA gives me a concrete way to make a real difference.” 

The community of Maejantai now has the tools and knowledge to change the direction of their farms for the better.

Photos courtesy of the EWB-USA Cal Poly SLO Chapter

About the Author
Engineers Without Borders USA builds a better world through engineering projects that empower communities to meet their basic human needs and equip leaders to solve the world’s most pressing challenges.