Thailand | Counting the costs of farmed chicken before they hatch

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Each person in Thailand consumes an average of around 14.9 kg of chicken per year. Peter Cooper LICENSED UNDER CC 4.0

People know many things about Thailand, and particularly when talking about Thai food, the subject needs little introduction. Chicken features in more than half of the top ten Thai dishes best liked by foreigners (as surveyed by the Office of National Cultural Commission): Green Curry with Chicken, Coconut Milk Soup with Chicken, Chicken Satay, Stir-Fried Chicken with Cashew Nuts, and Chicken Panaeng Curry. 

You may know your Thai cuisine, but here’s two things I bet you didn’t know about your chicken and Thailand:

1.    Currently, Thailand ranks among the world’s top-ten exporters of chicken, which has been among the country’s top-five agricultural exports for the past 15 years

 

2.    If you think that’s a lot of chicken to export, chew on this: Thailand exports only 30 per cent of the chicken it farms – the rest is eaten domestically. Each person in Thailand consumes an average of around 14.9 kg of chicken per year;

 

 

What this means is that the mountains of grain needed to produce chicken-feed has caused more than 5 million acres of agricultural and forest land to be cleared for maize farming. And maize farmland has exponentially expanded during the past 10 years.

The current farming practices of maize have caused several problems to local communities as well as urban dwellers.  The excessive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides has caused soil deterioration and contaminated water sources, widespread clearing of forestlands have led to flooding and landslides causing road accidents and crop damage. Burning of maize residuals (after harvesting) have caused smoke and haze affecting health.

‘CHICKEN YOU EAT AFFECTS US ALL!

 This is a message emerging out of a meeting of all the different actors in the poultry industry held in the first week of August 2014 in the northern Thai province of Petchaboon, where maize has largely been grown. With the entire supply chain of maize, farmers to feed producers, chicken ranchers, and final consumers gathered in one room, the aim was to generate ideas for “win-win solutions” that might alter their current farming / business practices for a more sustainable approach.

Currently, farmers have no incentive to alter their farming practices because the private sector still purchases maize regardless of how it is produced.  Likewise, the private sector has no incentive to set standards for produce so long as other actors in the supply chain (chicken ranchers and processors as well as final consumers of chicken) are not aware of this problem and do not recognize the value of sustainable sourcing efforts by the animal feed suppliers. 

 

The key issue is how to build confidence between farmers, chicken feed buyers, and final consumers (supermarkets, fast food franchise chain, and restaurants) on the benefits of involving in the sustainable maize production and consumption.    

 

Through this first-ever platform now launched, we hope all key actors in the maize supply chain will be able to identify common interests in shifting towards more sustainable farming practices. These consultations will form the backbone of an incentive (both price and non-price) scheme to be developed by our “Sustainable Maize Supply Chain” project in partnership with the Thai government starting next year.

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This blog is part of an Asia-Pacific innovation series on how we’re harnessing new technology and new thinking to confront some of the biggest development challenges facing the region. Tell us what you think, and join the conversation on Twitter @UNDPAsiaPac.

About the Author
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Pawin Talerngsri is managing a climate change finance project at UNDP Thailand. He has worked on mainstreaming environmental issues into development planning and budgeting, both at the national and sub-national levels, for more than four and a half years. 

Prior to joining UNDP, he was a trade negotiator at the Ministry of Commerce, who negotiated on behalf of the Royal Thai Government, for greater access of key Thai exports, including chicken, to European and other markets.  Shockingly, upon his career’s shift towards environment at UNDP which required him to travel up-north to work with local communities there, Pawin was devastated by the profound environmental and social damages caused by the unsustainable farming practices of maize, a key ingredient for chicken’s feed. 

The chicken export Pawin previously promoted is undoubtedly linked back to the maize problem he is trying to solve at the other end of the supply chain.  What goes around comes around.