Certified Organic - White, Privileged, Expensive, Excluding & Elusive? Anti Fair Trade Even?

in ecotrain •  2 months ago

The longer I work with Organic - herbs and plants from pristine Thai mountain soils - and the more I interface with western-educated, social-media-savvy customers, the more intense the disparity between "Certified Organic" and what I call "Real Organic" becomes.

Certified Organic aims to document and guarantee some really simple concepts: that no toxic water has tainted the soil, that pesticides and chemicals have not been used in the raising of the crop-plant, and that no aerial spray drift has contaminated the plants. It's a laudable aim. We all want to KNOW FOR SURE that our produce, our herbs, our textiles and fibers are clean. Without question. A very white-western desire born of a culture that doesn't sit well with ambiguity.

But there are under-pinning ideas that are ASSUMED by "certified organic" (you know, that old 'makes a ASS out of U and ME') which means it's simply not workable in some parts of the world. In my humble opinion. And why my business, Pure Thai Naturals is taking a whole other path.

First assumption is that people who grow or produce commercially on land, actually own it (as in having clear title), or at least have a legal leasehold over it. That simply isn't true in many parts of the developing world.

And if you don't own land nor have legal tenure, you don't have the entitlement to give a history of the land usage, which is a requirement of certified organic. You may not have lived on that perfect hillside for more than 2 years, since you fled from armed conflict across the border. You can SEE that it's never been farmed, is 200 miles from the nearest factory and has no possibility of toxic run off, since it's right up at the top of the mountain.
Wan Sao Long, a herb we use often, being grown by ethnic indigenous Lahu people on a pristine hillside on Doi Modt 'near' Chiang Rai, high up in the lands set aside for the Black Lahu indigenous people. The only 'upper' neighbour is the National Park.

But you have no way to legally document the history of the land that you are farming this year - probably you don't have a smart phone, nor cash for soil tests. Maybe you are afraid to even go to the nearest government office - either because you don't speak the city language or because you might be arrested for having no papers.

Here in Thailand, many of our organic growers have no nationality - they are technically "stateless people". Even if they had been living on, and farming, the same piece of pristine land for 10 years, they could NEVER legally own it, nor apply for certification. Land ownership or legal leasehold requires citizenship.

Soil testing is expensive, as is the certification application process. It requires literacy, and both a knowledge of the organic market pricing and the belief that there will be customers who will pay a premium for your organic produce. It requires a belief in the future that so many people in this part of the word, at least, don't have. Our most vulnerable growers who finally DO and CAN scratch together enough cash and documentation to buy land almost never have purchase contracts in place before planting, and are required to spend big first for the certification process - for YEARS - on a subsistence level income.

It all makes no sense.

The purest land, untainted by urbanization, spray drift, toxic ground water or contaminated rivers is that land at the top of a mountain. Far from the big cities. And difficult for large scale chemical agriculture. By definition and geography, land holdings are small. Tenuous. Often shared between families and communities eking out a living. Often under indigenous land allocations which defy commercial agriculture norms and limit what can be grown, and how. The most organic land is the least likely to ever be able to be certified.

And so the economy of scale equation, the distribution of wealth and the access to literacy, citizenship and education makes "certified organic" largely the domain of the wealthier, land-owning people who also happen to live closer to cities where the land holdings are bigger, easier, and much more expensive. And dirtier, and more toxic. Almost by definition, buying "certified organic" is voting for a political-social system that is definitely NOT about fair trade, excludes the majority of growers in the cleanest-poorer parts of the developing world, and reinforces layers of prejudice and discrimination.

And yet here at Pure Thai Naturals we are constantly asked about the lack of "that logo", as if its presence confers cleanliness, pristinity (new word?) and purity.

But does it really mean nothing nasty or dangerous ever went near, or is inside, your produce-crop?
You may want to read through USDA Official List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances and make up your own mind as to the value of the certification: USDA Organic Allowed and Prohibited Substances List

The heavy metals in the allowed vaccines, the disgusting toxic newspaper inks, the carcinogenic dioxins used in paper bleaching, the 'safe' GMO petro-chemical soap products, the allowed fish meal products produced from fish fed sweet-goddess-knows-what etc.... they stay in the soil, contaminate the crop and end up in your body. But it's OK, because you only buy "Certified Organic", the logo-seal means "it's organic" and the government IS looking out for you.

Yes, I am unashamedly passionate. Yes, I think "certified organic" needs a total rethink. Yes, I am endlessly irritated by people who don't examine what they are told and incessantly ask me "But why haven't you got Certified Organic products?" And, finally, yes, I am pushing at organic frontiers in rather unorthodox ways here in Northern Thailand.

In the coming weeks, my Organic Frontiers Collection goes out on storefront shelves and will be up in my online store. www.purethainaturals.com Sign up for the newsletter to get a more detailed brief on Organic Frontiers delivered to your email. It will NEVER be "certified organic" through existing structures. Here's my introductory blurb:

The armed conflict along Burma’s borders is described as one of the longest civil wars in recorded history. Since 1948, the conflict has raged and created generations of dispossessed, landless people, many of them technically stateless and without an internationally-recognized identity. It’s not a big news story and goes largely unreported. The politics are convoluted at best, and often mask and distract us from the real people: maimed, widowed, orphaned, indigenous, displaced, ‘illegal’ wherever they try to live. They eke out an existence along Thailand’s mountainous border frontier with Burma, which remains one of the most-heavily-landmined borders in the world today.

Our Organic Frontiers Collection was created to provide a source of income for these disenfranchised people; those who have no longer have lands to farm but who live in pristine organic mountain forests where they have foraging rights as indigenous people. Thai law generously allows individuals to sell herbs up to a certain value without requiring registration or taxation.

The Organic Frontiers Collection deliberately pushes at the frontier of what “organic” actually means. We challenge and refute traditional “certified organic” labels where land ownership is a prerequisite, where only 90% organic content qualifies you for USFDA ‘organic’ certification and no one asks about the other 10%, and where money talks. We know we are offering you some of the finest, purest organic products in the world. We will, in the coming months as we consolidate, be creating organic transparency using blockchain technology. We are thrilled to be partnering with the Karen Department of Health and Welfare, the Karen Women’s Union and the Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People to train local indigenous and refugee Karen people to be part of the organic supply chain for Pure Thai Naturals.

Your support of The Organic Frontiers Collection is the beginning of providing a sustainable livelihood for these very vulnerable people.


It's a TINY start to offering sales contracts to vulnerable dispossessed people - mostly unbankable people - who the UN food program has recently cut from their food aid program. Burma remains unsafe along its border with Thailand, it is littered with landmines, and villages have been burned, poisoned and booby-trapped. There is nothing to go back to.

The Organic Frontiers Collection is my small attempt at changing the world in which I find myself. To offer pristine, indigenous Asian mountain herbs in the best way I can to my global customers, and to secure one of the purest, organic supply chains in the world. And to create sustainable employment.

We will be crowd-funding via @fundition in the coming week to secure funds to donate much-needed Solar-Powered Dehydrators and Manual Oil Presses to the indigenous Karen communities - they will enable herbal preservation and oil pressing in situ without the need for electricity or transport. And be used in downtime to preserve mushrooms, moringa, seasonal greens and other important food items to help consolidate and improve food security. Connect, message, email or follow me to stay in the loop and be part of this community-based organic initiative. Sharing and supporting this alone will make a big impact. We will also be starting our own steemit blog to document the simple real-life stories of those people who are displaced and living literally on the edge.

I KNOW Organic Frontiers will open the ages-old "But how will I know it's organic and why don't you have certification?" dialogue. And so this is my pre-emptive strike. And me giving notice that I don't care for systems and societies which exclude and collude to deny a fair livelihood to subsistence level growers, and which supply high priced branded, so-called "organic" at premium prices to people who need it and trust the logo, but who fail to ask the questions or do their homework.

Be The Change.

Pure Thai Naturals

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Wow, where do you get all the inspiration and knowledge to write in this way about the organic industry. It's very inspiring although I know (knew)very little of the subject.


I get the inspiration and the knowledge from my daily work in my herbal business, and from READING. :) Yes, I am lucky and grateful that the way I earn my living INSPIRES me still, 12 years on. BlissednBlessed.

It is really interesting to have stateless people without getting controlled. They are lucky that the government doesnt send people down there to stop their work. In my country they are very strict about such things :(


Thank for stopping by @hanen Stateless people here ARE controlled in many, many ways, and yet they are tolerated as an essential part of the economy. It's a fine line and we do what we can to help individuals, within the scope that Thai law allows.

What a different world it is over there. I stopped trusting the organic labels and try to buy locally as much as I can or at least know where the source of the products is and their practices. That's a wonderful initiative you are setting up. All the best in your endeavors.


Yes, it's an UTTERLY DIFFERENT WORLD here! So glad I made the choice to leave the western rat race... has changed me profoundly and brought me so much joy and freedom. Appreciate you stopping by! :)


Glad to hear that! Thanks for sharing !

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I LOVE the fact that you are actually explaining where all the organic comes from. So many places and products claim that they are organic, because they are grown on the land I guess (hahahhaha), and use this as their sales pitch. totally not okay.

I didnt know the Birma border was such a disaster still? They claim to be 'open and transparent' ofcourse! ;)