Integrating Thailand’s indigenous farming families into the agricultural value chain
The Thailand-based social enterprise Hilltribe Organics, a subsidiary of major organic food producer Urmatt Ltd., has joined the Business Call to Action (BCtA) with a pledge to contract 200 small family farms and produce 40,000 organic eggs daily by 2020.
Northern Thailand’s hill tribe communities are poor and marginalized: lacking the same legal status as other people in Thailand, they cannot receive benefits such as social security and health care, and do not have the right to vote. Poverty and isolation leads some in these communities into drug and human trafficking, and forces many to abandon their mountain homes and migrate to cities. But the hill tribes also have assets: pure soil and water, clean air and a rich ecosystem. Despite their abundant natural resources, the survival of hill tribe communities is in jeopardy without fair access to markets for their agricultural produce. Hilltribe Organics is responding to this need with an inclusive business model based on organic egg farming. Capitalizing on these communities’ environmental assets, the company has incorporated indigenous egg producers into its organic value chain, tripling their incomes to more than USD 500 per month.
Hilltribe’s signature product is the ‘beyond organic’ egg – the company was the first in Thailand to achieve organic certification for its chicken farms. Since Thailand’s hill tribe region has some of the purest arable soil in the world, the chickens are allowed to roam freely on fertile ground, have an all-natural diet and are completely hormone free. As a result, Hilltribe’s eggs exceed the highest standards free-range as well as organic production. Urmatt Ltd., the parent umbrella company of Hilltribe Organics, has been involved in socially impactful agriculture in Northern Thailand for over 30 years. Its work with small farmers includes purchasing buffalo manure and field snails that farmers collect from rice paddies for processing into organic fertilizer; the fertilizer is given to farmers free of charge to increase their yields and ensure organic compliance. Leveraging its parent company’s experience in inclusive organic farming, Hilltribe connects with farmers through respected elders and community groups, and helps them for form farmer groups based on traditional social structures.
Farmers who contract with Hilltribe are given egg-rearing chickens, helped to build bamboo chicken coops and prepare land for free-range chickens, and taught how to care for the chickens and grow organic feed – all at no charge. The company then pays farmers a fair price for each delivery of eggs, and helps farming families to access energy, sanitation, and education. As a result of these efforts, Hilltribe has become the number one organic egg brand in Thailand and is now sold in major supermarkets as well as high-end restaurants and hotels. Given its rapid success, the company is looking to expand into value-added products like egg noodles, egg tofu, organic mayonnaise, egg custard and chicken stock. Scaling up its inclusive business will allow the company to include other indigenous communities throughout Thailand in its inclusive value chain, and create additional off-farm employment in food production.