By Kanda Yaemboonruang
DBA alum Dr. Anurug Ruangrob has been sharing His Majesty the late King Bhumibhol Adulyadej’s New Theory with Thai farmers countrywide to build sustainable livelihoods and turn Thailand into an organic farm of the world.
Eating healthy has become a goal for many people in the modern times as they desire to live longer and stay well. Indeed, healthy food is the key to long life. However, this key is rare and expensive as the price tags of anything ‘organic’ show – and that shouldn’t be the case. Organic products were readily available at relatively low prices before the industrial agriculture took off. The agricultural revolution has made most of the farmers turn to chemicals, using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides to keep up with the large-scale production. Consequently, this has affected the health of both the growers and the consumers.
Few farmers are willing to produce healthy products for the market as it is more difficult to grow crops at scale without using chemicals. With the rule of demand and supply, organic foods have become expensive. Still, with organic produce fetching higher income, some farmers see it as an opportunity but don’t know how to begin. Even knowing how to grow crops organically, some do not know where to sell and market. This is where Dr. Anurug Ruangrob fills the gaps with his model.
Dr. Anurug founded ‘Thai Sustainable Agriculture Trade Association’ (TSATA) which is based on a social enterprise and business model to match markets with Thai farmers to make organic farming attractive and profitable. TSATA offers the tools and services that can turn farmers into entrepreneurs and promotes sustainable agricultural practices. The aim is to improve Thai famers’ lives through the organic agriculture business model and to ensure that the agricultural practice is both ecologically and economically sustainable.
“I found there are many organic farms in Thailand, but the problem is many farmers don’t know where to sell their healthy products. On the other hand, the market demands organic products but doesn’t know where to buy them. It just occurred to me that I could help connect them so they can start their business,” said the DBA alum. He further added, “It was more difficult than I thought, though. The products must have the Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) label to confirm its quality and standard, but most farms in Thailand do not have this certification.”
Seeing the gap in this organic supply chain, he studied more about the Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS), an important tool that can place farmers’ products in the mainstream market. He initiated a new PGS based on the UN Sustainable Development Goal #12: Responsible Consumption and Production. He designed the examiner training program, assessment criteria and online certificate system, and called it ‘Sustainable Development Goals Participatory Guarantee System’ (SDGsPGS). The SDGsPGS certificate is now widely accepted as an organic standard by Thai traders and leading department stores such as Tops, Icon Siam and Big C. “The SDGsPGS is a very important tool to help Thai organic farmers enter the real-world business arena. I use my management and business skills to create this certification and a model which could be an organic business handbook for Thai farmers, showing them how to follow the New Theory Agriculture and social enterprise keystone,” He proudly added.
The seed for the idea started after Dr. Anurug graduated with a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) from the School of Management of the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) in 2012. He realized that people around the world fell ill because of their daily consumption of chemical-contaminated food. He believes that this is the time for Thailand to stop relying on chemical, especially on pesticides, and to give priority to protecting people’s health and create better livelihoods for farmers through organic agriculture. Seeing this opportunity, he left his CEO post at an international company and dedicated himself to travelling around the countryside, learning everything about agriculture from thousands of farmers in Thailand. He combined his business skills and his newfound farming knowledge to create a model that he hoped would one day change the agricultural practices in Thailand.
“DBA helped me become a confident academic. I learned to find the pain points and strengths and use them to continue to grow. The model that I have been using for the farmers came from what I have learned in class. The faculty members taught me to create many kinds of models such as financing, marketing, management which are process models. It was such a quality learning. My training at AIT taught me that if I want to create a model that will change this country, I must make it acceptable and build a floor for everyone to step in and work together,” said Dr. Anurug.
At the age of 54, Dr. Anurug is well-respected by Thai organic agriculture society as the ‘Organic Prince’. He is still walking along side Thai farmers supporting them while learning from them at the same time. Under the umbrella of the president of TSATA and independent scholar, his final ambitious milestone is to promote Thailand organic products in the world market and to present Thailand’s quality products at the international level. He understands that the path is not smooth, and there will be spikes and thorns along the way. Nonetheless, he is more than prepared to make this master-piece milestone materialize.