The Mab Ueang Agri-Nature Centre is an educational, diverse farm located one hour out of Bangkok, Thailand. At 30 years old, this mature farm is predominantly a giant food forest with small rice paddies and strategic water systems integrated. It’s amazing.
It’s based on the late King Bhumibol’s many decades of research and advocacy in agriculture and culture to create the New Theory Sufficiency Economy. King Bhumibol initiated this theory to help Thai farmers who suffer from the impacts of economic crisis, natural disasters and other unproductive natural conditions.
The New Theory suggests that farmers apply moderation, due consideration and self-immunity to their practice of farming to shield them from the risks and impacts of globalisation and other uncontrollable factors in their farming.
“…I ask all of you to aim for moderation and peace, and work to achieve this goal. We do not have to be extremely prosperous…If we can maintain this moderation, then we can be excellent…” His Majesty the King’s Statement given on 4 December 1974
After visiting quite a few farms throughout Thailand, THIS one was by far the most sophisticated, resilient, clever and successful that’s in line with what we look to create with permaculture design. Here’s a brief tour of some of the key elements…
The water systems
Throughout the food forest are many strategic channels guiding water from pond to pond. While I was there it was the end of the dry season so these channels were mostly dry (as they should be). I can imagine them in the wet season all full and flowing beautifully.
This small bamboo structure above is designed to slow and sink water into the soil as it moves through the system.
These depressions above are designed to grow small rice crops in once. Out of shot uphill is a “header tank” where water can be released into these areas (or other gardens) to irrigate as needed.
And everywhere there are demonstrations on how to use slope, contours and terracing to manage water and vegetation as can be seen below.
Throughout the food forest are small homes for staff and volunteers. They’re cleverly integrated into the landscape, providing comfortable places to live. In the extreme heat of this area (it was 42 degrees when I was there), inside this forest was significantly cooler.
Impressively there’s an example of how, even if you don’t have land, you can live and grow on water. The example below shows how you can build a floating house and garden on a fresh water pond where abundant fish are also available as food.
In the 30 seconds it took me to take this photo, 5 fish jumped out of the water. It’s so abundant.
A solar panel demonstrates fo solar energy can be harvested for lighting.
Shadecloth with a surprisingly small amount of soil are held in bamboo frames to grow vegetables, rice and fruit trees. Fish eat the bugs and worms that thrive in this system, meaning no other food needs to be provided to the fish.
As well as food, this farm demonstrates how you can make your own energy for cooking. Specifically with bio-digesters which use buffalo poo and water in an anaerobic environment to create methane gases. This gas is harvested and piped to the nearby kitchen for cooking. Low-tech and highly effective.
The kitchen with the bio-digester in the background.
Bamboo is grown extensively as a building material for homes and garden structures. The image below shows how bamboo can be used to help establish Vetiver grass (Vetiveria zizanoides) in steep banks to stop erosion.
And for building structures and garden edging as seen below…
Bamboo used as garden edging.
Amongst the food forest are rice paddies. Rather than large rice paddies, they have more of them but at smaller dimensions amongst the trees with strategic water channels to let water in and out as needed. This is more inline with “dry land” rice production – using less water to fit in erratic rainfall.
Seeds are harvested and stored to preserve diversity and to share with other Thai farmers. While seemingly modest, saving seed has always been a key part to a country’s cultural independence. Having control over seed varieties and distribution means you have control over the food system.
While permaculture was developed by two white men in Australia (Bill Mollison and David Holmgren), I believe it stands on the very broad shoulders of traditional cultures everywhere. There are many design and ethical similarities between the New Theory and permaculture. Not for the first time, I’m struck at how traditional cultures *all around the world* have already worked out how to live well intuitively and through observational science.
If you’re working in a foreign country in permaculture, the best thing you can do is look to the local people with healthy landscapes and communities – they’ll have all the strategies and techniques appropriate for that environmental and cultural context.
This place will forever stay with me as an incredible example of good design in action. I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s happening there, so encourage anyone in that part of the world to have a visit…