This national program helps urban poor communities grow and produce healthy food right in their settlements

BANGKOK, THAILAND: Nattaporn Jetjamnong, a member of HomeNet Thailand, sells crops from a community-run garden. She is also a home-based worker, although her income from stitching is irregular. The community garden gives her, and other workers, income security and provides food for their families.

In 2013, the Government’s Thai Health Promotion Foundation entered into an unconventional partnership with the national network of urban poor communities, to develop community-managed projects in which community members grow safe, healthy, organic vegetables and fruits in pots, planter boxes and on common land and around their houses in low-income communities, under its “Green Healthy Community Program”.  The foundation provided budget and training for community members (and especially school children) in how to grow organic food in pots and small spaces, and the community network coordinated the project and spread around the learning.

Hunger and poor nutrition are problems that can be invisible in low-income communities, where family incomes go up and down, and they are getting worse as health problems from pesticide-laced produce and corporate junk food become more common.  The Green Healthy Community Program gave communities a means of addressing these problems and creating awareness through action which allows them to start right away producing their own healthy food, even in very limited spaces.  In the process, the program has built new channels for sharing ideas on safe food production and expertise about gardening techniques between households within communities, between communities within the city, and between cities and regions, through the existing urban networks.

In the first year, 100 urban poor communities in 40 cities took part in the program, and most of them were veterans of Baan Mankong housing projects.  But as the process has continued and expanded, a program of individual community projects has become a more strategic and more citywide program of healthy food co-production, in which poor communities in 70 cities (and a few rural areas also) are now working with their community networks, with CODI and with their local governments to survey local food security problems and needs, and work together to develop citywide strategies to incorporate the growing of healthy fruits and vegetables in low-income communities, as well as promoting greater self-sufficiency in food production.

As a result of this program, which is being enthusiastically taken up by more and more communities all the time, some 40% of Thailand’s low-income urban communities have now become green:  growing their own organic vegetables, improving their community environments with vegetable gardens and fruit trees, reducing their expenditure on food and empowering community members (and especially children and youth) to learn how to garden, to nourish themselves and to take greater control over the food they eat.