In 1967 Les Blank and Skip Gerson were hired to work in Thailand on a documentary about the B52 Bomber. There were some problems getting access to the planes. Weeks went by with Les and Skip on payroll, but with nothing to shoot. So they began traveling around the country shooting whatever they found interesting. Recently, editor Ben Abrams, and producer Harrod Blank (Les’ son) elaborated upon this gentle, short film.
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A Greenhorn in the U.S. recently told me, “big business has made sustainable farming seem obsolete.” Living here in northeastern Thailand, it’s easy to think so. Farmers struggle to hold on to their land in the face of mounting debt. Most young rural people leave home for Bangkok or other industrial centers to find work. And despite last year’s rise in rice prices, farmers are increasingly moving to plant cash crops like cassava, corn, sugarcane, eucalyptus and rubber. The Green Revolution’s legacy essentially amounts to 50% deforestation and corporate consolidation of the food system.
The global food crisis has created opportunities for agro-industry and brought food insecurity for many nations in Southeast Asia. In 2008, export-oriented, agro-industrializing Vietnam and Thailand restricted exports, while the net-importing Indonesia and the Philippines experienced major shortages. Yet corporations have only benefited with hefty profits. Charoen Pokphand (CP) controls agricultural production through the contract farming of poultry and fish. Monsanto dominates the commercial seed market, selling rice and corn seeds through state-run cooperatives and mills. Farmers buy their Bayer pesticides and Monsanto Round-Up herbicides from local mills and the government-owned agricultural banks. As agro-industry dominates the landscape – driving between Surin and Bangkok, you are guaranteed to see at least 8 different CP processing facilities or mills – it may seem that sustainable farming here is obsolete.
Yet the key word here is seem.