In October, staff and volunteers from ECHO Asia accompanied students from the International Sustainable Development Studies Institute (ISDSI) on a hike between the Pang Daeng Nai, Mae Jawn and Huai Pong communities in Chiang Mai’s Chiang Dao district. October was the perfect time to see the local production of green manure/cover crops, such as rice bean (Vigna umbellata) that is produced in a farming system known as relay cropping. The rice bean was planted into a fully mature stand of corn around the end of August. By the time the corn is harvested in September or October, a thick stand of beans has become established during the final weeks of the rainy season, forming an excellent soil-improving ground cover. After the bean crop is harvested in January, farmers allow the decomposing corn and bean residues to remain in the field in order to supplement soil organic matter.
October was also a good time to see the mature upland rice fields. Farmers in these communities often rotate production years of relay-cropped corn and legumes with upland rice production. When the upland rice is planted, it is also grown with other rain-fed field crops such as grain sorghum, foxtail millet and pigeon pea as well as understory crops that include cucumber and pumpkin.
And interspersed between the hill fields are agroforest plots planted by local farmers in diverse mixtures of fruit trees, such as mango, and indigenous forest species, such as rattan (Calamus and Daemonorops species), black sugar palm (Arenga westerhoutii), fishtail palm (Caryota mitis), fan palm (Livistona speciosa), forest vine pepper (Piper interruptum) and snowflake tree (Trevesia palmata). The farmers, such as Mr. Jawa in the Huai Pong Community, value the forest crops as they produce non-timber forest products that have become increasingly rare in the region due to the overharvest and forest degradation.