Team Member Spotlight: Piyawan Phuphong, Thailand Learning Farm
Research Lead Piyawan “Palm” Phuphong, a key member of East-West Seed Knowledge Transfer Foundation’s Technical Support Hub, has contributed greatly to the success of the EWS-KT country teams since she joined the organization in 2018. Her multiple focuses—conducting action research, collaborating with other members of the Technical Support Hub to develop extension materials, and supporting country teams on knowledge transfer initiatives—have made a significant impact on smallholder farmers’ development.
Based at the EWS-KT learning farm in Chiang Mai, Thailand, Palm plays a vital role in action research to innovate and improve the technical recommendations our field staff provide to smallholder farmers. Through rigorous experimentation and analysis, she ensures that the guidance offered is practical and tailored to the specific needs of farmers in the countries where we work.
“I work closely with colleagues from many different contexts, and having to learn and support them in many environments motivates me. I need to understand how to support my team to do action research in their local environment,” Palm said.
Collaboration is a cornerstone of Palm’s work, and she actively coordinates with EWS-KT colleagues and external parties to develop extension materials such as crop guides and technical guides. By working with our longtime partner Wageningen University and Research, our country teams, and other stakeholders, Palm ensures that the materials are accurate, relevant, and accessible to farmers.
Palm grew up in Chiang Rai, Thailand, and her academic journey led her to study soil science and conservation as an undergraduate. She then pursued a master’s degree in agronomy and crop science at Chiang Mai University. While studying for her master’s degree, she worked as a research assistant to a university professor focused on rice production. From this experience, she concluded, “If we don’t analyze the data, we cannot properly understand what happened.”
While having accurate data on crops is essential, Palm learned that the economic part of the equation is also important. In order for EWS-KT solutions to be adopted, they must make financial sense for smallholder farmers. When initiating action research on rain shelters for tomato fields, for instance, Palm chose to study shelters made of less expensive and often readily available bamboo, alongside the more durable but more expensive steel. “We had to study the numbers and see not only the impact on the crop, but also the impact to the farmer on their business planning,” she said.
In 2022, Palm was invited by the International Horticultural Congress to present her research on the crop production and economic impacts of using spunbond as a tomato plant cover to lower viral disease occurrence and increase yield. An article on her research was subsequently published in the journal Acta Horticulturae.
Through action research, collaboration with other members of the Technical Support Hub team, and development of extension materials, Palm empowers farmers to achieve agronomic excellence while considering the economic aspects of their operations. Her dedication and expertise make her an invaluable asset to the EWS-KT team and the well-being of the farmers we work with.
Building an Online Community in Thailand
When COVID-19 hit, travel to other countries came to a halt. As trainings and technical agricultural support moved online, Palm had an exciting opportunity to help farmers in her native Thailand. (While EWS-KT maintains a learning farm and action research in Thailand, we no longer work directly with farmers there.)
During the pandemic, East-West Seed and the Thai government initiated a project called Too Yen Kang Baan (Refrigerator at Your House). EWS-KT, with Palm’s leadership, supported this effort. Through the project, East-West Seed provided seeds to farmers and home gardeners, and they could then scan a QR code to join a new EWS-KT Facebook learning support group in Thailand to share with and encourage each other. This group has since grown to more than 200,000 followers and is now self-sufficient.