Why Do Bangkok Consumers Choose Organic Vegetables?
Most of Thailand’s homegrown organic produce is exported. The reason? Low domestic demand--despite the government’s efforts to promote it among consumers. This economics study examines the real reasons why shoppers in Bangkok are choosing (or eschewing) pesticide-free fare.
New research from the Gold Open Access journal Agricultural and Food Economics, “Consumers’ Perception of Environmental and Health Benefits, and Consumption of Organic Vegetables in Bangkok,” elucidates an important question: Why do people choose to buy and eat organic food? Specifically, in Thailand, as in many developing nations, “organic farming is practiced at very low scale while most of the produce are meant for export since their domestic demand is still limited.” Data from 2013 found only 0.29 percent of Thailand’s agricultural land devoted to organic farming, despite the government’s efforts to promote it through awareness of health and environmental benefits. To investigate the reasons behind their choices, the authors surveyed customers found shopping in Bangkok food markets that offered organic vegetables, and analyzed 384 responses.
Plenty of research has shown a clear correlation between consumers’ affluence and their tendency to choose organic vegetables over their less-pricey counterparts. This preference applies in Thailand, too; higher household income unsurprisingly correlated with the purchase of organic vegetables, accounting for 66 percent of variance, and three-quarters of the survey respondents said they couldn’t afford organic vegetables.
Although older respondents displayed more awareness about health benefits of organic produce, on the whole these respondents said their organic consumption was reduced as they aged, contradicting the findings of other studies. Possibly this is attributable to older shoppers in Thailand having lower incomes than the “more economically versatile” younger generation - coupled with potentially higher household expenses because “in Thai society, parents normally support their children’s education up to the university level while their health-related expenses gradually increase as they get older.” Indeed, two-thirds of all non-organic shoppers reported seeing “no difference” between conventional and organic produce, despite an overall “very high positive perception” around the health benefits of the latter.
As for those public health measures, such as the Government of Thailand’s First National Organic Agricultural Development Strategic Plan, which aim to bolster domestic demand for pesticide-free vegetables?
These findings “suggest that it would be quite difficult to promote the consumption of organic vegetables and other organic produce at a wider scale unless their prices are brought down to the levels that are affordable for common consumers.”
Instead of just touting the benefits of organic fare, the authors conclude, “It is crucial that the distribution system is improved in such way that more and more producers, intermediaries and retailers would be attracted to the distribution and marketing systems of organic vegetables.”
By Erica Gordon-Mallin, Journal Development Editor, Agricultural and Food Economics