Pura Organic: a quest for the best in Thailand
Recently I’ve returned from Thailand. As you know, wherever I go I try to explore healthy options of the place. I’ve met Martin Smetsers, the founder of Pura Organic company. He shared with me his vision and hopes for development of organic industry in Thailand.
Anastassia Khozissova: Martin, why is it so important to speak about organic food here in Asia? Isn’t it the best way possible when fruits and vegetables are growing in such abundance?
Martin Smetsers: People often think of their holiday in Thailand as of the healthiest time of their lives. But the reality is that it is the other way round, it can be dangerous for your health.
AK: Why is it so?
MS: Thailand farming community is pushed by western chemical companies to use more and more chemicals. The farmers are not aware of the risk associated with this because they are not very literate. They see the plants grow bigger, they see more yields per crop and they decide to continue using that stuff sold to them. Pesticides left on the vegetables don’t come off by washing; they stay in the DNA of the plants. If you check the statistics, here it’s 60.000 cases of pesticides intoxication and 70 mortal cases per 100.000. Of course, the most part of this is the farmers working with the chemicals directly but some are the consumers eating the farmers’ produce. Also, the broad usage of all those toxic substances creates the risk of environmental pollution making the water and soil dirty.
AK: Are there any mass media paying attention?
MS: A few English language newspapers do tests every year. They go to the supermarkets here, buy products and test them in the UK. These tests show that the legal limits of pesticides content allowed in western countries are extremely exceeded here.
AK: So you are saying that those deliciously looking mangos and coconuts on the beach could potentially be bad for your health, aren’t you?
MS: Yes, it is risky. You never know where all these fruits are coming from. There is no control over it. You never know what you eat unless you opt for organic, trustworthy source. Then you can be sure there are no chemicals and the food actually tastes better and is more nutritious. Here in Pura Organic, we select our sources based on location, taste and organic certification.
AK: What are your personal reasons to eat organic?
MS: When I lived in Holland I had to live next to organic farm because I liked the taste of organic food very much. It just tastes better than any other. I have always been a foodie and chose organic purely for the taste but now that I’ve learned about all health benefits I think that this is what makes me staying healthy in my age of 62. I’ve been eating organic for more than 25 years and haven’t been ill. And it’s not that I’m a saint, I have bad habits. As I say I do detox and I do ‘retox’, looks like this balance works for me.
AK: Organic produce is more expensive. What is the price difference between say an organic and regular mango?
MS: I dare say that compared to the prices on the market, my average organic products are 70% more expensive. If you compare my prices with the ones of Villa Market or Tops (Thai supermarkets), they are about 30% more expensive. But what does it mean? If on average my prices are 200 baht/kg (my vegetables and my fruits) you could say if somebody lives a normal diet (it’s 200g of vegetables and 200g of fruit per day), it’s 400g of organic food. So the cost per day is actually 80 baht. So for 80 baht per day, you get your vegetables and fruits 100% organic. And the toxic version is 37 baht per day. So if you opt for organic food it will cost you 37 baht per day more. That’s all it takes. Now I ask you how much it costs to remove cancer.
AK: Isn’t it that the whole hospitality industry is more or less involved in the current situation?
MS: Yes, the problem is that very few people want to take the responsibility and check where their food supplies are coming from. You have to care for your customers and guests and very few of the industry players are doing it. The restaurants are not checking if their suppliers are actually 100% organic as it is stated in the menus.
AK: I couldn’t find anything healthy to order in my hotel for breakfast!
MS: Yes, the hotels are also suffering. The hotel restaurants charge enormous prices for their poor food options and people are willing to pay for the room but they don’t spend money in the hotel restaurant because it is not worth the price.
AK: Please tell me about Pura Organic. When was it founded and what were your first steps?
MS: The official name is Pura Organic Food Ltd and it was founded in 2010. Back then we were the 1st organic and healthy food distribution company. In the early days, my main activity was to travel around Thailand trying to find organic sources which I could trust. There is Thai government agency ‘Gold Organic Thailand’ which is not very strict. Their returning visits to the farms almost don’t take place. So the farm may get its certificate but it doesn’t mean it’s 100% organic. For example, they may have the certificate but in 10m there is a neighboring farmer who uses all the pesticides and chemicals they can find. There are a few of these stories in my blog on Pura Organic website http://puraorganic.org/phuket-organic-from-words-to-reality/
Now to the point of how I choose my farmers. We selected the farms a long time ago and we’ve been doing business with them for years. We get a copy of their organic certificate and check their products every year. I eat their produce. I know if the consistency is there, there is no reason for me not to trust these people.
AK: What do you offer to your customers?
MS: We have all the fruits and vegetables which can grow here in Thailand under conditions that they are not treated with pesticides. We even grow kale but not the curly one — ours is Chinese kale. We create our own organic yogurts from certified organic milk. And we now started to make them with grass fed cow milk which is a great taste improvement. We also work with a raw vegan chef who makes vegan mayonnaise and vegan Nutella. We even have an alternative to rosé wine made of kombucha. You can check our website for more information http://puraorganic.org/product-category/vegetables-season/