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13 Dec, 2012

Sunflower brings beauty, profit to small town in central Thailand


BANGKOK, Dec. 13 (Xinhua) — At this time of the year, Chong Sarika, a small town in Lopburi province, some 150 kilometers north of this capital city, comes alive as the golden hue of sunflowers that are in bloom covers the entire town.

The small town in central Thailand is now dubbed as the ” sunflower capital” of the country as tens of thousands of visitors, including foreign tourists, flock to the place to enjoy the beautiful landscape and participate in the annual “sunflower festival” that kicked off last Friday.

The town has reputedly the largest sunflower field in all Thailand, which is open and surrounded by rolling hills.

Nature lovers who love to gaze at the blooming sunflowers usually take the mini-trains, ride bicycles, or just walk through the vast expanse of the sunflower field.

Statistics shows that there are about 12,000 acres of sunflower fields in the province.

But the plants offer more than just tourist attractions. Flower Food, a food manufacturer established in 1990 by a local family of Chinese descent, has been exploring the potentials of sunflower as a source of natural snacks.

The business was started from an experimental planting initiated by the government in the 1970s aimed at finding an alternative crop that the farmers could plant during the three- month break from rice growing in the area.

Pradit Piramarn, an agricultural academic who led a research, found the sunflower as an excellent alternative and thus he encouraged the local farmers to plant sunflower.

Piramarn later founded the Flower Food firm to buy sunflower seeds from local farmers to be made into snacks.

As the first company in the country to produce sunflower-based snacks, especially roasted kernels, Flower Food currently churns out as many as 80 kinds of sunflower-based products. The firm exports around 20 percent of its products to 27 countries, particularly to China and neighboring countries in Southeast Asia.

Nowadays, sunflower has become the small town’s signature business creating jobs for the locals and generating income for the town. At the major tourist sites, street vendors hawk sunflower-based foods items such as snacks, honey, wine as well as sunflower-shaped handicrafts.

In 2011, Flower Food received “The OTOP Export Recognition” from the Thai government. OTOP, which stands for “One Tambon One Product,” is a local entrepreneurship program that is aimed at stimulating local communities to select one particular product to propagate and market.

“It’s not just a business that has given my family prosperity. It has also helped the people in my community to have a better life,” Pira Piramarn, the company’s business manager, said.