Bringing good health, improving the earth and making money for the local population

Health and well-being is a concern to all of us in the modern world — and one major concern in Thailand is soil that is laced with cocktails of harmful chemicals.

Agriculture in Thailand in recent decades has made extensive use of pesticides, polluting the soil and water, and ultimately reducing the fertility of fields.

Thai farmers as well as consumers are at growing risk of suffering illnesses from this chemical pollution. The country could also lose its competitive edge as a leading exporter if it has fewer and potentially inferior agriculture products. This concern motivated Professor Dr Alisa Vangnai, a biochemistry expert with the Department of Biochemistry in the Chulalongkorn University Faculty of Science, to introduce “energetic microbes” in 2009.

The Chulalongkorn team showing off the microbes to a group of interested farmers

These microbes get to work breaking down chemical pesticides and herbicides in soil used for agriculture. One such microbe works by accelerating the growth of plants while also making them healthier and more productive. They are the result of a project known as Microbial Pesticide Innovation for Increasing Agricultural Production, Clean Food and Environmental Restoration.

In academic terms, “energetic microbes” or “microbial pesticide enzyme innovation” are the result of research based on modern biotechnology principles that reduce the toxicity of chemical residues. They are used in organophosphate and carbamate insecticides and mixed-enzyme formulas.

A decade ago, when Prof Dr Alisa was working in a local community, promoting her academic project was not easy. She spent a lot of time making adjustments to the utilization and effectiveness of these energetic microbes to meet the needs of local farmers. The goal was to make them easy for farmers to use as part of their daily routines. Now, these busy microbes have proven their worth in the safer growth of food crops and in horticulture.

“On one occasion, we went to meet farmers in a community. One of the famers said to us that he had just spent 30,000 baht on soil restoration products, but that they hadn’t worked and he didn’t know what he should do next,” she recalls.

“A while later, though, he saw that the energetic microbes worked well, so he told the professor that he’d like to use his money to buy these energetic microbes.”

That incident encouraged Prof Dr Alisa and gave her the confidence that her project was heading in the right direction. The microbes not only helped to reverse environmental damage, but also increased farmers’ incomes and improved their quality of life.

Professor Dr Alisa Vangnai

In addition, these energetic microbes have brought tremendous benefits to the industrial sector. For example, the enzyme insecticide product used in washing fruit and vegetables for export reduces pesticide residues. This helps overcome a major hurdle in the multi-billion-baht fruit and vegetable export sector, where rejection of shipments by importers because of contamination is always a risk.

The microbes can also be used effectively in the original fruit and vegetable washing process — there is no additional investment needed to buy new machinery. They can also be used repeatedly without affecting the quality of the produce. There are no harmful residues, such as foam, left over that will reach the consumer, and thus no effect on wastewater treatment. It also means that these agricultural products can be marketed at home and abroad as chemical-free, fetching much higher prices than other fruits and vegetables.

Other businesses are also benefiting, among them supermarkets, elderly care homes, hospitals and hotels. This gives businesses a higher market value and is helping to stimulate the tourism economy of Thailand. The promotion of chemical-free produce in supermarkets and environmentally friendly or “green” hotels fits with rising demand for healthy products and services.

Currently, Prof Dr Alisa and her team are refining the project to create a clearer workflow, which will enable farmers and other users to easily adopt energetic microbes, resulting in more “fruitful” production in the future. Training for farmers and other users is also organised regularly.

Prof Dr Alisa has worked with lecturers and students from the Biological Accelerator and Environmental Biotechnology unit at the Faculty of Science. The unit has a broader social objective, which is to use the results of the research to educate the public to understand the principles and benefits of microbial bio-products and enzymes.

Other objectives are to treat pollutant residues, restore the environment and improve the soil and water quality in agricultural areas. It is hoped that these activities will improve cultivation efficiency and increase the quality of life for farmers and their neighbors in the community.


  1. Center of Excellence on Hazardous Substances and Waste Management, Chulalongkorn University
  2. School of Agricultural Resources, Chulalongkorn University
  3. Academic Services Center of Chulalongkorn University Center of Learning Network for the Region