Honourable Deputy Permanent Secretary,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my great pleasure to address this distinguished gathering on this important day when we launch the international workshop to commemorate the historic and most auspicious occasion of the 60th anniversary of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s Accession to the throne.
One purpose of our gathering here is, of course, to mark and celebrate the long and benevolent reign of His Majesty. However, this occasion also enables us to renew and enhance our understanding of the important and powerful ideas His Majesty has bestowed to this nation and, indeed, to the rest of the world, through His Majesty’s ‘sufficiency economy’ principles.
To recapitulate some of these ideas:
The economic philosophy of His Majesty The King of Thailand is based on the notions of
- moderation in needs,
- reduction in dependence on external entities,
- self-immunity from external shocks, and
- harmony between economic activities and the natural resource base.
These notions are meant to be applicable at various scales – individual, household, community and nation.
The philosophy thus contemplates a ‘middle path’ between isolation and being completely controlled by external market forces. In the agriculture context, it does not imply that farm households need to cut themselves off from the market. Markets have important roles to play. Instead, it urges that the subsistence needs of the household should be taken care of first, and the surplus beyond that brought to the market. Such a strategy provides some measure of self-protection to the household in difficult times, and enables it to thrive when market conditions are more favourable.
Another key pillar of the philosophy is mutual support within communities. Organized community groups can facilitate mutual learning, share risk, exploit economies of scale and exercise collective bargaining power.
His Majesty graciously granted additional suggestions on the theory, which is known as the ‘New Theory’ on agriculture, which has had a tremendous impact on the progress and success of agrarian society in Thailand. The New Theory empowered farmers as they became more self-reliant and as they increased their ability to achieve sustainable development. The new theory consists of the following three phases.
Phase 1: To live at a self-sufficient level which allows farmers to become self-reliant and maintain their living on a frugal basis
Phase 2: To cooperate as a group in order to handle the production, marketing, management, and educational welfare, as well as social development.
Phase 3: To build up connections within various occupation groups and to expand businesses through cooperation with the private sector, NGOs and the government, in order to assist the farmers in the areas of investment, marketing, production, management and information management.
Diversification is a key element within this theory. We are all familiar with the 30:30:30:10 formula, wherein rice, commercial crops and irrigation ponds are allocated 30 percent of available household land each, while the remaining 10 percent is allocated to housing and other purposes. This ensures that subsistence needs are met, sufficient irrigation is available, and commercial opportunities are also taken advantage of. Very importantly, it ensures that the household does not become dependent on a single enterprise, is able to spread its risk and insure itself, and is able to maintain the health of the soil.
I’m very proud to highlight that the operating principles of the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific are very much in line with His Majesty’s philosophy. This is reflected in the fact that the regional priorities identified in the Regional Strategic Framework, adopted in 2004, include, among others:
- reducing vulnerability to disasters,
- promoting effective and equitable management, conservation and sustainable use of natural resources,
- strengthening biosecurity for food security and agricultural trade, and
- alleviating poverty in rice-based livelihood systems.
To give you a few examples of the work we are engaged in in Thailand, which are entirely consistent with Sufficiency Economy principles:
- Since the early 1990s we have been promoting Farmers Field Schools to provide community-based mutual learning opportunities for farmers, particularly in the area of integrated pest management.
- Over the past 16 years some 32 TCP projects with a total value of over US$7 million have been implemented in the areas of natural resources management and improvement of livelihood of rural people.
- Since 1997, via our TeleFood programme, we have raised funds to the amount of about US$190 000 and provided support to 35 TeleFood projects for small-scale initiatives to improve livelihood sustainability, such as fish raising in paddy fields.
- This year, we have initiated a ‘Pilot Project for Poverty Alleviation and the Promotion of Food Security in Northeastern Thailand’. This project uses a package of methods to simultaneously improve the food security and income generation potential of farmers, including irrigation, crop intensification, agricultural diversification and off-farm/non-farm income generating activities.
These are but a few examples. With these FAO projects and our joint activities with various Royal Projects, we are honoured to be partners in implementing the Sufficiency Economy principles.
The principles contained within His Majesty’s Sufficiency Economy philosophy provide us with a broad, flexible structure with which to direct agricultural and natural resource development. Their worth becomes particularly obvious in times of crisis. It is remarkable that, as early as 1974, His Majesty said in his royal speech, and I quote: ‘If one focuses only on rapid economic expansion without making sure that such a plan is appropriate for our people and the condition of our country, it will inevitably result in various imbalances and eventually end up as failure or crisis as found in other countries.’
To repeat, this was said in 1974, more than 20 years in advance of the economic crisis in Thailand and other countries! The foresight is indeed remarkable. We cannot afford to lose sight of the philosophy again.
This workshop is a good opportunity for us to revisit these valuable ideas, take stock of where we are, and where and how we need to proceed. I wish you a fruitful exchange of ideas and a very successful workshop outcome.