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1. Introduction

1.1 The Small Farmer Development Program (SFDP)
1.2 PPP Methodology
1.3 The Thai Economy
1.4 Fifth and Sixth Economic and Social Development Plans
1.5 Department of Agricultural Extension
1.6 Description of Agricultural Regions

The purpose of this study is to evaluate the performance of the Small Farmer Development Program which was implemented by the Thai Department of Agricultural Extension and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations from January 1985 to December 1988. The first part of this study describes the economic and methodological background of the Small Farmer Development Program (SFDP). The second part examines the results of the program in the field, in particular the formation of small farmers' groups and their success and failure. The third part of this study looks at the degree to which the Thai government's Department of Agricultural Extension institutionalized the Peoples Participation Program (PPP). Finally, the last section of this study offers an analysis of the Small Farmers Development Program as implemented by the Thai government, a look at similar programs that followed in its wake, and suggestions for future PPP projects.

1.1 The Small Farmer Development Program (SFDP)

The Thai Government has long been interested in improving the lives of people in the rural areas of Thailand. Between 1973 and 1976, Thailand participated in a FAO FAO/UNDP regional project, “Asian Survey of Agrarian Reform and Rural Development”. However, it was found that traditional agricultural extension approaches did not reach the majority of Thailand's small farmers.1 Thus, the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives (MAC) began to look at alternative programs. In 1985, the Small Farmer Development Program (SFDP) was inaugurated. The SFDP Plan of Operation declares that the SFDP will assist “below average small farmers, small fishermen, tenants, land reform beneficiaries, and rural laborers to become more self-reliant by developing their own receiving/utilizing system in the form of small groups and associations below the level of existing institutions.” Lasting for four years, the SFDP program was funded by the governments of Thailand and the Netherlands and implemented through the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) People's Participation Program (PPP) and the Thai Government's Department of Agricultural Extension (DOAE).

1 Bert L. M. van Woersem. Technical Backstopping Mission Report. October 1986.

1.2 PPP Methodology

According to FAO project documents, PPP is a participatory approach to rural development based on the formation of independent village community groups. “PPP's main emphasis is on the formation of small, informal, self-reliant groups of rural poor as part of a longer term strategy to build institutions serving their interests. These groups allow members to work together on income-generating activities, serve as receiving mechanisms for development services, and provide a voice for members in dealing with local authorities.” The participatory approach aims to “provide opportunities for the poor to contribute constructively to development.” In the long run, groups are to interact as “autonomous, self-reliant community organizations” or inter-group associations (IGA). The groups are assisted by the government, non-governmental organizations, a National Coordination Committee (NCC), and by locally recruited “group organizer” (GOs). In Thailand, the PPP approach is embodied in the Small Farmer Development Program. However, before examining how the SFDP was implemented by the DOAE, we will take a look at Thailand's general economic background.

1.3 The Thai Economy

During the past ten years, Thailand's economic performance has been exceptional. From 1980 to 1990, Thailand's GNP increased an average of 7.2 percent per year with the average annual GNP growth rate exceeding 10 percent for the period 1987 to 1990. Similarly, per capita GNP increased from US$ 670 in 1980 to US$ 1,230 in 1990.2 Social indicators of development have shown similar rapid progress. For example, in the last 15 years, the proportion of the Thai population with access to safe drinking water has risen from 25 to 64 percent. During the same period, infant mortality has declined from 59.6 per thousand births to 39.0 per thousand births. This compares favorably with a rate of 61.6 deaths per thousand births in Asia generally. In the field of education, Thailand's rate of primary school enrollment has risen from 83.0 percent of the school age group to 99.0 percent. As a consequence, illiteracy has dropped to 9.0 percent of the population over age fifteen. (The comparable figure for Asia generally is 39.5 percent).3

2 World Bank. World Bank Tables 1991. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991.

3 World Bank. Social Indicators of Development - 1989. Johns Hopkins University Press: 1989. pp. 304-5.

Unfortunately for Thailand's farmers, much of the country's economic growth has been uneven. Industrial and manufacturing production has grown much more rapidly than agricultural production during this period. Rice, Thailand's leading export for many years, was surpassed by textiles in 1985, and by 1987 textile exports rose to more than twice the level of rice exports. Similarly, from 1980 to 1988 the value of industrial production grew 6.6 percent per year while the value of agricultural production grew at a slower rate of 3.7 percent per year. As a result, the value of agricultural production has fallen from 23.2 percent of GDP in 1980 to 16.9 percent of GDP in 1988. In essence, Thailand is undergoing a rapid transformation from an economy based primarily based on agriculture to an economy based on industry.4
4 World Bank. World Development Report - 1990.
Thailand's rapid and uneven economic growth has had two main consequences. First, growth of income for farmers has lagged behind the country as a whole. Thus, the urban-rural income gap expanded from 3 times in 1970 to 11 times in 1986.5 This statistic takes on greater significance when one realizes that approximately 65 percent of the Thai labor force still works in agricultural production.
5 Statistics of the Department of Agricultural Extension, Thailand.
A second consequence of Thailand's rapid and uneven economic growth has been increasing migration from rural to urban areas, particularly Bangkok. Migration from rural to urban areas has affected the ability of the poorest farmers to participate in programs like the Small Farmer Development Program. Thus, the success or failure of the Small Farmer Development Program must be evaluated against Thailand's rapid economic growth and the current transition from an agricultural to an industrial based economy.

1.4 Fifth and Sixth Economic and Social Development Plans

While much of Thailand's economic growth has occurred in private sector activities, economic development in Thailand has not occurred independent of the government. Indeed, the Thai government has taken a central role in planning both general economic growth and specific development projects like the SFDP. This section will examine the Fifth and Sixth Economic and Social Development Plans and their impact on the Small Farmer Development Program.

With the inauguration of the Fifth Five Year Development Plan (1982-86), the Thai government took several steps towards a strategy of local level planning. The reasons for more emphasis on local level planning were quite explicit in the Fifth Five Year Plan itself. First, although rapid economic growth occurred in the period preceding the Plan, many areas of Thailand remained poor and underdeveloped. Second, rapid economic growth did not reach many segments of the rural population resulting in wide income disparities. Thus, the Fifth Five Year Plan noted that if government strategies remained unchanged, then:

... rural poverty and social tension will become more serious including increases in income disparity and rural unemployment .... This is due to the fact that the agricultural growth rate will further decline and that only a fraction of the rural population have benefitted from economic development particularly those living in irrigated areas.
The Plan identified the problems of rural poverty and income inequality with 1) “backward areas that cannot help themselves” and 2) “advanced areas that cannot help themselves.” To attack the twin problems of continuing rural poverty and a worsening income distribution, the Fifth Economic and Social Development Plan advocated development strategies targeted at these two types of areas. As Pasuk Phongpaichit notes, “the introduction of this idea of new planning areas in Thailand involves an implicit recognition that past planning techniques have failed to mobilize and develop the resources of the country's micro-regions.”6
6 Pasuk Phongpaichit. Employment, Income, and Mobilization of Local Resources in Three Thai Villages. International Labor Organization, 1982. p. 1.
Similarly, the Sixth Economic and Social Development Plan (1987-91) took steps towards improving rural economic planning through the promotion of private sector and community involvement in rural development. The Sixth Five Year Plan noted that the previous Five Year Plan did not meet all of its objectives. Thus, previous development efforts were “considered successful in solving rural poverty problems to a limited extent only and in rather limited target areas.” To remedy this situation, rural development was to be accorded an even higher priority in the Sixth Five Year Plan than in previous Plans. In addition, the Sixth Five Year Plan advocated more participation by the private sector in order to allow rural populations to become more self-reliant. Planners hoped that greater participatory development would result in less dependency on the government for services related to economic development. Thus, the Sixth Economic and Social Development Plan states “the role of people's organization and the general public in deciding how to solve their own problems and those of their communities will be encouraged, thus increasing self-reliance.” As with the Fifth Five Year Plan, the major rural development goals are 1) alleviation of poverty and 2) reduction of income disparities in rural areas.

1.5 Department of Agricultural Extension

Established in 1967 by Royal Decree, the Department of Agricultural Extension (DOAE) provides extension services and promotes the dissemination of modern techniques and technologies to farmers in Thailand. The main goals of the DOAE are to alleviate poverty and raise rural incomes through the provision of agricultural extension services and improved agricultural techniques. When it was first established, the DOAE lacked financial resources and technical know-how. The consequent budget and personnel deficiencies restricted the availability of agricultural extension services. As a result, the DOAE tended to reach only the wealthy farmers. Small farmers, as a group, were neglected.

In the late 1970s, government agricultural policy focused on increasing agricultural production both for export and for domestic consumption. The most important commodity in this regard was rice, which Thailand now exports in large quantities. While many government efforts emphasized new technologies and increased efficiency in production, most increases in output resulted from improved irrigation, cutting down forest areas, and expanding the proportion of land under cultivation. These processes increased agricultural output but were unsustainable. Increasingly unsuitable lands came under cultivation. In 1978, the Thai Government introduced the Training & Visit Approach with help from the World Bank. However, as noted earlier, the Thai Government found that the Training & Visit Approach did not reach the majority of small farmers. Therefore, in 1985 under the auspices of the FAO's People's Participation Program (PPP), the Thai Government began to implement the Small Farmer Development Program (SFDP). Since then the DOAE has implemented two other PPP type programs. These include the Thai-Netherlands Small Farmer Participation Program (SFPP) and Thai Government's Planning and Farmers Participation Development Program (PFPDP).

1.6 Description of Agricultural Regions

In order to test the Small Farmer Development Program's suitability for nationwide replication, the Thai Government implemented the SFDP in four provinces representative of the four major regions of the country: the Northeast, North, Central and South. In addition, the initial plans called for implementation of the SFDP in areas that were poorer than average yet had enough existing physical and government infrastructure to make best use of the program. For administrative reasons, the SFDP was implemented in those provinces which are the regional capitals of Thailand: Khon Kaen, Chiang Mai, Nakhon Sawan, and Songkla. A short description of each of the regions is given below.

The northeast region is composed of an upland plateau between the Maenam and Mekong River basins. The soil is poorer than in other parts of the country and therefore the Northeast is traditionally the poorest region of Thailand. However, improved communications in the past few decades have reduced transportation costs and thereby raised the farm gate prices of agricultural produce. Road transport has also brought traders and merchants who provide seeds and capital to farmers and who act as links between villagers and the market. Good profits in the past few years have encouraged farmers to expand dry-land crops, raise more livestock, and grow more paddy in the large tracts of unutilized land in the region.

The north consists of an area of high mountains in the west and steep and fertile upland river valleys in the east and south. As a result of long settlement, the problems of population density, landlordism, and pressure on natural resources of both water and land are more in evidence here than in the other regions of the country. Land pressures have forced Thai farmers to higher, less suitable land areas to grow upland crops such as corn. This clearing of slopes has led to a depletion of forest reserves and greater pressure on the government to protect the forests. Average land holdings are approximately 2.2 hectares in the north and five hectares towards the north-central region.

The central region of Thailand consists of an alluvial flood plain which is one of the traditional rice bowls of Asia. Due to well developed irrigation systems, rice is the dominant crop in the region. The fertility of the central region has helped to make Thailand one of the largest rice exporters in the world. The population density in the central region is greater than other parts of the country. (The average population density being 102 persons per square mile in 1980 as compared with 67 persons per square mile for the rest of the country). Aside from rice, cash crops such as sugar have spread rapidly in response to relatively high international prices and better flood control. While central plain has been settled for several centuries, the cropped and cultivated area is still expanding as a result of multiple cropping and the addition of more land. The average land holding is approximately five hectares.

The south of Thailand, composed of a narrow peninsula, has a distinctive climate, resources, and people. Its economy is based primarily on rubber cultivation but is also the principle fruit growing region of Thailand. Culturally, the South has a larger Muslim minority and a history of economic, cultural, and political isolation from the north. The average land holding is approximately three hectares.

The climate and type of soils in each region of the country have affected the kinds of group activities that small farmers attempted. For example, in the north, farmers were more interested in vegetable and livestock raising whereas farmers in the south were more interested in aquaculture and cultivation of rubber. In addition, the nature of the agricultural economy in different regions of Thailand has affected income distribution and social structures in those areas. The difference in income distribution and social structure is greatest in the south. With an economy based on rubber and fruit cultivation, income differences are most pronounced in the south than in the rest of Thailand. The southern region has also experienced the greatest difficulties in integrating small and middle farmers into SFDP groups and the highest rate of small farmer group failure. Thus, climate and type of crops grown has greatly influenced the success of SFDP groups.

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