In areas like hilltribe villages, where there is inadequate rice supply, potato is utilized as a staple food. Similarly, in the typhoon season on the distant islands of the South, long-keeping vegetables like pumpkin and wax gourd are consumed instead of rice, as food transport from the mainland is irregular.
Vegetarians, a minority group of health conscious people, consider vegetables as staples. When modern medicine cannot help, people suffering from particular cancers have been looking at the alternative systems of medicine and vegetarianism as a way of healing. Vegetables are rich sources of essential minerals and vitamins. Nutritional problems usually occur in rural school children, particularly in border areas. In these areas the School of Agriculture Lunch Project provides clean and nutritious meals to school children. Students and their parents are encouraged to grow vegetables in their school premises and the produce is used for preparing lunch. The project is not only aimed at alleviating nutritional problems in school children, but also at educating and creating awareness amongst children about vegetable production technologies, food preservation, processing and nutrition.
Long keeping vegetables such as potato, pumpkin, wax gourd, watermelon, onion, yam bean and sweet potato can be stored even in normal conditions. Fast-growing crops like kangkong, pak choi, Chinese kale and lettuce can ensure a stable and year round supply. In southern areas hit by typhoons, seeds of such fast growing vegetables are distributed for promoting home gardening so that a stable supply of vegetables is maintained in the diet.
The availability of indigenous vegetables ensures stability of food supply. Many of these, like torvum eggplant, are naturally available along roadsides and in waste places; kangkong or water mimosa are harvested from canals, and young shoots of Coccinia are available from fences and trees.
Some vegetables such as cabbage, Chinese cabbage, sweet pepper, spinach and head lettuce cannot be stored under room conditions. Due to the high cost of cold storage, they are promoted as a year-round product alternately in highland and lowland areas. The highland cabbage can supply lowland markets in the hot season. Garlic grown as a crop after rice in Chiangmai is supplied to the South. Year round cultivation of chili pepper in the central plain can be supplied to highland areas.
Thai people have access to vegetables through several channels. A large number of indigenous vegetables exist in tropical rain forests along jungle tracks, roadside or in wasted areas as wild weeds. The local people living in these areas are usually aware of these vegetables and use them in their daily diets. Further research and documentation is needed to assess the nutritional significance of these indigenous vegetables.
Home gardens provide a supplementary source of essential nutrients in the family diet through products obtained from self-sustainable farming of vegetables grown in pots and school gardens. The group activities of ‘Farm Housewife’ include the preservation of vegetable as, fermented, pickled, dehydrated or dried, and sometimes canned products. These also play a role in vegetable supply.
Vegetable gardening for village markets is usually a larger enterprise than home gardening, with the purpose of providing vegetables for a community. This is commonly seen in the morning and afternoon markets of the communities in northern provinces. The availability of crop species varies according to seasons. Often, a middleman collects vegetables from communities for marketing in nearby towns.
The vegetable farms for market-oriented production are aimed to supply vegetables for the towns and cities, and the farms are usually near the populated centers. Many kinds of vegetables are grown at any one time. A new crop is planted immediately after harvest or sometimes before the standing crop is harvested, and most of the crops grown are fast growing.
Large-scale commercial farming, far from population centres, requires better transport facilities and information technologies, permitting the supply of vegetables not only in the region but also to export markets and food-processing plants. Big consumers or retailers normally have access to vegetables through wholesale markets. In Thailand, there is at least one big wholesale market in each region of the country.
“What's important for us is to have decent living and sufficient food to eat, as well as to maintain a self-sufficient economy. The key word ‘sufficient’ here implies that one should aim at becoming self-reliant. But to various economists, this line of thinking is considered to be obsolete because every economy needs to carry out trading activities under a market economy, not a self-sufficient economy - it is not attractive. However, Thailand is very fortunate and blessed because we can produce enough quantity to feed our people. Assuming that we can substitute the current market economy by a self-sufficient economy, if not entirely or by half, then at least one fourth, we will be sustained.”
The above excerpts taken from His Majesty the King's Royal Speech delivered on the occasion of His Birthday Anniversary, 4 December 1997 illustrates the understanding of His Majesty in the true nature of the problem facing the Thai Society, one which is based on agriculture. His Majesty has stressed the idea of making things simple by taking into consideration the local environment and its natural state, in order to solve or alleviate the immediate problems. That is, leading a decent life and producing enough food to eat.
The impact resulting from the current national economic crisis not only leads Thai people to dramatically cut down their living expenses, but also to search for suitable and effective ways to live through the turmoil. The present situation illustrates the viability of His Majesty's approach to decent living or self-sufficient economy or self-reliant communal economy as being one of the appropriate and correct strategies to weather the present storm faced by the nation.
An effective and tangible representation of His Majesty's valuable concepts on decent living or self-sufficient economy can be seen from his New Theory, which is a concept aimed at assisting individual farmers possessing a small piece of land, in the proper management of the utilization of land and water for agricultural activities in order to create optimum benefits.
The key to the Theory is to maintain flexibility; that is, to adjust the land allocation ratio to suit the local conditions of the area. The area should consist of various farming activities carried out in an integrated manner, such as cultivation of vegetables, fruits, other plants, or rice farming, as well as constructing a pond to provide supplementary irrigation. The first priority is to produce enough for household consumption. After that, proceeds from the sales of surplus can be used to buy other necessary goods that the farmers are lacking or cannot produce by themselves.
The small piece of land is divided into four parts consisting of a pond to store water for cultivation as well for raising aquatic animals and plants; rice farming providing sufficient food for family consumption all year round; fruit and other perennial trees, vegetables, field crops, etc., from which farmers can sell the surplus from their own needs to the market; and space for housing, animal raising, and other purposes. The ultimate goal is to ensure that during the dry season a sufficient amount of water will be available for cultivation; farmers will have enough rice to eat all year round, and will become self-reliant economically.