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The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has initiated a broad range of activities to alleviate poverty and hunger by promoting sustainable agricultural development, improved nutrition and the pursuit of food security. As the majority of the rural poor in the region depend on agriculture for employment and income, growth in food production primarily through sustainable gains in productivity will help achieve universal food security. Rural development is another important dimension of FAO assistance, addressing the need for integrated approaches to improve the quality of life of rural populations.

Among the rural population of Thailand, hill tribes are a disadvantaged and vulnerable group of society, largely dependent on agriculture for income and employment. While their socio-economic situation has improved in many aspects in recent years, modernization and influence from the lowlands have led to rapid changes in life patterns within highland communities, where traditional self-sufficiency can no longer be sustained. Lacking skills and means to cope with these changes, highland communities suffer from deterioration in such key areas as agriculture, employment and socio-cultural values.

Given this background, increasing attention is paid to the need of addressing a wide range of issues concerning hill tribe people, not only in the areas of citizenship and land settlement but also in terms of quality of life and welfare. Accordingly, the role of education in improving socio-economic conditions through human resource development is well recognized. In fact, a large number of governmental and non-governmental organizations, civilian and military, national and international, provide support to enhance educational opportunities for hill tribe people. It is expected that enhanced education opportunities, whether formal or non-formal, would engender sustainable socio-economic development for hill tribe communities.

For FAO, education is a prerequisite to building a food-secure world, reducing poverty and conserving and enhancing natural resources. This research is as an attempt to analyse the impact of support activities by the Royal Thai Government in promoting education opportunities for hill tribe people. Of particular interest is how enhancing education opportunities contributes to sustainable rural development, based on improved agricultural production, employment and income generation. For this reason, the research will examine relevant support activities of the Department of Non-formal Education of the Ministry of Education, of the Department of Agricultural Extension of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, and of the Department of Public Welfare of the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare.

It is hoped that this research, being published in the International Year of Mountains 2002, will serve as a basis for possible assistance in Thailand and as an initial example for similar studies with follow-up action in Asia and the Pacific. It is further hoped that the research study will be a reference material for those engaged in support activities for hill tribe people.

R.B. Singh
Assistant Director-General
and FAO Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific

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