Royal development projects have provided stable jobs and put food on the table for countless families. Their resounding success knows no bounds.
The projects in the far North, known for turning opium fields into lush vegetable patches and temperate fruit orchards, have provided not only food and opportunities, but also examples for others to follow.
Proof of the projects' magnetic pull and their capacity to inspire is exemplified by a recent visit to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai - home to royally initiated developmental programmes - by 56 ambassadors, charge d'affaires and representatives of international organisations and their spouses.
They were taken on a tour of the First Royal Factory and the Agricultural Station in Angkhang, both in Chiang Mai, and then to the Doi Tung Development Project in Chiang Rai from Feb 8-11. The trip was organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The royal projects in the far North were principally set up to help hilltribe people, ethnic minorities and migrants in border provinces enjoy a better standard of life by ensuring secure farm jobs and related work.
Over the past 40 years, the projects have introduced the cultivation of cash crops, such as strawberry, apricot, passion fruit and plum to wean hilltribe people off growing opium on the hills.
Local villagers sell their produce to a fruit processor, the First Royal Factory in Fang district of Chiang Mai.
The factory produces dehydrated and canned fruits and vegetables, which are marketed under the Doi Kam brand.
The royal projects also educate highlanders about reforestation and sustainable tourism.
In fact, the Agricultural Station Angkhang in tambon Mae Ngon of Fang district was conceived and set up to educate the hilltribe people about growing cash crops using modern, nature-friendly techniques that increase yields, which, in turn, generate stable income for the growers and raise their standard of living.
Now, more than 2,500 families in the hills of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are involved in fruit production under the royal projects with annual produce yields of 2.5 million tonnes worth more than 25 million baht.
The Doi Tung Development Project, which was established in 1988 by the Princess Mother, has branched out into a non-perishables scheme.
It combines local people's handcraft skills and a market-driven approach to produce woven fabrics with signature motifs and colours.
The project also sells ceramics and fashion accessories to meet the demands of local and international buyers.
Handicrafts made by hilltribe and local people at the project training centre also make for popular merchandise.
At the centre, the workers acquire handicraft techniques which enable them to mix together unique products to appeal to a variety of markets.
In weaving textiles, for example, the workers are given designs drawn up by professional designers to use as guidelines to create desirable products.
The workers are paid according to their level of weaving skill. This motivates the workers to constantly improve their skills and acquire new crafts and techniques.
Numerous handcrafted items are on sale at well-known foreign stores, such as the Swedish furniture retailer Ikea.
The merchandise from the projects is certified by the UN Office on Drugs and Crimes, recognising that the profits earned from the products goes toward state and private campaigns to reduce the growing of illicit crops.
The label helps to increase sales as purchases help to combat drug problems.
All of the projects are directly connected to the people to improve their lives, observed Lutfi Rauf, Indonesia's ambassador to Thailand.
"This is also relevant to our situation in Indonesia. For this visit, we have a lot of good things to learn. We want to have this kind of programme that can be adopted in certain places in Indonesia," he said.
According to Mr Rauf, the Doi Tung Project has already extended its reach to Indonesia's Aceh province, empowering people who were shown the way of growing alternative crops in area once carpeted by marijuana plants.
Lao ambassador Ly Bounkham said three aspects of the projects can be applied to his country - crop plantation, sufficiency and product improvement.
"We learn from Thailand and from the initiative of His Majesty the King, and this also benefits the Lao people," he said.
Cambodian ambassador You Ay praised the success of the royal campaign for farmers, saying the schemes do not only improve people's living conditions, but also education and public health.
"[The projects] are highly appreciated not only by Cambodia but by all countries," she said.
Jocelyn Batoon-Garcia, the Philippine ambassador, said the royal projects are economically viable and contribute to other sources of income for people in the same areas.
"I am looking at the projects very carefully. I am very interested [to know] how the projects have progressed. I am particularly interested in how tropical countries are able to grow non-tropical fruits and reduce land subsidence," she said.
The system shows that crops can be grown on terraced land for export. "That idea is what we have not yet developed. We are trying to learn," said Ms Batoon-Garcia, adding she will contact the offices handling the projects to learn more about their operation.
Dato Kamis Tamin, the Brunei ambassador, said the projects were built on a modern approach in terms of marketing and commercialising the products.
The programmes have been done for the benefit of the population, not individuals, he said.
The projects, he observed, are not a one-man endeavour but a collaborative effort to ensure success.
"His Majesty has said we do not have to start big. We can start in a small or medium way ... That becomes an example for people to emulate or follow," he said.
Ngo Duc Thang, the Vietnamese ambassador, said the projects can be applied to his country, particularly for tribes people living in the highlands to eliminate poppy cultivation.
"This surely will be beneficial to my country," Mr Thang said. "We have to learn the best practices so that we can recommend them to our people," he said.
British ambassador Mark Kent said the Doi Tung project system is adaptable to globalisation.
People are using quite a basic technology but then the products are marketed to a specialised niche, Mr Kent said.
The projects carry out interesting marketing strategies in concert with international companies so the products become part of the global supply system, he added.
About the author
- Writer: Tharittawat Samejaidee