For the welfare of his people
Benefits to the nation bestowed by His Majesty's Sufficiency Economy Philosophy
'We shall reign with righteousness for the benefit and happiness of the Siamese people." This oath, uttered by His Majesty the King at his coronation ceremony, was the monarch's first public pledge to promote the welfare of all his subjects.
His Majesty's words have been amply proved through his devotion to his country and people. Throughout his 70 years on the throne, King Bhumibol Adulyadej initiated more than 4,500 royal development projects, all of which were derived from his determination to save his people from deprivation and suffering. His projects have spanned many areas: agriculture, water source development and irrigation, medicine and public health, education, experiments and research projects.
Throughout his 70-year reign, His Majesty the King initiated more than 4,500 royal development projects to improve the well-being of Thais.
The Sufficiency Economy Philosophy (SEP) was conceived and developed by the King.
"Sufficiency" refers to moderation, reasonableness and the need to prepare for impact arising from internal and external change. To achieve sufficiency, the application of knowledge with due consideration and prudence is essential. In particular, great care is needed in the utilisation of theories and methodologies for planning and implementation in every step.
In His Majesty's Royal Address at Kasetsart University in 1974, he explained the crucial first step of sufficiency economy development: "The development of the country must proceed in stages. First of all, there must be a foundation, where the majority of people have enough to live on using economic methods and equipment, which are technically correct. When such a secure foundation is adequate and ready, then it can be gradually expanded and developed to raise prosperity and economic standards to a higher level by stages."
When Thailand fell into the Tom Yum Kung financial crisis in 1997, the King's sufficiency economy initiative provided the spiritual support necessary for Thais to ride through the hard times, and it remains as a practical guide to daily life.
"I may add that full sufficiency is impossible," His Majesty intoned in a speech on Dec 4, 1998. "If a family or even a village wants to employ a full sufficiency economy, it would be like returning to the Stone Age. … This sufficiency means having enough to live on. Sufficiency means to lead a reasonably comfortable life, without excess, or overindulgence in luxury, but enough. Some things may seem extravagant, but if it brings happiness, it is permissible as long as it is within the individual's means."
When the initiative was initially introduced, many Thais and foreigners incorrectly interpreted it to advise isolation and a limitation on investment. It is, in actuality, an approach to avoid actions that are beyond capability, such as overspending, over-investment or over-borrowing, focused on prudence and depending on existing resources before relying on others, and development towards sustainability.
His Majesty the King attends a traditional rice-harvesting ceremony. His Majesty harvested rice as a normal practice.
The philosophy entails three important principles.
1. Moderation: Avoid decisions that require high expense of oneself and others.
2. Reasonableness: A decision must be made rationally, with consideration of the factors involved and careful anticipation of the outcomes that may be expected from such action.
3. Self-insulation: Being prepared to cope with various impacts and changes through thorough consideration of probable future situations.
This philosophy can be applied at all levels, from individuals, families and communities to the entire nation.
The National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) applied the philosophy of sufficiency economy as the guiding principle for national development by incorporating it in the Ninth National Economic and Social Development Plan, which spanned from 2002 to 2006.
Bank of Thailand governor Veerathai Santiprabhob, when he was the executive vice-president at Siam Commercial Bank, said that although the philosophy is often thought of only in reference to agriculture, it can be applied to all aspects of life, from households to management to overseeing a large corporation.
Mr Veerathai points out that many Thai companies ahead of the 1997 financial malaise had borrowed without moderation. A lot of this was in cheap loans in foreign-denominated currency, largely in the US dollar, and when the baht devalued, debt skyrocketed because there was no self-insulation applied, or a strategy of risk management.
Biofuel and Renewable Energy
With His Majesty the King's astute foresight, he recognised more than two decades ago that the world was running out of fossil fuels and Thailand, as a net importer of oil, would be hit hard.
In 1983, the King launched his royal project by urging the Prince of Songkhla University to research biodiesel production from palm fruits in the southern province of Krabi.
Consequently, the university generated around 110 litres of biofuel per day, sourced from crushed crude palm oil. The biofuel was blended with pure diesel to fill the fuel tanks of cars being used in several royal projects in rural areas.
His Majesty's resourceful idea was further borne out in the expansion and commercialisation of the project by oil retailers PTT and Bangchak, who, in cooperation with the Energy Ministry, played major roles in introducing renewable energy to Thailand's economy.
The initiative was also widely admired by not only Thais, but also by the international community: His Majesty the King's biofuel project was awarded the "Brussels Eureka 2001" prize in Belgium.
In 1985, the King would also initiate another project in Chidlada Royal Palace, which was recognised as a comprehensive agricultural learning centre to cultivate new technology and developments to help support Thai farmers.
His Majesty provided an initial budget of 925,500 baht to energy specialists to study the production of sugar-cane ethanol to blend with pure benzene, to reduce imports of expensive crude oil.
In 1986, the first small ethanol production plant was built in the palace, with a production capacity of only 2.8 litres per hour. Over the years, the plant has been adapted to produce pure ethanol from molasses, suitable for commercialisation.
During 1985-87, the project was passed on to PTT and Bangchak to spearhead the launch of the new biofuel onto the Thai energy market.
Sustainable energy was initially launched in only a few petrol stations located on major highways, before gradual expansion of pumps all across the country.
The success of the King's initiatives has made the annual import of millions of litres of crude oil unnecessary, contributing directly to the country's energy security.
Moreover, His Majesty's initiative loaned itself to direct support of millions of poor farmers in alternative biofuel crops that helped increase their incomes.
Students learn about royal development projects at the Thailand Agricultural Expo in Bangkok.
"The prosperity of the country relies on ensuring that the prosperity of agriculture is given top priority."
The royal proclamation clearly reflects the importance of agriculture for the Thai nation.
The royal development projects (RDPs) were directly inspired by the insight His Majesty gained while visiting rural areas, where he came to the realisation that the projects truly ameliorate the people's lives in conjunction with environmental protection and sustainable use of natural resources.
Concern for the nutritive health of the Thai people, especially those in remote areas, led His Majesty to look into fish farming to provide a source of affordable high-quality protein.
He started with an experiment on the Java Tilapia species, which he reared himself before settling on the Tilapia nilotica species that was presented to him by then Crown Prince Akihito of Japan in 1965. The King gave the fish the Thai name Nil, taken from its scientific namesake of nilotica, and promoted the fish species among Thai farmers.
In 1989, Charoen Pokphand Group was granted royal permission to develop Pla Nil by crossbreeding it with premium foreign breeding stocks from the United States, Taiwan and Israel. CP Group developed the hybrid of Nile tilapia in 1998, to which His Majesty the King bestowed the name Pla Thapthim (red tilapia in English).
Pla Thapthim is currently widely known among consumers and provides numerous jobs in the agriculture industry.
Currently, Thailand produces a combined 300,000 tonnes of Pla Nil and Pla Thapthim, fetching sales of about 15 billion baht a year. Of the total output, exports make up for about 30,000 tonnes a year.
The important royal initiatives to develop agricultural production also include research and experimentation of new plant varieties such as mulberry and para rubber, plants for soil improvement and herbal plants, the study of insects and pests, as well as development of livestock such as cattle, goats and sheep, as well as fish and poultry.
His Majesty's major concern was to enable the farmers to be self-reliant, especially in terms of food such as rice, vegetables and fruits. To that regard, the guiding principles behind the initiatives were simplicity, affordability and feasibility.
His Majesty promoted integrated farming to reduce the risk of depending on a single crop and enabling farmers year-round self-sufficiency.
Further projects initiated by the Support (Supplementary Occupations and Related Techniques) Foundation under the patronage of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit provided options for supplementary income through household industry by urging farmers to produce handicrafts.
His Majesty believed that development and rehabilitation of natural resources directly impacted agricultural development, and as such, he focused on their development and conservation. These materialised in projects to replenish and improve forests, land and water sources.
Agricultural projects under His Majesty the King's initiatives involve the study, research and experimentation of plant and animal species suitable for local ecosystems, most of which have been implemented in the Royal Development Study Centres. Successful results are disseminated to the public through training.
These projects also embrace work such as the Promotion of Rice Cultivation on Terraces Project, Sri Sakhon district, Narathiwat province; the Integrated Development Project, Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya province; the Royal-initiated Wat Mongkol Chaipattana Area Development Project, Saraburi province; the royal-initiated New Theory Demonstration Project at Ban Daen Samakkhee, Khao Wong district, Kalasin province; and so on.
The Royal Development Projects on agriculture are spread throughout the country and have significantly upgraded the well-being of Thai farmers through the provision of solutions to major problems in the agricultural sector.
In particular, they provide farmers with greater opportunities to access modern agricultural knowledge and techniques. Farmers are also able to observe and learn from successful models in various locations which can then be applied on their own land. The development of farmers and the country's agricultural sector is not only an end unto itself, but also a means for the overall development of the country.
Development of water sources
After his accession to the throne, His Majesty the King visited his subjects in all regions and was exposed to the harsh reality of their lives. He realised that the major cause of their poverty was a failed agricultural productivity due to a shortage of water.
Problems in some agricultural areas are caused by water, particularly floods and polluted sources. His Majesty the King devoted himself to the study of water development and water resource management. He firmly believed that people can lead better lives when water problems are alleviated through the provision of sufficient water for consumption and farming, as well as prevention against floods and water pollution.
All of his initiatives in water management lent guidance to different government sectors aimed at alleviating or solving water difficulties.
Water management, according to the royal initiative, includes:
Management of floods
His Majesty the King's initiatives towards solving water shortages start from the rehabilitation of forests in watershed areas to improve the absorption of rainwater and maintain the water cycle. This also solves the problem of soil erosion, which causes the waterways to be shallow. When there are heavy rains, appropriate water receptacles should be built to store water, or the flow of water should be directed to low-lying areas.
His Majesty the King encouraged the building of dams in agricultural areas and communities to tackle floods, such as Pa Sak Jolasid Dam in Lop Buri and Tha Dan Canal Dam in Nakhon Nayok. The water stored in the dam is gradually drained to be used for many purposes, especially for agriculture during dry seasons. This helps to prevent and solve flooding in the Lower Central Region, including Bangkok.
Building water ducts
Building water ducts or excavating canals to link with a river that faces flooding is based on the principle of draining the water that overflows river banks and maintaining water levels at the level of the river banks. For this, a structure for controlling and directing the water course at the mouth of the water duct that links with the main river is needed. The new waterway should be created to branch out from a bend in the existing waterway and the waterbed in the new waterway has to, at least, be at the same level as that of the existing waterway and then the existing waterway can be closed. An example can be seen in directing the water from the west bank of the Chao Phraya River to the Tha Chin River and then to the plains of Suphan Buri Province before it is drained into the sea.
Improving the waterway conditions
In order to facilitate the flow of water or to make the water current flow more rapidly, the waterway conditions should be improved by cleaning out shallow spots, levelling the eroded earth grounds along the banks and getting rid of weeds and things that obstruct the water flow. In case there is a sharp bend that stretches for quite a distance, a canal should be excavated in order to create a shortcut between the upper and lower parts of the bend. This will help the water to flow more quickly. An example is the project for the excavation of the Lud Pho Canal in Samut Prakan province, which has shortened the distance of the waterway by 17 kilometres and has sped up the water drainage.
Building earthen dykes
This is a preventative measure for floods caused by water that overflows the river banks. River banks are reinforced and raised so that more water can be drained. This royal initiative has been executed in many areas; for instance, the construction of earthen dykes under the project for flood prevention in Bangkok and its surroundings, which prevents the water in the Chao Phraya River and canals around the north and east of Bangkok from flooding the inner part and economic area of the city. Another is the Construction of Water Regulating Structure Project in the royal-initiated Water Delivery and Maintenance Project at Muno in Narathiwat province, which prevents floods from damaging homes and agricultural areas.
Draining water from low areas
Low areas or basins will generally contain water from higher areas or from waterways and they cannot naturally drain all the water. For this reason, the King had drainage ducts built or existing watercourses improved in the low areas to drain the accumulated water to solve flooding and to turn the areas into farmland. At the end of the drainage duct, there should be a water gate or a drainage pipe to control the storage of water in the duct and to prevent the water from flowing into the area.
An example is the Monkey Cheek Project, which was explained by His Majesty as a water management system that deals with floods in Bangkok and its surroundings. Its execution is in accordance with the natural environment of Bangkok, which is located in a low-lying area. The floods can be drained through canals which directed the flow into a pond, which is compared to a monkey cheek. The water is drained into the sea when the sea level is lower, and when the sea level is higher than that of the water in the canal, the water gate is closed to prevent the water from flowing back.
His Majesty explained: "Ordinarily, when we give bananas to monkeys, we would see them munch, munch, munch, … and then they kept the food in their monkey cheeks."