Somkid will need help to revive Otop

Somkid will need help to revive Otop

Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak should invite Japanese mascot Kumamon to be his guest once he gets serious about giving the One-Tambon-One-Product (Otop) project another push.

Days after the announcement that he was to join cabinet, Mr Somkid unveiled several plans to shore up the kingdom's lacklustre economy. The economic guru is shouldering the workload to find ways to end the country's economic slump. It's a tough job.

Mr Somkid has Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's full support and the pair look close. Gen Prayut said that together they, and the other economic ministers, will have working breakfasts -- every Monday, gourmet congee included -- to discuss economic issues.

Mr Somkid has already launched some measures. Last Tuesday he decided to get the grassroots economy back up and running after locals complained of low prices for their farm products amid sluggish farm exports to customers overseas. He wants to revitalise Otop to make money for villagers. The idea behind the attempt to steer income towards rural folk is to be applauded, but the Otop project has many flaws that will need fixing before it can be re-launched.

Otop began when Thaksin Shinawatra was in power. It drew on the example of the famous One-Village-One-Product blueprint in Japan's Oita prefecture. The initiative by the local Japanese government drew praise from around the world. It turned the prefecture into a place for other leaders to visit, including Thaksin who went there to see it in action with his own eyes.

The Japanese success could not be emulated to a satisfactory degree in Thailand. The problem is not the idea itself; it's perfectly logical to promote local products among the masses. The problem was the way it was executed.

Under the plan, every tambon in the country was to make a unique product. However, that eventually morphed into STOP, several-tambons-one-product, in some cases as tambons tried to produce products which other tambons had made and managed to sell well.

That's why some products had such a short shelf life, such as several Otop wine products which were produced from local fruit. It was the talk of the town once it was introduced and consumers wanted to try something new. The Otop wine turned out to be a disaster as community after community did the same thing, rapidly producing the same product and dumping it on the market. Quality control diminished, helping the products vanish just as quickly from the shelves.

One of the keys to Otop success is to ensure each product is indeed unique in each locality and to make it at the highest level of quality. But Kumamon, the famous Japanese mascot, would say that isn't enough -- branding and a good marketing plan are also needed.

Kumamon helped turn around the economy of Kumamoto, a prefecture on Kyushu Island, drawing global attention. The mascot was created in 2010 and was among several designs by Japanese designers to represent the prefecture, as government and business operators tried to attract tourists to the area to inject life back into the local economy.

The cute black bear character was voted the most popular mascot in Japan the following year and has become a phenomenon ever since as it became well-known in many parts of the world.

The local government allows the mascot to be put on all products made in the prefecture -- and it has now extended the right to goods made elsewhere in Japan. One condition is that all manufacturers outside Kumamoto who want to adopt the Kumamon mascot must have at least one item of content made in Kumamoto to generate income for local businesses.

That is a win-win situation for all sides. The mascot helped manufacturers earn 17.5 billion baht last year, with some 18,700 merchandisers putting it on their product packaging. The items also help to promote the prefecture.

Kumamon could offer some tips for Mr Somkid, a marketing guru. New ideas could be adopted for Otop projects. If that is impossible, there's another option. As the deputy prime minister might be undecided over where to go for his first overseas trip, perhaps Kumamoto might not be a bad choice.

Kumamon is waiting. 

Saritdet Marukatat is digital media news editor, Bangkok Post.

Saritdet Marukatat

Digital Media News Editor

He is Bangkok Post's Online Editor and is in charge of all online content.

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