Nurturing the grassroots

A vast museum complex in Pathum Thani celebrates HM the King’s many initiatives and innovations in the agricultural sector, bringing them to life through the use of eye-catching, engaging displays

Sprawling housing estates and the suburban campuses of several reputable universities are what Pathum Thani is best known for; plus the fact that it’s a convenient gateway to the towns and fertile farmland of the Central Plains. Even though it’s been open for more than a decade, surprisingly few people are aware that the province which borders Bangkok to the north is also the location of a vast museum set up in tribute to His Majesty the King and his lifelong mission to improve the lot of his many subjects who still scratch a living from the land.

Many visitors to the museum’s standing exhibition on the “secret code of genetics” will no doubt be charmed by the use of shadow techniques and cute cartoons to get across its main messages. Thailand once enjoyed great diversity in terms of plant and animal genetics, but the advent of monoculture and increasing specialisation in crops and livestock by commercial farmers trying to meet the demands of the marketplace has resulted in a major decline in the variety of plant and animal species raised on modern-day farms. They once had little or no opportunity to play a role in the management of genetics, but nowadays more and more farmers have become aware of the importance of this issue and have started to get involved in developing plant hybrids (new strains of rice, for example) that are better suited to the weather and soil conditions in a particular locality.

Back in 1996, the Golden Jubilee Museum of Agriculture was conceived by the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives as a fitting way to commemorate the 50th anniversary of His Majesty’s accession to the throne. The completed structure was officially opened by him in 2002. Its three main buildings and two outdoor display areas house standing exhibitions whose themes are “HM The King Loves Us”, “Wonder Of Plant Genetics”, “Wonder Of Resources”, “Following In The Footsteps Of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn” and “Agricultural Innovations Inspired By HM The King”. Intended to be a learning centre, a place to spark visitors’ curiosity and imagination rather than a mere repository of artefacts, the museum covers a very large area and there is more than enough to see and do here to occupy one for an entire day.

The exhibitions in the central building are intended to reflect the degree to which His Majesty has channelled his energies into working for the good of all Thais. The first thing one spies on stepping inside is a life-size model of the main participants in the royal ploughing ceremony, that ancient annual ritual which binds the monarchy to those who till the soil with its spiritual and astrological elements. Strolling around the ground floor, one learns more about His Majesty’s initiatives on soil quality, irrigation, forest conservation and public welfare, plus his ideas on “sufficiency economy”. A guaranteed highlight here for younger visitors is the 120-seat cinema where two 3D animated movies (The Story Of The Royal Father In Our Home and Our Homeland) are screened on a regular basis. The cute cartoon characters and inspirational scripts are intended to stir the emotions while getting across the basic principles underlying His Majesty’s “New Theory” which has proven to be an efficient approach for many farmers.

Imaginatively presented amid the charmingly retro atmosphere created by mock-ups of a riverside village, a floating market and a rice field, the exhibitions on the first floor tell stories about the successes people have had after implementing specific agricultural theories or ideas first mooted by His Majesty. The “Wonder Of The Fields” room using a hologram technique to great effect.

Elsewhere on this level are exhibits describing the important role played by early agriculture-based civilisations (both here and abroad), details on the work done by state-run agricultural bodies and institutions plus information on innovations that were inspired by His Majesty’s sufficiency economy theory.

Take a stroll around the second floor to learn more about hand-woven textiles, folk wisdom and salient points about the origins and cultural heritage of the many ethnic groups who call Thailand home.

Another must-see is the Wonder Of Plant Genetics Building which was erected in honour of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn who is well-known for her love of nature and her interest in books on the subject of trees and animals. Apparently, the first title to open her eyes to the wonders of the natural world, back when the princess was a girl, was Cheevit Khongchan Luk Krathing (My Life As A Baby Gaur), a book written by Dr Boonsong Lekagul, the tireless forest conservationist.

If you have the time to spare, a visit to the forest museum housed in a separate building is worthwhile. The exhibits here cover the various kinds of forest found in the Kingdom and their residents, represented by some very realistic, life-size models of wild animals.

Last, but not least, are the outdoor display areas. There’s a standing exhibition called “One Rai Is Ample” which deals with agricultural innovations and urban farming and attests to the efficacy of His Majesty’s New Theory. On this 1 rai plot of land, a rice paddy, an orchard, a market garden (vegetables), cattle and fish farms are all operated simultaneously following tenets of the New Theory which set out three steps to achieving enduring happiness. The approach is intended to help farming families improve their standard of living through better earnings and stronger family ties, leading to greater overall national stability. It aims to help small-scale farmers put their land to the most effective use. Once they are able to earn a comfortable living, the idea is that they may choose to expand beyond clan boundaries by joining hands with neighbours and the wider community to form cooperatives, joint ventures and larger agro-business enterprises.

On the first weekend of every month, the museum compound is also the venue for a “knowledge and sufficiency economy” farm market which is open to the general public. It is intended as a forum where farmers can exchange knowledge and opinions and where community networks from all over Thailand can sell tree saplings, agricultural produce and related products.

One of the highlights of the Wonder Of Plant Genetics Building is the Living Genetics Room in which are stored the seeds of tens of thousands of different plants, and varieties thereof, gathered from all across Thailand during a four-month period in 2011 as part of a plant genetics conservation project.

During his long reign, HM the King has paid visits to his subjects in practically every corner of the country, often listening carefully to the grievances of local people and then finding ways to solve their problems while thinking up new ways to develop the farming sector. A whole section of the museum is dedicated to explaining the many royallyinitiated schemes, not least of which are the Royal Chitralada Agricultural Projects which were originally launched as experiments to seek solutions to problems encountered in domestic agriculture, ranging from the production of raw materials to the processing and selling of farm products and making the best use of any by-products. Examples described in this section include the cultivation of mushrooms, raising bees for honey, making fruit juices, dried fruit, raising dairy cows and finding markets for the milk and dairy products, raising fish in ponds and a plant genetics conservation project.

The Wonder Of The Fields exhibition is an attempt to give visitors insights into the satisfaction that can come from choosing farming as a career, the joy to be experienced from living amid the abundance of nature while earning a living through an understanding of the way soil, water, sunlight, plants and animals interact. The point is made that a form of “grassroots intellect” is applied by farmers as a means to live sustainably, in harmony with nature. The use of holograms allows visitors to imagine that they are actually strolling through a field of rice.

A section entitled “Innovations And Inventions Of The Royal Father” celebrates contributions HM the King has made in the fields of literature, art, music and science. They range from paintings and books to scientific innovations like the Chaipattana water-treatment turbine, biodiesel oil, a method to treat acidic soil called “Klaeng Din” and an artificial rain-making technique. One of his published works, The Story Of Mahajanaka, celebrates the theme of perseverance. After the ship on which he is travelling sinks, the title character of this book aimed at younger readers, declares, “We are going to strive like a man should to reach the shores of the ocean...” as he sets out to swim for the nearest land. Many of the inventions were motivated by HM the King’s concern for the welfare of people faced with the hardship of dealing with floods, drought and water pollution. Novel ideas by His Majesty were awarded a total of 11 patents between 1993 and 2010. He has always given importance to the dissemination of information and exchanges of ideas that lead to wider practical applications of his inventions. He has followed up on their progress and is always eager to support further research in order to expand the body of knowledge to a higher level.

Every citizen could play a part in increasing food production, aiming for the goal of creating selfsufficient households. Even city dwellers could make a start by tending a small bed of salad greens or growing herbs in pots, possibly progressing to a vegetable allotment in the suburbs or something on a larger scale in the countryside.

z Many of the agricultural schemes initiated by HM the King display a far-sighted vision, focusing, as they do, on human and land development rooted firmly in geo-social principles. Thais who have participated in royal initiatives often benefit from improved living standards as they follow a lifestyle based on selfsufficiency and a harmonious co-existence with the environment which calls for the sustainable use of resources like fertile soil, water and forests.

More than 30,000 species of plant are native to Thailand, all of them believed to have originated in forests of different types. Unfortunately, the genetic diversity of commercial crops has long been in decline and consumers now have fewer choices than ever before. But rural dwellers are aware of the value of plants, so they search for and collect the seeds of forest plants and grow them in community forests. They realise that maintaining a diverse genetic pool of plant types will ensure a continuous supply of raw materials for food, medicine, clothes, housebuilding materials, tools and other practical purposes. The way villagers often grow various types of wild plants near their homes is a good way of conserving plant genetics in daily life. One room in the museum is dedicated to displays of life-size models of edible plants and herbs found in forests in each region of the country. Elsewhere in the complex there are standing exhibitions on the conservation of endangered plant species and on the consumption of locally grown veggies and other self-sufficient ways of living.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Pichaya Svasti
Position: Life Writer