Royal water project to reinvigorate farming
Social initiative helps workers laid off amid pandemic
Pid Thong Lang Phra, a foundation dedicated to promoting the sufficiency economy vision of King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great, has launched water-development schemes to address the scourge of mass unemployment caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Karan Supakitvilekakarn, director-general of the Royal Initiative Discovery Institute under Pid Thong Lang Phra, said the foundation has spent 307 million baht after it hired laid-off workers and new graduates from April to develop irrigation systems and other water infrastructure for farmers until June.
Mr Karan said the project will be carried out in the drought-stricken northeastern provinces of Kalasin, Udon Thani and Khon Kaen.
He said the project has enlisted the help of 500 workers and it aims to develop 103 water projects in the three provinces.
Each worker will get 320 baht per day, Mr Karan said, adding new graduates are also being hired as coordinators and supervisors who will each receive 15,000 baht per month.
"It is so laid-off workers and new graduates can survive when they return to their hometowns," he said. "We created the project to help provide jobs for them."
Mr Karan said the economic impact of the novel coronavirus has resulted in many job losses in the kingdom with the downward trend beginning in January.
Last month alone, 1.1 million formal workers officially filed to receive unemployment benefits from the Social Security Office.
Meanwhile, 14 million people have registered to qualify for the Finance Ministry's 5,000-baht handout for three months amid the outbreak.
The Pid Thong Lang Phra Foundation's water projects have two approaches in dealing with the current water and unemployment crisis.
The first approach focuses on renovating existing reservoirs and water irrigation systems while the second centres on upgrading infrastructure and developing a delivery system to ensure farming areas have sufficient amounts of water.
Mr Karan said the foundation will provide equipment and construction materials and also create a plan to work as an intermediary with provincial authorities to ensure the projects get approved and gain the support of state agencies.
He said farmers involved in the project do not get paid monthly, but they will benefit from the water project.
Mr Karan said the foundation will also train farmers to become self-sufficient, through lessons in sustainable farming and marketing.
Sustainable crop cultivation
Since March, the foundation has enabled farmers to grow organic vegetables in nurseries because this uses less water amid the drought.
The project is still in its early phase. Currently, 19 farmers in Udon Thani province in the northeastern region have taken part in this experiment to cultivate crops in controlled nurseries rather than fields.
The farmers in Udon Thani are located in tambons Ban Khok Lam, Saeng Aram and Ban Kut Mak Fai in Nong Wua So district.
The foundation covers the cost of construction, materials and training.
The farmers are required to allocate space within their farmland for the indoor nurseries. The farmers are also required to allow other growers to use the space to also cultivate organic vegetables.
By participating in the programme, they are required to return some of the money they earn from vegetable sales to a community fund.
Mr Karan said the indoor cultivation project receives support from the Royal Irrigation Department which helps develop "water-drip" irrigation.
He said his department provides soil nourishment training while the Panyapiwat Institute of Management helps educate growers in modern farm management. Siam Macro Plc assists in marketing and sales, Mr Karan added.
At this stage, farmers are encouraged to cultivate spring onions and coriander because they only take 45 days to harvest during the dry season and demand is high.
The foundation aims for the grow houses to consume 18 times less water than the sprinkler system and utilise less space -- 144 square metres to start with.
Farmers can sell organic products at a higher fetch price. Mr Karan said farmers can make as much as 190,000 baht per rai in a single year from growing and selling indoor organic crops.
He said farmers do not make as much money growing and selling crops such as rice, maize and tapioca, noting that farmers can only earn 4,365 baht per rai annually in the volatile rice market.
The foundation plans to expand the vegetable growing project to other districts in Kalasin and Khon Kaen.
MR Disnadda Diskul, chairman of the Royal Initiative Discovery Institute, which oversees Pid Thong Lang Phra Foundation's plans, said they plan to spend 1.5 billion baht from next year to 2025 to train 6,433 households in being self-sufficient.
The money is to be spent in 13 provinces with a focus on the southernmost provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat.
The foundation estimates that by having a self-sufficient economy along with sustainable farms and local manufacturing projects, households can generate three billion baht a year.
It also estimated that Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat stand to gain 1.8 billion baht in revenue if they follow the project's lead.
In the past decade, the foundation has constructed 6,259 small dams capable of supplying water.
It has also generated 2.59 billion baht for 75,841 households.
The foundation has also helped plant trees in more than 209,000 rai of forest in Nan province and on 6,000 rai in Uthai Thani.