Late King's sufficiency farming concept takes root in today's rural youth
NAKHON SAWAN: His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great passed away three years ago. Yet the memory of the beloved monarch is still deeply-rooted in Thai hearts.
However, the legacy of the late King is more than just a fond memory.
Thousands of royal initiative projects -- almost 4,700 in total -- are still ongoing. According to the Office of the Royal Development Projects Board (ORDPB), these projects include agriculture, environment, health, science, education, employment, and community businesses.
The late King's Sufficiency Economy Philosophy (SEP) has been adopted by communities, public and private institutes across the country.
The sufficiency economy is a method of development based on moderation, prudence and reason, with the aim of creating social immunity and sustainable development.
Development under the principle of the sufficiency economy philosophy uses knowledge and virtue as guidelines in living, according to the Chaipattana Foundation, a royal initiative foundation.
The term was coined in 1974 as the late monarch gave a speech to students at Kasetsart University and Khon Kaen University about the development.
SEP was revived and instilled in Thais in the wake of the 1997 economic crisis when the King advised a nationwide television audience on how to live amid the crisis.
SEP has been observed by a range of institutions, from individuals to small communities and public institutes to big corporations.
Among them is Ban Nong Phai school, a small school in the farm-based Nong Bua district in Nakhon Sawan province, famous for its self-sufficient school farm project.
Ban Nong Phai school in tambon Nong Bua last year won third place in the "Yuwakasethakorn Award" from the Department of Agriculture Extension under the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives.
"Yuwakasethakorn", which means "young farmers", is a youth farming movement in Thailand, with members in local schools.
Ban Nong Phai is a prime example of a school that follows His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great's SEP principles.
Many foundations have visited the school to learn about SEP farm projects and cooperatives.
The school started its SEP farm projects 16 years ago, said Damnoen Paokhonchom, its deputy director.
The school is in an agricultural community.
Even though most locals work on farms, the school's director at the time was concerned students would follow in the footsteps of the new generation, which was moving away from farm labour in favour of white collar jobs in urban offices.
At the time, the school's director, Panom Jantradit, came up with the idea of training students to appreciate the value of farming.
For the director, the best way to make students understand agricultural professions was to take a hands-on approach to teaching.
So, the school launched projects to grow rice, raise chicken and set up cooperatives.
In creating these projects, the school's director emulated His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great's theory of the sufficiency economy as a guiding principle.
"We teach our kids to love their hometown and value farming, which has been the main occupation of their elders. We believe that if they love their community, they will never leave their hometown," Mr Damnoen, the school's deputy director told the media on a press trip early this month.
The trip was conducted by Pidthong, a royal initiative foundation to promote the late King's SEP concept.
"Students can use this knowledge and apply sufficiency economy concepts to earn revenue throughout their lives," he said.
Ban Nong Phai school has 170 students from kindergarten to the junior high school level, and 14 teachers.
The school is on a 62-rai plot beside the mountain. The school has allocated space for students to learn to harvest on small-scale mixed farms, which is in line with the late King's concept of sustainable farming.
The farm plots that the students practice on are chemical-free. Students raise farm animals and dig small ponds to raise fish.
The school now boasts 13 youth agriculture clubs that participate in activities such as raising poultry, fish, frogs, and buffaloes, harvesting rice, vegetables and fruits, and creating organic fertilisers.
The school does not just teach students to farm, said Mr Damnoen.
Students also are taught about cooperatives, which the late King promoted in the country throughout his 70-year reign.
Students are trained to run agricultural, saving and production cooperatives.
Students between Prathom 4 and junior high school are required to join these farming club activities and spend at least five hours a week participating in them.
They are required to learn and practice basic farming and agricultural product processing, and learn about sufficiency irrigation at the school's ponds and ravines.
"The students who finish their farming studies become leaders, and have a strong skill set when they continue into higher education," said Mr Damnoen.
Farm products grown in the school are sold in the market and between the school's cooperatives. The revenue is then put into savings cooperatives.
Students can borrow from the fund to run their own farm at home and repay the fund when they make money from selling their own products.
There is currently 490,000 baht of revolving funds, while each club also has its own savings fund.
The group that generates more income than any other group is the poultry club, which sells organic eggs.
The group raises 150 chickens a year and receives 150,995 baht in income from selling the eggs.
A sum of 84,156 baht is set aside to help the club run the following year, and the rest is put into the group's revolving fund, while each of the 24 members receive 300 baht.
Knasnan Apiwanasbordee, 14, a club member who is studying in Mathayom 2, said each member spends five hours per week taking care of the chickens.
"We get each member to take care of the chickens, collect eggs, separate and weigh the size of the eggs, conduct accounting, and sell the eggs to the school's cooperatives," she said.
Knasnan said she could make about 2,500 baht per year by raising the chickens.
Thuwanon Ophasi, 10, raises chickens for food, and grows jasmine and gardenia flowers.
He can make about 200-300 baht per week by selling the flowers, he said.
Recently, the school also launched a project to raise buffalo to follow Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn's initiative to preserve local buffalo.
The students are currently taking care of 11 buffaloes.