His Majesty the King has long been adhering to and practicing the Sufficiency Economy philosophy in his efforts to develop the living conditions of farmers and villagers nationwide. This is evident in more than 4,000 royally initiated projects.
The Royal Project in northern Thailand is among them. It has received strong support from the Government. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha visited Chiang Mai on 17 February 2015 to chair a meeting of a committee to coordinate and support the Royal Project.
The Prime Minister stated that the Government wanted to raise the living standards of farmers, who are the majority of the Thai people. It has adopted His Majesty the King’s guidelines for agricultural development, especially the introduction of agricultural zoning, where crops are planted in accordance with each area’s geographical and climatic conditions. He said that the Royal Project has been carried out for 45 years now and that it has generated employment and income for a great number of local villagers.
The Royal Project came into being in 1969 at the initiative of His Majesty the King to help develop highlands in northern Thailand on a sustainable basis. During his stay at Bhuphing Palace in Chiang Mai province, His Majesty visited and talked to hilltribe villagers, who told him about their sources of income. They said that the income from the growing of opium and peaches was about the same. At that time, tribal people living in the highlands had become a problem for the Government, partly because of their destructive slash-and-burn technique of clearing land, as well as their traditional cultivation of opium poppies.
His Majesty intended to help hilltribe people grow useful crops that would give a higher income than growing opium, so that they would switch from opium cultivation to other crops. This would also support the Government’s policy of banning opium cultivation and trade. He pointed out that the traditional farming method of cutting down and burning the forest conducted by hilltribe villagers would lead to forest destruction and deterioration of soil quality. That was the rationale for the launching of the Royal Project.
The Royal Project, which was registered as a foundation in 1992, involves the growing of a wide variety of cash crops, especially temperate-zone plants. There are currently 38 development centers under the Royal Project in northern provinces to help farmers collect, distribute, and sell highland produce, while improving their quality of life through education, health care, and environmental preservation.
The practice of organic farming has been introduced in these centers. Organic farming is part of the Sufficiency Economy’s emphasis on self-reliant agriculture. The Royal Project teaches self-sufficiency, so that villagers can stand on their own feet. Hill tribes in the project area are encouraged to form self-help entities, particularly cooperatives and rice banks. Because cooperatives are a well-known starting point for self-management of a community, they form part of His Majesty the King’s “New Theory” of development. The New Theory is seen as an example of how the Sufficiency Economy philosophy can be applied for the good of people and communities.