How His Majesty the King turned his residences into sustainable agricultural demonstration projects
THE FIRST RAYS of dawn have yet to appear in the skies over Dusit Palace and already the team at Royal Chitralada Dairy Farm is hard at work, transporting the fresh milk from the farm’s own cows to an adjacent plant where it will be pasteurised and put into cartons.
It’s a routine that has been in place since 1962 when His Majesty the King was presented with a few head of cattle. Always interested in agriculture and agricultural industries, the King invested his personal funds into establishing a dairy herd of some 40 cows for demonstration purposes.
Today, the herd produces between 200 and 300 litres of milk a day and while some of the milk and milk products are sold to create a revolving fund, much of it is delivered to schools where it nourishes thousands of young children.
Throughout 70 years of his reign, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej has dedicated his efforts to accumulating knowledge, committing personal resources to advance the wellbeing of the people of Thailand.
The transformation of His Majesty’s private residence Chitralada Villa, which is part of Dusit Palace, into experimental plots began in 1961 and has helped the King to find solutions to a variety of agricultural problems affecting farmers.
A recent talk organised by the Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary and the Pid Thong Lang Phra Foundation at Sala Mahamongkol of Chitralada Villa focused on His Majesty’s lifelong journey to help his subjects develop the skills and know-how to combat health problems and poverty, and become self-reliant.
“As a building, His Majesty’s home is smaller than those of many of our richest men,” says Thanpuying Putrie Viravaidya, His Majesty’s deputy’s principal private secretary.
“Chitralada Villa has just two floors and the main hall is where His Majesty welcomes guests and sometime dines. Otherwise, there are just bedrooms and a study like in any regular house. The compound of the palace is large and houses many departments that work for the King including the royal kitchen, the royal pages, the royal security guards and the royal physicians. Their Majesties used to run at least three kilometres around Dusit Dalai pavilion in the grounds when they were on their own. His Majesty always said he had to be strong in order to help others.
“Local folk knew when Their Majesties the King and Queen would visit their palaces upcountry. I remember people queuing up in front of the palace from very early morning to see the doctors. When I asked them why they didn’t go to the nearby hospitals, they told me they wanted the medicinal envelope that featured the royal emblem,” she says.
“The homes of His Majesty here at the Chitralada Villa, as well as at Klai Kangwon Palace in Hua Hin, Bhuping Palace in Chiang Mai, Thaksin Ratchaniwet Palace in Narathiwat and Phu Phan Palace in Sakhon Nakon all house development projects designed to help the people,” she continues.
Each May at the Royal Ploughing Ceremony, the rice seeds cultivated on experimental plots at the Royal Chitralada Projects are brought to Sanam Luang and sown into a furrow ploughed by two oxen hitched to a wooden plough. Farmers will go to great lengths to obtain samples of these rice seeds, which they consider the best available. Right now 49 different varieties of rice are being grown for experimental purposes.
Chitralada Villa is currently home to 36 ongoing projects, both non-commercial (geared towards long-term improvements) and semi-commercial. All surplus funds from sales are ploughed into further development.
In addition to the agricultural experimental plots and milk production, the Royal Chitralada Project team carries out energy conservation, alternative fuel production and fish farming projects. The most spectacular of the projects is the Demonstration Forest project, which His Majesty set up to study tree species after observing a large number of dipterocarp trees being felled for timber. Aware of the need to preserve a ecological rainforest, the King planted dipterocarp seeds at Klai Kangwon Palace and later had saplings transferred to Chitralada Villa as well as other species from different parts of the country. In 2011, this demonstration forest with more than 1,000 saplings marked 55 years as a thriving forest with its own localised climate that induces rainfall over the Villa.
A fundamental part of His Majesty the King’s vision was for each of the royal development study centres (RDSCs) to become “models of success” where farmers and others could learn through example and guidance.
Officials who have served His Majesty on different occasions proudly shared their memories during the talk.
Songsak Wongpumiwat, chairman of the Office of the Public Sector Development Commission, recalls the numerous visits by the King while he was working for the Royal Initiative Project at Nong Phlap sub-district, Prachuap Khiri Khan province.
“The area was suffering from extreme drought and every time we saw clouds of dust rising through the air, we knew right away it was a big caravan of vehicles and His Majesty was coming to inspect the soil survey,” he says.
In the north, a large number of Royal Initiative Projects have been introduced, one of them focusing on nature’s own defensive barrier to soil erosion – vetiver grass.
“His Majesty recommended to his mother, Her Royal Highness Princess Mother, that she cultivate vetiver grass to conserve soil and thereby water on the steep slopes of Doi Tung, Chiang Rai province, Later, when the Royal Family was together, the Princess Mother said her vetiver grass grew better than that of the King, developing root more than three-metres long in just nine months. The trick, she noted, was to plant the grass with a tilt of three degrees,” says forestry specialist Pinit Sornlamp.
Another useful royal initiative in the north, the Huai Hong Khrai RDSC was established in Chiang Mai’s Doi Saket district in 1982 at the King’s initiative as a result of droughts and forest fires caused by extensive forest poaching.
“His Majesty told me that that I should look forward not just five years but 50 years,” Viriya Chuaybamrung, a specialist in natural resources and the environment, recalls.
He told me, ‘when the land leeches come, you will know your work has succeeded’. Now 33 years later, we have land leeches. I’m so proud.”
Chaiwat Sitthibus, a land development specialist, recalls the visits made by His Majesty to Thaksin Ratchaniwet Palace in Narathiwat between 1973 and 1996.
“His Majesty would stay at his southern palace for one to two months. One rainy day, without any advance notice, he visited Pikun Thong RDSC, which was in charge of the ‘Klaeng Din’ project to study the naturally occurring process of acidification caused by deep-layers of pyrite in peat swamps. I’m a specialist in soil yet I had never thought of monitoring the research during the rain before. It made a lot of sense. His Majesty wanted to see how vetiver grass works in the rain,” says Chaiwat.
Today, His Majesty’s selfless efforts can be measured in more than 4,000 royal development projects undertaken for the benefit and happiness of the Thai people.
“I have been serving His Majesty for more than four decades. I will turn 75 soon. His Majesty used to say that his work would never come to an end, that it was a work in progress. The more the development, the more benefit and the greater the sustainability for the future. You do what you can, for the individual, family, society and the nation. With a good foundation, the prosperity from development will benefit future generations and we should do it with unity and generosity,” Thanpuying Putrie says.