By Piyaporn Wongruang
Given that status, the quality of life of Thai farmers is significantly linked to the country’s fortunes.
But for decades, millions of hardscrabble Thai farmers found little relief from faulty state policies which pushed them towards mass production for export, high dependency on market prices and a resulting vulnerability to external shocks.
It wasn’t until the 1970s that they finally saw a ray of hope.
During that period, His Majesty the King introduced the country to a new way of thinking founded on moderation, rationality and self-immunity. It has since come to be known as the philosophy of sufficiency economy.
Speaking on the occasion of his birthday in 1974, he said:
“Whatever people say about Thai people does not matter. They may say Thailand is out of date, not modern, but if Thai people have a ‘modestly sufficient’ life and a wish to continue that way of life, and the country is in peace with this way of life, it may not be called ‘rich’ when compared with other countries, but it can be called ‘prosperous’.”
Farmers were introduced to what was dubbed “self-reliance farming”, under which they were advised to move away from mass or mono-cropping and diversify to reduce their dependence on external markets and risks.
The philosophy gained momentum in the late 1990s, when the country was hit by the financial crisis. Along with the three key principles of moderation, rationality and self-immunity, sufficiency economy thinking involves equipping yourself with knowledge and, more importantly, morality.
Simply put, Thais at that time were encouraged to take a middle path, as enshrined in Buddhist teaching, so that their lives would be neither too strict and stressful nor too loose and undisciplined.
That philosophy has since gained ground among the populace. It has also been acknowledged internationally, with the United Nations Development Programme awarding its inaugural Human Development Lifetime Achievement Award to His Majesty for his extraordinary contribution to human development.
For poor farmers, the ray of hope that appeared in the 1970s has brightened further into the New Theory of Agriculture, guided by sufficiency philosophy.
Under this theory, farmers are guided step by step towards a modest and self-sufficient agricultural lifestyle.
They are first encouraged to self-reliance through dividing their farm plots according to different functions, including irrigation, gardening, rice growing and residential.
Able to feed themselves, they then can move forward into individual and group commercialisation, which in turn can help strengthen their communities and society at large.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the theory’s practice. It has been proven to help strengthen individual’s resilience, helping them to stand on their own feet. More importantly, it has laid foundations of morality on which to build lives, making it different from other modern doctrines.
With that element in place, an individual’s inner self is nurtured with love and care, which in turn is naturally shared with those around them.
The benefits of this philosophy are proven, and it’s now time that it was adopted more widely and seriously for the sake of stability and peace across the whole nation.
For this legacy he has left the Thai people, there are no more fitting words of gratitude than “Long Live the King”.