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09BANGKOK931 RURAL SUFFICIENCY ECONOMY

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“201555”,”4/9/2009 5:38″,”09BANGKOK931″,”Embassy Bangkok”,

 

“UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY”,

 

“09BANGKOK862″,”VZCZCXRO3240

 

PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH

 

DE RUEHBK #0931/01 0990538

 

ZNR UUUUU ZZH

 

P 090538Z APR 09

 

FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK

 

TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6710

 

INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE

 

RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI 6438

 

RUEHRC/DEPT OF AGRICULTURE USD FAS WASHINGTON DC 1019

 

RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI”,”UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 BANGKOK 000931

 

 

 

SENSITIVE

 

SIPDIS

 

 

 

E.O. 12958: N/A

 

TAGS: SENV, ETRD, EAGR, ECON, TH

 

 

 

SUBJECT: RURAL \”SUFFICIENCY ECONOMY\” VILLAGES OFFER ALTERNATIVE

 

APPROACH IN TOUGH ECONOMIC TIMES

 

 

 

Ref: Bangkok 862

 

 

 

BANGKOK 00000931 001.2 OF 003

 

 

 

1. (SBU) Summary: Despite Thailand\’s emergence in recent years as

 

a major trading economy in Asia, the King\’s encouragement of a

 

self-reliant \”sufficiency economy\” has attracted support in the

 

countryside. Government programs support village recycling and

 

low-carbon impact agricultural practices. A number of villages are

 

moving away from chemical fertilizers for environmental reasons,

 

confident they have found comparable organic alternatives. In the

 

upper South region, sufficiency economy tourism is a growing

 

phenomenon, with villagers eager to teach, and learn, about the best

 

ways to increase garden production and introduce bio-fuel

 

alternatives. Some believe that a more robust, self-reliant and

 

simple rural economy can absorb redundant labor from factories

 

closed by the economic recession. End summary.

 

 

 

2. (SBU) Comment: While many of the \”sufficiency economy\”

 

practices Econoff observed were impressive in their ingenuity and

 

some may hold promise for widespread application, the effort to

 

re-invigorate traditional village life as an alternative to a more

 

secular industrial society will be a tough row to hoe. Moreover,

 

the government\’s efforts to promote the sufficiency economy may be a

 

distraction from needed debate on improving real agricultural

 

productivity and competiveness with other regional players.

 

Laid-off workers likely to return to the villages are those with

 

close family ties; it is very unlikely that there will be a massive

 

re-migration back to the countryside. Nevertheless, as a matter of

 

social policy, it is a phenomenon that may attract increased

 

attention in tough economic times. End comment.

 

 

 

3. (SBU) For years, Thailand\’s King Bhumipol has taught his

 

subjects to take the Buddhist \”Middle Way\” in economic matters, with

 

a philosophy of self-reliance, minimal environmental impact and

 

\”small is beautiful\” ideas that became known as \”The Sufficiency

 

Economy.\” After the 1997 economic crisis, when Thailand was

 

devastated financially from years of conspicuous consumption fuelled

 

by massive foreign borrowing that ultimately could not be repaid,

 

the philosophy gained popularity as a way for national redemption.

 

There was some fear among economists that extreme applications of

 

the philosophy, such as a return to bartering, could leave Thailand

 

behind in a world rapidly globalizing. But such fears have not been

 

realized as Thailand has continued to maintain a largely open

 

trading economy. Arguably the most noticeable impact on Thailand\’s

 

national economic policy has been relatively tight control of the

 

banking system and conservative macroeconomic management, which the

 

past year has shown to have been very prudent.

 

 

 

4. (SBU) In the countryside, however, the sufficiency economy has

 

gotten more traction. In recent visits to the Northeast and upper

 

South regions of Thailand, econoff found that sufficiency economy

 

principles are very much at the forefront of current village

 

development efforts. Most of the efforts are home-grown, but are

 

supported by government officials and programs. The 2009 Thai

 

government budget allocates nearly half a billion dollars for rural

 

development; separate ministry budgets also set aside money tagged

 

for sufficiency economy programming. The 5-Year National Economic

 

and Social Development Plans have formally adopted \”the royal

 

philosophy of Sufficiency Economy\” as a guideline. Today, villages

 

claim that self-reliance agriculture provides a means to deal with

 

the economic recession by absorbing labor back into rural areas.

 

 

 

The Northeast: Leaving Chemical Fertilizers for Home-Made

 

Employment

 

 

 

5. (SBU) In the Northeast, econoff found that most of the villages

 

visited are shifting away from chemical fertilizers as a way to

 

reduce expenditures and preserve the environment. In Kalasin

 

province, one village head told econoff that when he moved in 20

 

years ago, he and other villagers made a good living by clearing the

 

natural forest and growing sugar cane and cassava. An industrial

 

conglomerate set up a large sugar cane processing plant in the area

 

to process the growing production. The farmers relied heavily on

 

chemical fertilizers and pesticides and crop yields were impressive.

 

\”We were greedy,\” he admitted, \”and went into debt trying to expand

 

too rapidly.\” Over the years, however, they noticed that fish could

 

no longer live in the ponds and the local well water tasted bad.

 

Subsequently, the village head and a few other families began

 

switching to natural, locally produced, fertilizers. \”The first

 

year, nothing grew,\” they said. But after 4-5 years of careful

 

development they were able to produce a better crop than before and

 

now actively promote the move away from chemical fertilizers among

 

neighbors and neighboring villages. When Econoff walked through the

 

fields and the headman pointed out the organically-fertilized fields

 

and fields across the road he said were still using chemical

 

fertilizer, the organic sugar cane did look very impressive.

 

 

 

6. (SBU) In nearly every village Econoff visited, there was some

 

 

 

BANGKOK 00000931 002.2 OF 003

 

 

 

effort underway to switch away from chemical fertilizer. Many

 

admitted that they still relied on chemical fertilizer, but said

 

they are working to develop organic substitutes in order to lower

 

expenses (especially after petrochemical prices soared last year)

 

and preserve the environment. Many are also seeking ways to live

 

more simply. In one group of villages, early skepticism has given

 

way to an inter-village barter system for fruits and vegetables in

 

which econoff was told 60 percent of the households now participate.

 

Only produce left over from the exchanges is then taken to the

 

nearby city market for cash sales. Another village specializes in

 

herb production and encourages herbal treatment at home as an

 

alternative to long waits at the district health clinic.

 

 

 

7. (SBU) The movement toward self sufficiency is being encouraged

 

by local officials and spread by villagers. A Development Board

 

officer in Khon Kaen province explained that despite best efforts to

 

develop reservoir systems, the poor soil and lack of rainfall for

 

much of the year means that only 14 percent of the region has

 

irrigation, making imperative the need to make maximum use of what

 

resources are available if the area is to develop. The government

 

also promotes micro-enterprise in the villages, though the officer

 

admitted that to be more effective government programs need more

 

grassroots input into what is appropriate on a village by village

 

basis. It is not just the government that is encouraging more

 

earth-friendly change. Village monks told Econoff that they stress

 

the importance of not harming the environment in their teachings.

 

Village leaders say that while they realize young adults will

 

inevitably leave to find paid work in factories and cities, teaching

 

them basic sufficiency economy skills will enable them to come back

 

and make a living when economic times are bad.

 

 

 

The Upper South: The Growing Pilgrimage to Sufficiency Economy

 

 

 

8. (SBU) Evidence of the sufficiency economy movement was even more

 

striking in the upper South. In all villages visited, village

 

leaders spoke of how they are implementing sufficiency economy

 

principles to one extent or another. Baan Khoa Krom village in

 

Krabi province has transformed itself into a training center for

 

sufficiency economy living. The village head told econoff that

 

their goal is to preserve ancestral knowledge about how to live off

 

the land and share that knowledge. He claimed that with these

 

techniques, whereby any person can learn to provide enough for

 

himself, the land can support almost a limitless number of people,

 

unlike a modern industrial economy which squanders natural

 

resources. To that end, they have built an education center which

 

in the two months prior to Econoff\’s visit housed over 200 visitors

 

who came to learn the village\’s ways of sufficiency living. The

 

headman explained that the curriculum first requires training in

 

changing one\’s mindset away from modern materialism. The training

 

also stresses the need for friendliness, environmental preservation,

 

and cultural and religious values, in addition to the practical

 

skills of self-reliance.

 

 

 

9. (SBU) In another village in Surat Thani province, villagers have

 

pooled funds to construct a dozen dorm cabins for visiting students

 

of sufficiency economy principles. The 500-baht (14 dollar) day

 

charge for room, board and training is partially offset by

 

government subsidies. The ministries of Agriculture, Interior and

 

Education support the program. At the time of Econoff\’s visit, they

 

had trained 490 people in the previous two months and had high

 

expectations of full cabins during the upcoming two-month school

 

holiday.

 

 

 

10. (SBU) In Baan Khoa Krom, the headman claimed that the village

 

was almost completely self-sufficient. He then took Econoff on a

 

tour of more than 20 projects that he said villagers to produce

 

virtually all they need and generate products for sale outside the

 

village to buy the few items the village cannot product itself.

 

The projects seemed quite ingenious. Among them:

 

* Compost fermentation capable of producing gas to run a cooking

 

stove for two hours from 50 kilograms of vegetable waste.

 

* Production of a smoked orange wood liquor which can be sold for

 

600 baht per liter in the local market for use as a pesticide.

 

* Fermented durian husks, which after one month can be used as fish

 

food.

 

* Quadrupled banana production by inverting parts of the trees.

 

* Vegetables that need water only once a week when grown in coconut

 

husks.

 

* \”Condominium\” gardens where fruits and vegetables are grown on top

 

of each other, in seven layers, fertilizing and growing off each

 

other.

 

* Palm leaves ground up for cattle feed and the cattle manure

 

processed for methane gas. What remains after the gas is taken off

 

can be used as fertilizer (and has no smell!) for increased palm and

 

other tree cultivation.

 

* Bio-diesel production from used cooking oils, with a by-product

 

made into soap.

 

 

 

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Econoff\’s favorite was the long string pulled tight over fish ponds,

 

onto which hundreds of red ants are enticed with chicken grease.

 

Periodically during the day, the string is plucked, flinging the

 

ants down into the pond, where they become, reportedly, a favorite

 

snack for the catfish. The Baan Khoa Krom headman insisted that

 

the \”sufficiency economy\” agricultural techniques and lifestyle he

 

promotes can be readily adopted by villages throughout Thailand.

 

 

 

JOHN

 

 

 

 

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Written by thaicables

June 12, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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  1. […] RURAL SUFFICIENCY ECONOMY (April 2009) 1. (SBU) Summary: Despite Thailand’s emergence in recent years as a major trading […]


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