It has been more than half a century since His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej ascended the throne as the ninth monarch of the Royal House of Chakri.

All through these years, His Majesty has devoted his time and energy, working alongside his subjects in remote areas in all parts of the Kingdom to improve their living condition and livelihood. No place in the Kingdom is too remote, nor is any task too difficult for him. Large and small projects have been initiated by His Majesty, aimed at economic and social development, as well as the conservation of natural resources and the environment, with the people’s well-being and happiness as the goal.

His Majesty’s development projects are based on morality, true knowledge and understanding of the situation, the expertise and experience of the society and communities, scientific studies, local wisdom, and appropriate technologies.

His principles have been simplicity, frugality, and effectiveness, with all projects tailored to meet the needs of localities and solve problems at their root causes, laying a firm foundation for the prosperity and happiness of the people in all parts of the country.

Since 1973, His Majesty the King emphasized in his royal addresses and speeches on various occasions development guidelines based on sufficiency, moderation, economizing, rationalization, and the creation of “social immunity” for the majority of the people who are in the farm sector.

He cautioned the Thais not to be imprudent in conducting their lives, but to be fully aware of the development process in accordance with proper theories, and within the framework of good morality.

This has become known as “Sufficiency Economy.”

When the country experienced the 1997 economic crisis, His Majesty reminded the people of the need to be “self-contained.”

In his royal address on the eve of his birthday anniversary on 4 December 1997, His Majesty said:

“In fact, I have often said… to be a tiger is not important. The important thing is for us to have a self-supporting economy. A self-supporting economy means to have enough to survive.”

Thailand was then in a deep crisis, following the economic meltdown, resulting in mass unemployment and indebtedness, with great consequences for the lifestyle of the Thai people at that time.

The crisis occurred because we expanded our production too much, with no buyers, because no one could afford to buy.

His Majesty implied in his speech that the export-oriented economy left Thailand in an imbalanced situation without self-sufficiency.
For Thailand, the 1997 economic crisis served as a costly lesson of unbalanced and unstable growth, partly due to the improper economic and social development process, in which the economy relied heavily on foreign capital inflows and external markets.

The production sector was export-driven, aimed at earning foreign exchange. As a result, farmers in certain areas had to buy rice for consumption, although they grew rice. Fundamental structures in the country remained weak, with no immunity for the vulnerable.

Accumulated economic and social structural problems culminated in unfair distribution of capital, income, and growth, a decline in moral and cultural values, and the deterioration of natural resources and the environment.

When people talk about solving the current situation, the current crisis, one of the things they talk about is “globalization.”

We say that we are now in the age of globalization, and we must “comply” with it or follow the rules. If we fail to comply with what we committed to, others will be dissatisfied.

Why? Because they are also in crisis. And we would find it more difficult to recover from the crisis. Not only countries in the region are affected.

Even prosperous and stable countries are in trouble. This is because, if a crisis is not solved in one corner of the world, other parts are also affected. So we must try to support the people, providing them with jobs, so that they earn an income and can survive the crisis.

Thailand is situated in a region of the world that is rich in biodiversity. The land is abundant in food crops. Since time immemorial, residents have earned their living with cultivation, thriving on the abundance on land, in the sea, and in the rivers.

His Majesty the King is aware of the fact. He advised a self-supporting lifestyle for everyone. Farmers should be able to feed themselves, starting with rice production.

Enough rice should be grown for household consumption, with the excess harvest sold to raise income. They are also advised to change from planting a single type of crop to integrated farming.

People living in the city who are engaged in business should know how to invest appropriately, starting from small businesses. Apart from self-sufficiency, he has prescribed perseverance and industriousness.

Also, people should be compassionate towards one another.

His Majesty the King has attached great significance to soil and water, the two essential elements in agricultural development. There are about 2,000 royally initiated water resource development projects spread across the country.

They clearly represent His Majesty’s emphasis on fundamental infrastructure for the people’s livelihood, to sustain their lives and bring them prosperity.

From his first nationwide visit to the people in all regions early in the reign, His Majesty made direct contact with his subjects, inquiring about their living conditions, examining his maps, taking pictures, and taking down copious notes himself.

It is a known fact that by all Thai people that, “There is no place in this land not visited by His Majesty the King.”

In the course of his visits to people in the rural areas, His Majesty reckoned that a large number of his subjects were not able to support themselves. He was determined to make them self-sufficient, so that they would be better able to contribute to national development.

On his royal visits to the people in all parts of the country, His Majesty spoke with to farmers and found that they faced chronic water shortages.

 

Pondering over their plight, His Majesty drew the following conclusions:

Firstly, the theory applies to small farmers holding about 15 rai, or about six acres, an average cultivation area for Thai farmers.
Secondly, farmers must be able to support themselves adequately. They must also realize the need for unity and compassion in the community so as to support one another.
Thirdly, each farm household should be able to grow enough rice for its whole year’s consumption, under the assumption that each family can be self-reliant by growing rice on an area of five rai.
Fourthly, water must be available even in the dry season, averaging about 1,000 cubic meters per rai the whole year round.

The hard-working monarch, who had intimate knowledge of the people’s problems and had been advising those in the agricultural sector, who made up the majority of the population, spelled out the “New Theory” in his Sufficiency Economy philosophy.

His Majesty got his inspiration for the New Theory from a royal visit to the people in the Northeast, in Kut To Kaen Village, Kut Sin Khum Yai Subdistrict, Khao Wong District, Kalasin Province, on 25 November 1992, as recounted by His Majesty in his royal address to well-wishers on the eve of his birthday anniversary on 4 December 1992 at Dusidalai Hall, Chitralada Villa, Dusit Palace:
Then I asked the villagers in the neighborhood about the past year. They said that they had got in the harvest and pointed to a heap of rice. We went in for a closer look. The rice had grown well but did not produce many grains, only about two or three to an ear. The production could be estimated at about one bucket or less per rai.

On inquiry, the villagers explained that it was due to lack of rain. They had sown the rice, but when it came to transplanting the seedlings, there was no water. They had to make holes in the sand and stick the seedlings in them.

In the daytime the plant withered and drooped, but at night it straightened up with the dew. In the end it developed ears but not so many grains of rice. That was a very revealing lesson, and they spoke to us very straightforwardly.

This is proof that rice is a very rugged plant, able to survive with just a little humidity from the dew. Although that was ordinary rice, not upland rice, it could survive.

If we could give only a little help, there could be an improvement and the people could survive. The project to be done need not be a big one to meet with success. It could be a modest project.

So it dawned on me that in such a place rainfall is not small, but it just did not come at the right time. When it rains, it is not needed; when it is needed, it does not rain. So rice is not plentiful.”

Rice and farmers have always been His Majesty the King’s foremost concerns, as evidenced in numerous royally initiated experimental programs on rice growing. The Secretary-General of the Chaipattana Foundation, Dr. Sumet Tantivejkul, gave an account of this:

“His Majesty the King initiated the Cattle and Buffalo Bank to solve problems of farmers who had no buffalos for farming, or rice price guarantee in the form of a Rice Bank. When they faced drought, he introduced artificial rainmaking. They lacked rice milling facilities, so he set up the Royal Rice Mill. His Majesty experimented with rice growing within the Chitralada Villa, to obtain good rice breeds for farmers. More importantly, he had the Royal Plowing Ceremony revived after it was discontinued since the changing of the administrative system in 1932. This was meant to boost the morale of rice farmers. This Sufficiency Economy has long been introduced to help farmers, as His Majesty knew intimately their problems.”

The questions might arise as to what the “new” elements were in the New Theory. An explanation was hinted at in His Majesty the King’s address on the experimental plot for the New Theory at Wat Mongkol Chaipattana in Saraburi Province:

So in that area, there will be a new type of development, known as the “New Theory,” which is believed to be carried out successfully here.

In more detail, His Majesty the King has based his New Theory on four principles:

Firstly, the theory applies to small farmers holding about 15 rai, or about six acres, an average cultivation area for Thai farmers.
Secondly, farmers must be able to support themselves adequately. They must also realize the need for unity and compassion in the community so as to support one another.
Thirdly, each farm household should be able to grow enough rice for its whole year’s consumption, under the assumption that each family can be self-reliant by growing rice on an area of five rai.
Fourthly, water must be available even in the dry season, averaging about 1,000 cubic meters per rai the whole year round.

According to the New Theory, the average family’s 15 rai of land will be divided into four parts in a ratio of 30:30:30:10.

The first 30 percent, or 4.5 rai, is meant for a pond to support cultivation. A pond about four meters deep holds up to 19,000 cubic meters of rainwater, for the whole year’s crop cultivation. The pond may also bring in additional income from aquatic animals and plants.

His Majesty the King recommended aquaculture when he visited the project site at Wat Mongkol Chaipattana:

Raising fish provides additional income. With fish culture, earnings are gained within a few months.

The second and third parts, 60 percent of the area, are for crop planting, 30 percent for rice and another 30 percent for cash crops, in accordance with the soil condition and market demand.

Based on his calculation of the need for water at 1,000 cubic meters per rai in the dry season, the cultivation area that makes up the second part, 9 rai in all, would need about 9,000 cubic meters of water.

He also took into consideration the evaporation of water from the pond in the dry season, with the water level reduced by about 1 centimeter a day. With an average of 300 days without rain in a year, the water level in the pond would be reduced by three meters. Therefore, the pond must be large enough to ensure that there is enough water.

The remaining 10 percent of the area, 1.5 rai, is set aside as the service area, for a dwelling, paths, ramps, a kitchen garden, and livestock pens.

The New Theory is in fact a land and water management method for small farms in the natural condition, both in normal times and in crisis. The theory is clearly defined and can be implemented by farmers themselves by following the steps and procedures that have been set.

The New Theory aims at tackling the problem of water shortages and the use of limited land for cultivation so as to produce sufficient food for consumption, and, if possible, for sale.

Agricultural management in the New Theory has three phases. In the first phase, farmers strive to be self-sufficient by producing enough food for the family, living in a good environment, and enjoying good health, through the division of the land into the three zones described above.

In the second phase, farmers are encouraged to organize themselves into groups or cooperatives to conduct various activities in coordination with related government agencies, foundations, and private enterprises, focusing on production, such as crop seeds and soil preparation; on marketing, in the form of silos, drying space, distribution, and rice-milling tools; on daily living, such as shrimp paste, fish sauce, and dried food; on welfare, such as health and loans; on education, such as schools and scholarships; and on social and religious affairs, such as community functions.

With community members joining together as groups, they can reduce their dependency on external parties, while increasing their bargaining power in the acquisition of production factors and the sale of their produce. Costs can also be reduced in transportation and marketing through economies of scale. Production planning can also be done for the community for common benefits.

 

The main points of this phase are two:

Unity in the community, organization in groups or cooperatives
Development of better quality of life in various aspects, such as health, education, and social and religious activities.

The third phase involves connections with other organizations and agencies concerning capital, marketing, and energy, to expand commercial activities with the setting up of rice-mills, community shops, and service stations. Farmers are thus provided the chance to learn and acquire experience in production, processing of agricultural products, marketing, and even exporting. In this way, farm families earn more income and live happily, and the community is strengthened. Farmers learn by doing at all steps, resulting in a sustainable form of development.

 

There are two main points in the third phase:

Cooperation with financial and energy sources in development toward mainstream businesses
Development toward the Sufficiency Economy.

In all three phases of the New Theory, support and cooperation from outside are needed, in a multilateral partnership for development, with full cooperation from all stakeholders, as participants and as beneficiaries. The procedure in the three phases is outlined in the diagram below.

As seen in the diagram, the first phase involves small-scale implementation, with the emphasis on acquiring production factors and experimenting to achieve results. The achievement in the first phase implies earning enough for a comfortable living or for savings, before getting into the second phase, which involves expansion and integrated development, to enhance efficiency in management by organizing as farmers groups or cooperatives, to strengthen production and marketing, and improve living condition, welfare, education, and social and religious activities.

The next phase involves advancement and institutionalization, leading to processing and adding value to the products in the form of agro-industrial development, in coordination with financial sources (commercial banks) and energy sources (oil firms).

Taken together, the three phases cover the full cycle of development, resulting in a one-stop service center for farmers.

The success in the application of the New Theory, meanwhile, hinges on three major factors:

First, true understanding on the part of farmers in applying the New Theory to their livelihood; second, their readiness to take part in the activities and cooperative programs; and third, substantial cooperation and support from outside on a continual basis.

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