No one in the history of the Kingdom of Thailand has done so much to improve the well-being of its people as His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, also known as Rama IX. He has initiated literally thousands of development projects that have greatly benefited the country and its people.
This is why almost every home, office and public building in Thailand is adorned with portraits of His Majesty and other members of the Royal Family, and this is also true in the homes of Hmong, Karen, Mon, Shan and other minorities along the Thai-Myanmar border. But while every Thai citizen is well aware of His Majesty’s achievements, that might not be the case with some foreigners living in Thailand. This article, written to coincide with His Majesty’s 87th birthday which the whole nation will celebrate on
December 5, will surely give them a better understanding of what the King represents to the Thai people and why.
Words Maxmilian Wechsler
Photographs COURTESY OF THE ROYAL DEVELOPMENT PROJECT BOARD
THIS declaration, spoken by His Majesty at his coronation ceremony was his first public pledge to promote the welfare of all his subjects. Throughout his 65-year reign he has fulfilled this promise to the letter. Early on His Majesty was inspired by the example of his parents to work tirelessly to improve the lives of the Thai people. Although most of his childhood was spent in the West, he was taught to be aware of his roots and his debt to the motherland. This attitude formed a solid foundation for a deep understanding of Thai society.
In the early days of his reign His Majesty made many visits to rural areas throughout Thailand. Accompanied by Her Majesty Queen Sirikit, His Majesty visited the least developed areas of the country to see how the people lived. The royal couple travelled to every part of the country, visiting villagers and learning of their living conditions, problems and needs at first hand.
His Majesty would then begin the process of devising schemes and projects to resolve their troubles and improve their condition. Scenes of His Majesty sitting on the ground or standing shoulder to shoulder with his subjects, engaged in conversation, became a familiar sight that touched all Thai people.
To His Majesty, the people’s problems are also his, and so he has never stopped striving to make their lives better. It is for that reason the people proclaimed their King “Father of the Nation” and the monarchy has become a rock solid institution, ensconced firmly in the hearts of the Thai people.
His Majesty truly deserves to be called the Developer King for his dedication to alleviating the people’s hardships and improving their quality of life.
The Royal Development Projects (RDPs) were directly inspired by the insight His Majesty gained while visiting rural areas. He realized that any projects that truly improved the lives of the people must go hand in hand with protection of the environment and sustainable use of natural resources.
The first initiative to help people was initiated in 1951, when His Majesty authorized the Department of Fisheries to acquire Tilapia mosambica fish from Penang through the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. The fish were initially raised in the pond at the Ambarra Villa of the Dusit Palace in Bangkok. On November 7, 1953, His Majesty distributed the fingerlings to village and district leaders throughout the country for propagation and further distribution among the rural people in order to provide them with an alternative source of protein.
The first RDP which directly emphasized rural development emerged in 1952 when His Majesty donated a number of bulldozers to the Naresuan Border Patrol Police unit for construction of a road leading to Huai Mongkol Village in Hua Hin district of Prachuap Khiri Khan province. This was to enable the villagers to easily commute and transport their produce for sale in markets outside the village.
His Majesty never simply issues instructions or gives orders. The impetus always comes from the local people. Before he makes any proposal, His Majesty first studies the available data and talks to the people involved. He then consults with officials and academics before passing the initiative on to the government. All royal development projects have started in this way.
His Majesty’s development projects have brought substantial benefits and innovation not only to his subjects but to the whole world. Some of the most important are as follows:
• Royal Rain Project
His Majesty is often associated with life-giving rain because of his pioneering work in cloud seeding techniques. Since 1971, the methods he developed have been used to bring drought relief to farmers and to increase water reservoirs, earning international patents and interest from foreign countries.
• Moisture Retention Dams
To maximize the use of Thailand’s annual monsoon rains, His Majesty designed a system of small “check-dams,” which regulate the flow of water. The creation of multiple small reservoirs gives farmers immediate benefits and also replenishes groundwater.
• Royal Projects
In 1969, the King introduced a comprehensive program to assist northern hill tribe people engaged in unsustainable farming practices. By training the hill tribe communities in the production of various handicrafts, these programs have raised their income and their prospects, and at the same time have benefited the environment.
• Pa Sak Jolasid Dam Project
To help the farmers of Thailand’s central plains to exploit fully the waters of the Pa Sak River, His Majesty initiated a development project that created a new reservoir for water conservation and controlled irrigation. The dam has also helped with flood prevention on the outskirts of Bangkok.
• New Theory on Managing Agricultural Land
Combining concepts of water management with local control, His Majesty developed a strategy that promotes individual household reservoirs over large communal ones, maximizing versatility while minimizing costs. Overall agricultural production is boosted without the need for public funds.
• Use of Vetiver to Prevent Soil Erosion
To help stop the effects of soil erosion, the King initiated a program to plant certain varieties of vetiver grass, known for its ability to reduce siltation and stabilize soil. The systematic application of the program has proven effective in maximizing productivity and conserving precious water.
• The Chaipattana Aerator
Concerned with the quality of water in the Kingdom, His Majesty developed a device that keeps water oxygenated and healthy. Its simple design and low cost make it easy to build and maintain, thus facilitating wide application nationwide.
• The Rama VIII Bridge
Always conscious of the daily problems facing Thais, His Majesty suggested the construction of a new bridge across the Chao Phraya River to alleviate congestion in Phra Nakhon and Dusit districts. Named after his brother, King Ananda Mahidol, Rama VIII, the graceful bridge has become a city icon.
• Pak Phanang Project
To stem the deterioration of the naturally fertile Pak Phanang River basin due to unmanaged population growth, His Majesty initiated co-operation between government agencies to use more effective agricultural resources, maximize economic gain, and reduce harmful environmental practices.
• Renewable Energy
Long before the need for renewable biofuels was widely apparent, His Majesty was actively researching the resource potential of locally-made palm oil. The resulting biodiesel has become a standard additive in the nation’s fuel, and its local sourcing is an inspiration for ongoing research.
In pursuit of his goal of sustainable development in rural Thailand His Majesty initiated the establishment of six Royal Development Study Centers (RDSCs) throughout the country. In these centers research is carried out to find development strategies suitable to the distinctive conditions of each region. The centers serve as “living natural museums” from which farmers can expand and apply their knowledge.
The six centers are Khao Hin Sorn in Chachoengsao province, founded in 1979; Kung Krabaen Bay in Chanthaburi province, founded in 1981; Pikun Thong in Narathiwat province founded in 1982; Puparn in Sakon Nakhon province, founded in 1982; Huai Hong Khrai in Chiang Mai province, founded in 1982; and Huai Sai in Phetchaburi province, founded in 1983. The aim of the centers is to solve problems for people in rural areas to allow them to have a better quality of life and be free from hardship while enabling them to become strong and self-reliant.
For more than 30 years, RDSCs have promoted the application of knowledge and technology that conforms to the principles of conservation and environmental protection. Another key requirement is that the methods used must be simple and easily applicable in order for the people to make a sustainable living according to their lifestyles.
The RDSCs stated objectives are, among others, to conduct study, research and experiments in search of modern agricultural techniques consistent with the topographical and social conditions of each particular area; to serve as centers for exchange of experiences among academics, development workers and the people; and to demonstrate current agricultural research projects in the form of a “living natural museum.”
Vision for a Sustainable World
In a lifetime of achievements, one of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s most significant is without doubt the development of the Sufficiency Economy philosophy. His Majesty first elaborated his vision to the Thai people in 1974. At that time few people recognized its importance because the country was enjoying robust economic growth and expansion. When the financial bubble burst in 1997, people began to take a second look. Now Sufficiency Economy is given the respect it deserves, not only in Thailand but around the world.
Sufficiency Economy emphasizes the Middle Path in daily living for people of all genders, ages and walks of life. It encourages people to reach a state of self-sufficiency and live in harmony with nature. It can be applied at the individual, community and national and international levels. The philosophy holds that each individual should be conscientious in their daily conduct and strive to lead a joyful and moderate life.
At the community level, people should join hands in activities and participate in the decision-making process, promote continuous education and appropriately apply technology in the development of the community. At the national level, holistic development should be promoted to create balance in terms of society, economics and resources. The country’s domestic potential should be analyzed to guide the types of goods and services to be promoted.
The Sufficiency Economy can be applied at every level of organization, be it family, school, institution, corporation or government, but it has to start with individuals. In contrast to the top-down solutions that never seem to work, the Sufficiency Economy is going from the bottom to the top, from the smallest unit and expanding ever wider. As His Majesty said, “development must burst from within.”
According to His Majesty, the philosophy of Sufficiency Economy is embodied in three principles: Moderation, Reasonableness and Self-immunity. Moderation means not going to extremes, proceeding with interdependence and with caution.
Reasonableness means acting with flexibility and without excess; shunning overindulgence and luxury but taking care to provide enough to guarantee a good lifestyle. Self-immunity means that all people have sufficient protection from internal and external factors.
This set of systematic guidelines for proper management of land and water resources is designed so that farmers can be self-sufficient and have security in their occupations. It is a blueprint to strengthen families and communities in a step-by-step manner.
On December 4, 1988, His Majesty proclaimed that the Sufficiency Economy is not only for the Thai people but for everyone in the world. This is absolutely correct, as the wisdom of the philosophy is in no way diminished by national borders. It can be applied as a way of thinking and living to protect our world, from global warming for example.
The Sufficiency Economy philosophy has been officially adopted for use in some countries like Afghanistan, where in 2003, Thailand actively joined the UN’s program for rehabilitation of the country. Thailand was involved in plans to promote the development of Afghanistan in a sustainable manner.
Over the years the ORDPB and the RDSCs have hosted numerous foreign researchers, scientists, diplomats and other dignitaries that included delegations from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Chile, Germany, Israel, Laos, Lesotho and Indonesia as well as diplomats based in Thailand.
Sources: Office of the Royal Development Project Board; a memoir of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand published in 1987, and publications of the Royal Thai government.
THE constant commitment of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej to improve the quality of life of the Thai people and mankind in general has been recognized through the presentation of numerous medals and awards from international organizations. The Thai King is widely considered to be the world’s hardest working monarch for his initiatives in many fields.
The most prestigious of all the honors is the United Nations Human Development Lifetime Achievement Award, a special prize given to leaders who have exemplified dedication to human development and environmental sustainability. The award was presented to His Majesty by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in a ceremony at Klai Kangwon Palace in Hua Hin on May 26, 2006 on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of His Majesty’s accession to the throne.
In his presentation speech, Mr Annan told the King: “Your Majesty has made an extraordinary contribution to human development. As the world’s ‘Development King,’ Your Majesty has reached out to the poorest and the most vulnerable people in Thailand regardless of their status, ethnicity or religion listened to their problems and empowered them to take their lives in their own hands.
“Your Majesty’s countless rural development projects have been at the forefront of innovation and benefitted millions of people across Thailand. They promote small-scale agriculture, appropriate farming technologies, sustainable use of water resources, conservation, and flood and drought mitigation.
“As a visionary thinker, Your Majesty has played an invaluable role in shaping the global development dialogue. Your Majesty’s ‘Sufficiency Economy’ philosophy – emphasizing moderation, responsible consumption and resilience to external shock – is of great relevance worldwide during these times of rapid globalization. It reinforces the United Nation’s effort to promote a people-centred and sustainable path of development.”
Some major awards presented to His Majesty include: Special Medal of the European Parliament, July 1975; IAUP Peace Award presented by the International Association of University Presidents, September 1986; UNEP Gold Medal of Distinction presented by the UN Environment Programme, November 1992; Agricola Medal, presented by the Food and Agriculture Organization, December 1995; WHO Plaque, presented by the World Health Organization, May 2000; UNDP Human Development Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by the UN Development Programme, May 2006 and; IFIA Cup 2007, presented by the International Federation of Inventors Association.
HIS Majesty King Bhumibol Aduladyej was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA on December 5, 1927, the third and youngest child of Their Royal Highness Prince and Princess Mahidol of Songkla. The name he was given, Bhumibol Adulyadej, directly translated as “Strength of the Land, Incomparable Power,” has proven to be prophetic. As his reign advances through critical periods, the Thai nation revolves more and more around the throne as a source of unity and strength.
In many respects it seems that King Bhumibol Adulyadej was destined from birth to be a cardinal force in shaping the modern Thai nation, in keeping with the legacy of his royal lineage. He is the grandson and direct descendant of King Chulalongkorn, or Rama V, who is renowned for the comprehensive reform of all institutions of Thailand (then Siam) to bring them up to date and in line with the increasingly Western-oriented world.
King Bhumibol’s father, Prince Mahidol, was perhaps the most modern-minded of all the sons of King Chulalongkorn. His life was dedicated to the development of progressive ideas, particularly in the medical sciences. In fact he is known as the Father of the Thai Medical Profession.
Prince Mahidol passed away when His Majesty was not yet two years old. After a brief period of primary schooling in Bangkok, His Majesty left with the rest of the royal family for Switzerland, where he continued his secondary education at the Ecole Nouvelle de la Suisse Romande, Chailly sur Lausanne. He received the Bachelier ès Lettres diploma from the Gymnase Classique Cantonal of Lausanne. He then entered Lausanne University for a program of study in the sciences, but the death of his elder brother King Ananda Mahidol in Bangkok on June 9, 1946 changed the course of his life completely. The law of succession bestowed on him the arduous challenges of the throne.
His Majesty decided to go back to Switzerland for another period of study, but this time in Political Science and Law, in order to equip himself with the proper knowledge for government.
An understanding of the sense of responsibility that impelled His Majesty to bring help and benefits to his people can be gleaned from the following passage of “When I left Siam for Switzerland,” written by His Majesty in 1949:
“…The car passed through the crowd extremely slowly and on approaching Wat Benjamabopitr it began to speed slightly. At that moment, I heard the sound of someone crying out loud ‘Don’t desert your people!’ I wanted to call back that as long as the people did not ‘desert’ me, how could I ever ‘desert’ them?”
By chance, some 20 years later His Majesty met with the very person who had called out to him. His Majesty told the man: “Your words made me aware of my duty and brought me back.”
In May 1950 His Majesty returned to Thailand for the coronation ceremony, and then went back to Switzerland for another period of study. The urgent call of his country and people brought him back to Thailand in 1951 to stay.
His Majesty met and became engaged in July 19, 1949 to Mom Rajawongse Sirikit, daughter of His Highness Prince Chandaburi Suranath and Mom Luang Bua Kitiyakara (born Mom Luang Bua Snidwongse). His Highness Prince Chandaburi Suranath was the third son of his Royal Highness Prince Chandaburi Narunath and Her Serene Highness Absarasman Kitiyakara.
Their Majesties were married by Her Majesty Queen Sawang Wadhana, the parental grandmother of His Majesty at Sra Pathum Palace in Bangkok on April 28, 1950.
Suwanna Pasiri of ORDPB
SUWANNA Pasiri is the current Deputy Secretary-General of the Office of the Royal Development Project Board (ORDPB). She has been with the ORDPB since its establishment in 1981. The BigChilli talked to Mrs Pasiri to get her perspective on the Board’s past, present and the future activities.
Mrs Pasiri first explained how the ORDBP came about. “His Majesty began visiting his people in rural areas in 1951 to find ways to help them, and he would meet with many government officials from different departments to discuss how it should be done. When the King said for example, ‘We should provide water for these people,’ officials from the irrigation department started to plan for the project. The government realized it was necessary to set up a central body to oversee His Majesty’s projects and coordinate with various government agencies and departments. This would also make it possible to provide funds to projects right away without having to budget one year ahead, as was the normal procedure.
“That’s why the ORDPB was set up on September 9, 1981, led by His Excellency General Prem Tinsulanonda, then the Prime Minister, as chairman. We were under the National Economic and Social Development Board [NESDB]. The major task given to the Board was to direct, monitor and to approve projects initiated by His Majesty the King and the Royal Family. We consider project proposals sent to us by various government departments and make our own project proposals.
“We also accompany members of the royal family when they are visiting the people in matters related to development projects. We receive royal initiatives and forward them to different government departments to implement.”
“Before the establishment of ORDPB, we worked under the Economic Preparedness Planning Division. We were involved in many security projects in the border areas, coordinating with the National Security Council and the military. At that time the communist party was still influential in some parts of Thailand. We combated their influence by implementing various development projects in the affected areas and we were very successful. Later on, cities and villages in border areas became free of communist influence. Students who fled to the jungles to join the communists following events in Bangkok on October 14, 1973 returned to become good citizens,” Mrs Pasiri said.
“Ten years after we began, in 1991, we separated from the NESDB and became an independent department directly under the Prime Minister. Our office was located in the Government House from 1991 until 2012. We moved to the new building near the Rama VIII Bridge at the end of 2012.
“As for our present activities, we are still working in the same manner but more responsibilities have been added. We continue in our work to consider project proposals. We monitor and evaluate the projects and disseminate information about them. We also function as a center for information about the projects.”
According to Mrs Pasiri, from 1981 to September of this year the ORDPB has approved more than 4,600 projects – 3,031 for water resources development; 165 for agricultural development, 159 for environmental development, 325 for occupational promotion, 55 for public health, 77 for transport and communications, 395 for social welfare and education and 240 for integrated activities and others.
As for the future of the ORDPB, Mrs Pasiri said: “As we all know, the King is unwell and is no longer visiting rural people. But he still does some work in regard to petitions that his subjects send him with various requests. If a petition concerns a problem in a rural area, he will send it to us for consideration. We will go to the area to find out if there is really a need for assistance and if it is feasible to do something.
“When we see that a problem exists we report back to the King recommending that we should help them. We can then support the project financially. At this moment we have about 100 petitions for projects, mostly from the farmers, that have been approved and we are appropriating a budget to implement them.
“Some people may think that the ORDPB is no longer needed because His Majesty is not so active these days, but this is not true. In addition to the petitions, they are other members of the Royal Family who are working hard to improve the lives of the people and implement projects, especially Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. She is very active, working every day.”
“A number of countries have expressed interest in implementing projects based on His Majesty’s initiatives and in line with his philosophy. Officials from the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste have visited project centers several times for training. The Lao People’s Democratic Republic is a prime example of another country adopting His Majesty’s methods. Laos established a center some years ago modeled on the RDSCs.
“The Kingdom of Lesotho is another example. We sent three experts to help set up a center there and train the Basotho people in innovative agricultural techniques. They also train ‘model farmers’ who can teach others, as we do here. We don’t give the center financial assistance but we are still giving technical assistance. If they request, our experts will go there and give them advice,” Mrs Pasiri said.
“One specialist who went to Lesotho said that many farmers used to grow vegetables that weren’t profitable for them. She introduced them to new crops that not only earn them money but also provide food during the winter. This made the Lesotho farmers very happy.
“We also frequently receive delegations that wish to study our methods. The trips are arranged by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the delegations mainly visit various RDSCs. We have had several visits from Afghani officials. The most recent study visit was by a delegation from Nigeria on October 20 of this year. In 2013 we received 11 delegations from different foreign countries.
“We have had royal visitors to the RDSCs, including King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden, Queen Elizabeth II, Crown Prince Akihito of Japan, King Letsie III and Queen Masenate of Lesotho. The former Prime Minister of India, Narasimha Rao, also made a visit,” said Mrs Pasiri.
“Furthering the concept of His Majesty’s Sufficiency Economy is the main objective of the present government, and as the government office responsible for implementing and disseminating information on the concept we are doing our best to put it into practice in Thailand and the world,” Mrs Pasiri concluded.