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Serving the people of Thailand

Interview - March 25, 2015

The Upper Reach Team interviewed Dr. Sumet Tantivejkul, Secretary-General of the Chaipattana Foundation. He explained how the Foundation implements projects and activities in line with royal initiatives. He also showed how the focus is on rural development work which does not duplicate those carried out by governmental agencies implementing all activities and projects that will serve as a helping hand as well as a facilitator in the national development process.


What  are  the  reasons  behind  the  creation  of  the  Chaipattana  Foundation  by  His Majesty?

For more than 65 years since His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s accession to the throne in 1946, His Majesty has adhered to devoting himself tothe well-being of Thai people. His Majesty is considered to be the one and only monarch in the world who is dedicated both physically and mentally to development work for the sake of the nation. From the moment His Majesty was crowned the King of Thailand to the present day, His Majesty has never stopped working for his people.

In an early stage of his development works, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej has been interested in the well-being of the Thai people ever since His Majesty has returned to Thailand for his coronation in 1946. During 1946-1952, Thailand was recovering from the Second World War causing Thai people to live in difficult conditions. So, the early stage of His Majesty’s development work was focused on urgent problems such as medical, sanitary and social problems. His Majesty saw that if his people were healthy, it will lead to the country’s sustainable development.

In the second stage, later in 1953, His Majesty began to travel to every region of the country from the north to the south with a great intention to learn about the troubles, hardship and the needs of his people who mostly conducted agricultural activities as a main of living, particularly those living in remote rural areas.

During that time, His Majesty spent over half of each year outside the capital, causing us to follow and frequently spent several days and nights in different parts of the nation. Almost every other day, His Majesty traveled to visit different projects and his people. The traveling conditions in those days were not as convenient as nowadays especially in remote rural areas with bad road networks. Sometimes the road was incredibly rough and bumpy, and sometimes there were no roads at all that His Majesty had to walk for hours to reach the destinations.

The Thai government has seen his great efforts and hard work, and they knew that the Royal Development Projects that His Majesty established using a budget from his own pocket would provide great benefits to the Thai people. So in 1981, the Office of Royal Development Projects Board was established under the assistance of the Thai government to help His Majesty with his numerous development works. However, the work process under the responsibility of the government began to face some restrictions such as budget constraints, procedural problems, etc., which therefore disabled them to consistently serve the needs of the people according to the urgency required. Later in 1988, His Majesty initiated plans for solutions to be implemented through a foundation as it could operate more flexibly and

efficiently compared to a government owned body. Hence, the Chaipattana Foundation was established. His Majesty acts as the Honorary President and graciously appointed Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn as the Executive Chairperson.

The aim of the Foundation is to streamline and administer a broad range of development projects to improve the quality of life of the people, and to enable them to become self-reliant. It is also expected to carry out development projects and to collaborate with the government and private sectors as well as other charitable organizations for public benefit without political involvement.

Could you please expand on the theory of Sufficiency Economy, including sustainability, moderation and broad-based development as a way to address the needs of the rural areas? What would be your interpretation of this theory in a changing Thai society?

The Asian crisis in the middle of 1997 which started in Thailand and spread to other countries in Asia caused an alarm of the world’s economic collapse. The crisis occurred due to several factors such as fiscal mismanagement, fixed exchange rates or that export growth was radically slowed down, but the vital factors that caused the incident were overinvestment, overproduction and overconsumption. The overconsumption led investors to invest more, produce more and borrow more. As a result, they borrowed from abroad and ended up with high external debts.

After the crisis shock, Thai people began to adopt the Sufficiency Economy philosophy, which was bestowed by His Majesty as a warning sign for the country, in their personal and work life. We tend to focus more on the words “moderation” and “reasonableness” to become more careful with our spending habits in order to take care of our financial situation, and to be able to cope with the unavoidable shocks. His Majesty also granted us a valuable advice that a bubble or unstable growth generated a weak foundation for our country’s development. According to His Majesty, the development must be preceded by steps. The first step is to provide the citizens with sufficient food and adequate living. After the foundation is secured, the next step is that the higher economic status can be founded.

In the past, many countries paid attention to the economic development and economic growth because they believed that it will eradicate poverty and help the country to be more developed, but economic growth alone cannot achieve the overall development and it cannot eradicate poverty, so people tended to shift their focus to human aspects, rather than only material aspects. Governments in many countries focus on the good quality of life of the people. The basic material needs must be met with other basic non-material needs. However, in order to achieve the good quality of life, they need both material and non-material needs to fulfill their desires, so the question is “How adequate?” If we consume more, we produce more and it hurts our environment. Therefore, later, people have another issue to focus on which is natural resource stocks and the environment.

The past 20 years have seen a growing realization that the current model of development is unsustainable.  In other words, we are living beyond moderation.  The Sufficiency Economy Philosophy tries to establish the balanced way of life which will lead to sustainability. Its concept is not too different from the international concept of the “Sustainable Development” defined in the Brundtland Report, which first announced the official meaning of Sustainable Development in 1987, that the balance between the economic, social and environmental aspects should be achieved. The similarity between the concept defined in the Brundtland Report and the Sufficiency Economy philosophy bestowed by His Majesty shows that His Majesty’s concept is also moving toward the trend of the changing world in the new era, and the modern lifestyle of today’s society.

Could you please share with our readers the projects that have impressed you the most and how do you see their evolution over time? How the projects of the Foundation are then currently evolving?

The projects that have impressed me the most are the projects regarding the natural resources development. His Majesty paid attention to every element of natural resources which helped with the alleviation of the agricultural, environmental to livelihood and economic problems. These elements vary from water, soil, forests to renewable energy.

The underlying principles of His Majesty’s initiatives on the development of natural resources are simplicity and sustainability. Technical experts have often found that His Majesty’s ways to solve problems are so simple that nobody has thought of them before. His Majesty prefers simplifying complex situations, making confusing issues understandable, and using common sense to solve problems. “Make it simple” is His Majesty’s frequent advice. Simplicity underlies most of his development initiatives.

Since Thai population still depends on agriculture for its living, the targets of his natural resources development then focus on the improvement of production inputs, such as soil, water and the conservation of natural resources and the environment. His Majesty said that simplicity is the key which has to be reasonable, take a short time to apply and solve problems effectively as well as lead to sustainable development. In order to find sustainable solutions, specific area conditions of each problem such as geography, environment, social and economic patterns have to be considered. “Water is life” is His Majesty’s recognition that water is a basic necessity of life for humans, animals and plants alike. His achievement in the development and identification of water is well known from the water management for agriculture, solving flood and drought problems to the treatment of waste water. Reservoirs, check dams and ponds were constructed for farmers in agricultural areas according to His Majesty’s initiatives in order to solve water shortage problem for agriculture during dry season. Monkey Cheek is another well known simple project to lessen the flood problem. The project consists of a system of canal excavation along the coastal areas to the west and the east of the Chao Phraya River. The canals serve as storage reservoirs and drain floodwaters away using the power of gravity and tidal flow. To solve waste water by using simple methods is also one of His Majesty’s initiatives for the natural resources development that is widely recognized. The Royally-Initiated Laem Phak Bia Environmental Research and Development Project (LERD) Project has improved its wastewater treatment and garbage management methods by applying natural approaches. These approaches are simple, effective and suitable for the environment, which in turn restores the balance of nature. The LERD Project currently serves as a model for environmental improvement and conservation.

The famous mechanical method is known as the “Chaipattana Aerator”. His Majesty designed this invention to help improve the water quality in various water sources. His Majesty graciously consented for the Chaipattana Aerator to be patented under his name, and the patent was officially issued on February 2, 1993. It is the world’s ninth aerator to be patented. The Europe’s oldest organization of inventors known as the Belgian Chamber of Inventors awarded several prizes to the Chaipattana Aerator during an exhibition held in November 2000 in the Kingdom of Belgium.

Good soil is a very necessary resource for the agricultural occupation. Among His Majesty’s various ways to improve the soil quality, there are two outstanding examples. The first one is the “use of vetiver grass” for soil conservation and erosion control. The use of vetiver grass has led Thailand to becoming one of the world’s most successful and progressive centers for the application of vetiver grass technology for soil conservation and the erosion control. The success of this initiative has been recognized around the world, and led the International Erosion Control Association to present His Majesty with its International Merit Award for excellent work as a soil and environment conservationist.

In the area of renewable energy, His Majesty had foreseen problems caused by the energy crisis, and provided suggestions on how to deal with the problems more than 40 years ago. Such efforts are the development of gasohol, production of ethanol and biodiesel fuel. The Chaipattana Foundation’s Vegetable Oil Refining and Bio-Diesel Integrated Production Plant has served as a model for environmentally-friendly bio-diesel production. The research of His Majesty on biodiesel production from palm oil has been awarded with the gold medal at the symposium of Brussels Eureka 2001.

I have been working for His Majesty for so long, and what I have observed is that the projects of the Chaipattana Foundation have been evolved over time to meet the needs of not just only the rural poor, but also the Thai people at large. As I mentioned previously that the projects regarding the natural resources development of His Majesty have involved different simple, affordable but practical methods, these approaches will definitely answer the needs of small farmers and the rural poor. Since they possess low levels of education and they are poor in financial and farm resources, these farmers and the rural locals are able to use the simple, affordable and practical approaches to improve their resources in order to make ends meet and become self-reliant. In this way, the Thai people at large will also enjoy the benefits. People around the world need food. Therefore, as Thailand is an agricultural country, we can, without doubt, become a food hub. No matter how long the projects have been launched, no matter how old these concepts of the natural resources development are, if we take it seriously and conduct research and studies to improve and develop such concepts in a continuous manner, Thailand will be able to maintain the spot in the world market as a food producer, and to reach its sustainable stage in the environmental and natural resources development.

How do you envision the future of the Chaipattana Foundation with the strong commitment of Princess Sirindhorn and also how do you believe the Foundation should become a model internationally?

Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn is presently playing the role of Chairman of the Foundation on His Majesty’s behalf where she can be able to apply her experiences  accumulated  while  traveling  with  His  Majesty  as his  personal  secretary  in development works and in solving problems. Her Royal Highness does not always play by the book or cling solely on theories, but she adapted her experiences into real situations and problems where they seem fit and appropriate.

Because of her compassion to help the poor and unfortunate, Her Royal Highness has obtained first-hand experiences by working in development works for His Majesty the King’s development projects. Her Royal Highness regularly accompanied His Majesty during visits to remote areas since the age of sixteen, or starting in 1970. The knowledge, skills and experiences acquired from various sources as discussed were not kept to herself. Rather, Her Royal Highness used those for the benefit and happiness of the Thai people from all walks of life. Thus, the idea to use her knowledge, skills and experiences as a means for community and rural development gained during her trips with His Majesty, her formal and informal education, together with her experiences in the fields, has served as a solid base for her subsequent involvement in community and rural development activities. However, traveling is not the only purpose that Her Royal Highness intends to accumulate knowledge and experiences, but she also uses every opportunity in every visit to follow up on and evaluate her initiated activities and projects. Therefore, under the effort and endeavor of Her Royal Highness to carry out the development work through the responsibility of the Chaipattana Foundation, the picture of the Foundation that I envision in the future is that we will carry on with the development activities that truly benefit the Thai people and will continue to grow. We have been trying to conduct different experiments and studies that will yield beneficial results to the Thai people. We have also established more projects in different areas of interest that will suit the changing trend of the world, and conserve the disappearing traditions and precious Thai style way of life.

However, not only the Thai people who are our main concern, the fellow global citizens should also be able to gain benefits. The trend towards sufficiency and sustainability is currently capturing the world’s attention. The work of the Chaipattana Foundation has involved such concepts since the beginning of its establishment. At present, we are reaching the international arena by creating collaborations with institutions in different parts of the world, and the responses have been quite impressive. To serve as an example internationally is what His Majesty has been doing. It is acknowledged worldwide that His Majesty’s development concepts, theories as well as inventions received several international acclaims. One of the most recognized acclaims is the United Nation’s first Human Development Lifetime Achievement Award presented to His Majesty by Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan. Mr. Annan stated that His Majesty is the world’s “Development King” who has reached out to the poorest and the most vulnerable people of Thailand – regardless of their status, ethnicity or religion. His Majesty empowered them to take their lives in their own hands. The Chaipattana Foundation is ready to become a model internationally if the world believes that sufficiency can be a gateway to sustainable development.