Integrated flood and drought management for sustainable development in the Pa Sak River Basin under the nineyear master plan “The Power of Human Energy: A Journey Inspired by the King”, the ambitious project supported by Chevron Thailand, is now entering its second phase.
The master plan is divided into three phases: “Tok Sao Khem” meaning building a strong foundation through public acknowledgement, “Taek Tua” referring to extending results, and “Network Connection”, relating to the policy change of five national parties, namely the government, academia, public-private organisations, civil society and mass media.
The second phase is themed “Taek Tua Thua Thai … Ao Mue Samakkhi” in a reference to people getting together in a movement that’s spreading across the country and covering four provinces. It began with a farm demonstration property at King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology’s Faculty of Agricultural Technology in Lat Krabang before extending to Sukhachai Supsiri’s Rai Suk Klangjai in Ratchaburi, Sawang Srithambutr’s land in Udon Thani, and a sufficiency economy learning centre at Wat Phra Borommathat Doi Pha Som in Samoeng, Chiang Mai.
This temple, which houses relics of the Buddha, is a prototype for loom khanom khrok (catchments) in the five-rai upland of Huai Pa Kluai in Chiang Mai’s Baan Om Long, which adheres to His Majesty the late King Bhumibol’s sufficiency philosophy. The upland showcases the late Monarch’s wisdom through an earthen dyke, “3 forests and 4 benefits”, vetiver grass, mountain farming, a check dam and klong sai kai (binding canals), and chiang da (Gymnema sylvestre) as the economic plant. All catchments in four provinces are designed by the Faculty of Architecture at King Mongkut’s Institute under the programme “Thai Social Geographic Design: Followup and evaluation of water management in the community”.
“Our projects over the past four years have proved that His Majesty the late King Bhumibol’s philosophy can help solve problems of flood and drought, economy and society, and bring a better quality of life to the country’s farmers. Some agriculturists can overcome obstacles and problems and become totally self-sufficient,” says Artit Krichphiphat, a general manager at Chevron Thailand.
“This second phase involves building a human resource model and also a tool for developing the learning centre into life-wide education under the structure of bovorn meaning home, temple and school. And the sufficiency economy learning centre at Wat Phra Borommathat Doi Pha Som is a very successful example of that structure. The temple is a centre for this community, the school and the governmental unit to help each other to conserve and protect natural resources and watershed forest, avoid wildfires, alleviate villagers’ debts, and ensure education in a kind of home school. Today, it is a self-reliant community, which has learned how to live with the forest and with self-sufficiency. Most importantly, this learning centre successfully follows His Majesty the late King’s 9-step theory to the sufficiency economy livelihood,” says Dr Wiwat Salyakamthorn, who is better known as Ajarn Yak, president of the Agri-Nature Foundation and Institute of Sufficiency Economy.
The temple at Doi Pha Som has been applying His Majesty the late King’s philosophy in the project, “1 Rai Khunnatham” since 2008. The abbot, Phra Sorayut Chaiyapanyo, adopted the bovorn concept and implemented the sufficiency economy through the “Forest Reservation, Water Conservation, and Check Dam”, “Self Sufficiency and Wet Fire Break Prevention”, “Energy Conservation and Alternative Fuel”, and “New Education Reforms” activities.
“We attended short courses in developing agriculture into the sufficiency economy at the Mab Aung Natural Agricultural Centre as well as at the Huai Hong Krai Development Study Centre in Chiang Mai, the Muang Ngai Agriculture Garden Special Royal Project and the Development Strategies of Pathom Asoke Village and the Sustainable Development. We help the villagers to bring self reliance into their daily lives,” says Phra Weerayut Aphiwiro, or Kru Ba Jok.
“We spent one year putting what we had learned through trials and error on Uncle Don’s 3rai of land, which today is used to grow upland rice, chrysanthemums and stevia. We applied His Majesty the late King’s sufficiency economy philosophy of ‘3 forests 4 benefits’ into our land.
At first, the villagers weren’t sure whether the sufficiency economy would be able to help them reduce their debt as they faced a lot of complex problems. The first of these was a shortage of farm labour, because their children didn’t come back home after graduating in the city. The second was that strawberries were grown here with high concentrations of chemicals.
Without their children to help, the villagers got loans from a bank to hire 10 or 20 alien workers to take care of the strawberries for the whole year. And worse still, they were forced to borrow money at extremely high interest rates from a loan shark at the Flower Market in Bangkok. When the villagers delivered their strawberries to Bangkok, they received bills only, with deductions for capital expenditure of purchasing a car and a house. The villagers were involved in these illegal loans for 10 years and were shouldering the burden of debt to both of the Bank of Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives and loan sharks. Today, the villagers have a much better lives.
“Because of their problems, they didn’t worry too much about the environment and cared little about wildfire and drought. I remember going on an alms-round in the morning and receiving only a little food, but nowadays, there is plenty of food, enough for 30-40 people,” says the 36-year-old monk.
The villages began by helping to construct weirs and growing vetiver grass. Within three years, they had built more than 1,000 water weirs over a distance of three kilometres.
They now have enough water and even small waterfalls. They have also installed natural fire breaks around an area of 12,000 rai.
For six years, the villagers have been able to live on what they earn without requiring capital from other sources. Doing away with commercial chemicals and fertilisers and making their own with what nature provides has put an end to the spiral of debt.
Their income comes from selling Karen rice, bananas, coffee, garlic, and processing products such as soap and shampoo. Their coffee is sold under their own brand, Hug Pa meaning “hug the forest”, and they operate a coffeeshop called 7 Heaven.
“We are now partnering with Mae Ploy, a chilli sauce company, acting as a kind of sub factory for selecting and separating garlic. Nowadays, we deliver hundreds of tons of garlic to the company,” says Kru Ba Jok.
Indeed, Baan Om Long is now such a well-managed community that it shares responsibilities with seven groups covering interior affairs, development, public health, culture, finance, industry, and agriculture. The temple acts as a consultant.
“Next, we will plant a forest in the villagers’ heart, extinguish fires in their mind, and foster sufficiency in their hearts,” says Kru Ba Jok.