Thailand’s sufficiency economy a role model for sustainable development

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Koiruttakwa community_Arno Maierbrugger
Rice field within the self-sufficient Koiruttakwa community in Bangkok’s northeastern suburb of Nong Chok © Arno Maierbrugger

Thailand has set the focus on promoting its “sufficiency economy” principle as a solution for sustainable development and in order to tackle economic difficulties of certain domestic communities. It is also increasingly exporting the concept which it sees as a “holistic” way of establishing economic self-reliance in developing countries globally, Investvine has learned.

The move comes in tandem with Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha presenting the sufficiency economy concept at a G77 meeting held in Bangkok on February 29 as “a model for many developing countries.”

One of the driving forces to implement the sufficiency economy model is the Mae Fah Luang Foundation, a Bangkok-based non-profit organisation that manages numerous projects within Thailand, as well as other countries in Asia. Launched in 1972 by the late Princess Srinagarindra, mother of the present King of Thailand, its goal is to provide people with sustainable livelihoods based on economic and social empowerment through efficiency and sustainability, but rejecting goals of continuous growth and increase of wealth just for wealth’s sake like in many conventional capitalist societies.

Investvine met with Dispanadda Diskul, Deputy CEO of Mae Fah Luang Foundation, whose projects raised international attention by global organisations such as UNESCO, UNIDO, UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) and UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), and whose flagship project is the still-running, highly successful opium eradication programme in northeastern Thailand and the subsequent economic empowerment of the locals.

“We are providing integrated development planning for people based on Thailand’s sufficiency economy model,” Diskul explains.

Dispanadda Diskul, Deputy CEO of Mae Fah Luang Foundation_Arno Maierbrugger
Dispanadda Diskul, Deputy CEO of Mae Fah Luang Foundation © Arno Maierbrugger

“The concept works in three steps: We start at the ‘survival’ level where we teach people to supply themselves with basic necessities such as basic food supply, healthcare, education and infrastructure. Then we help them entering the ‘sufficiency’ level where they reach a status of being capable of supplying themselves and even achieve excess supply of food and goods which they can sell. Last comes the ‘sustainability’ level on which the entire community has become self-reliant and reached a stable economic, environmental and social framework.”

This people-centered model uses a holistic approach that addresses health, livelihood and education needs and emphasises local ownership and leadership to nurture independence. The ultimate goals is to prepare people to continue on their own development regardless of external assistance.

While sufficiency economy has partly been characterised as contradicting capitalism and free market development, Diskul rejects this notion.

“In fact, we believe in the free market, as long as it doesn’t create and increase a gap between the poor and the wealthy. Sufficiency economy works with capitalist principles as capitalism is probably the most efficient system to create income, but it seeks to close this gap by defining what is enough – or sufficient – for a community. It basically tweaks capitalism. We are not working for shareholders, but for the people in a capitalist way, and the returns are social and environmental,” he says.

Mae Fah Luang Foundation makes $15 million in annual revenue, employs 1,200 people and provides $1.4 million per year to schools – including Montessori schools -, local businesses and for social support.

Hall of Opium Chiang Rai_Arno Maierbrugger
Hall of Opium in the Golden Triangle near Chiang Rai, created by Mae Fah Luang Foundation to reduce drug abuse through knowledge and education © Arno Maierbrugger

Its flagship project in Thailand is the Doi Tung Development Project launched in 1988, covering approximately 15,000 hectares of the Doi Tung mountain area at the heart of the so-called Golden Triangle, a major region of opium production in Southeast Asia, impacting 11,000 people in 29 villages. The project helped eradicate opium production in Thailand and develop the economically neglected area through sufficiency economy.

The Doi Tung region became financially self-sustainable by 2001 after it created the DoiTung Brand whose products range from coffee grounds and macadamia to clothes, home wares, stationary and tourism initiatives and even designer products sold by companies such as IKEA. The project has been lauded as “one of the world’s best examples of alternative development” by the United Nations.

Other past or present domestic initiatives of the foundation are a number of reforestation, water management and rural development projects in Thailand, as well as an opium eradication project in Shan state in Myanmar, an cannabis eradication project in Aceh, Indonesia, a rural rehabilitation and development project in Afghanistan and a farming project in Myanmar’s Magwe Region. The foundation also provides know-how to a self-reliant Muslim agricultural community in Bangkok’s suburban Nong Chok district, the Koiruttakwa community.

 

 

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

Rice field within the self-sufficient Koiruttakwa community in Bangkok’s northeastern suburb of Nong Chok © Arno Maierbrugger

Thailand has set the focus on promoting its “sufficiency economy” principle as a solution for sustainable development and in order to tackle economic difficulties of certain domestic communities. It is also increasingly exporting the concept which it sees as a “holistic” way of establishing economic self-reliance in developing countries globally, Investvine has learned.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Koiruttakwa community_Arno Maierbrugger
Rice field within the self-sufficient Koiruttakwa community in Bangkok’s northeastern suburb of Nong Chok © Arno Maierbrugger

Thailand has set the focus on promoting its “sufficiency economy” principle as a solution for sustainable development and in order to tackle economic difficulties of certain domestic communities. It is also increasingly exporting the concept which it sees as a “holistic” way of establishing economic self-reliance in developing countries globally, Investvine has learned.

The move comes in tandem with Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha presenting the sufficiency economy concept at a G77 meeting held in Bangkok on February 29 as “a model for many developing countries.”

One of the driving forces to implement the sufficiency economy model is the Mae Fah Luang Foundation, a Bangkok-based non-profit organisation that manages numerous projects within Thailand, as well as other countries in Asia. Launched in 1972 by the late Princess Srinagarindra, mother of the present King of Thailand, its goal is to provide people with sustainable livelihoods based on economic and social empowerment through efficiency and sustainability, but rejecting goals of continuous growth and increase of wealth just for wealth’s sake like in many conventional capitalist societies.

Investvine met with Dispanadda Diskul, Deputy CEO of Mae Fah Luang Foundation, whose projects raised international attention by global organisations such as UNESCO, UNIDO, UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) and UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), and whose flagship project is the still-running, highly successful opium eradication programme in northeastern Thailand and the subsequent economic empowerment of the locals.

“We are providing integrated development planning for people based on Thailand’s sufficiency economy model,” Diskul explains.

Dispanadda Diskul, Deputy CEO of Mae Fah Luang Foundation_Arno Maierbrugger
Dispanadda Diskul, Deputy CEO of Mae Fah Luang Foundation © Arno Maierbrugger

“The concept works in three steps: We start at the ‘survival’ level where we teach people to supply themselves with basic necessities such as basic food supply, healthcare, education and infrastructure. Then we help them entering the ‘sufficiency’ level where they reach a status of being capable of supplying themselves and even achieve excess supply of food and goods which they can sell. Last comes the ‘sustainability’ level on which the entire community has become self-reliant and reached a stable economic, environmental and social framework.”

This people-centered model uses a holistic approach that addresses health, livelihood and education needs and emphasises local ownership and leadership to nurture independence. The ultimate goals is to prepare people to continue on their own development regardless of external assistance.

While sufficiency economy has partly been characterised as contradicting capitalism and free market development, Diskul rejects this notion.

“In fact, we believe in the free market, as long as it doesn’t create and increase a gap between the poor and the wealthy. Sufficiency economy works with capitalist principles as capitalism is probably the most efficient system to create income, but it seeks to close this gap by defining what is enough – or sufficient – for a community. It basically tweaks capitalism. We are not working for shareholders, but for the people in a capitalist way, and the returns are social and environmental,” he says.

Mae Fah Luang Foundation makes $15 million in annual revenue, employs 1,200 people and provides $1.4 million per year to schools – including Montessori schools -, local businesses and for social support.

Hall of Opium Chiang Rai_Arno Maierbrugger
Hall of Opium in the Golden Triangle near Chiang Rai, created by Mae Fah Luang Foundation to reduce drug abuse through knowledge and education © Arno Maierbrugger

Its flagship project in Thailand is the Doi Tung Development Project launched in 1988, covering approximately 15,000 hectares of the Doi Tung mountain area at the heart of the so-called Golden Triangle, a major region of opium production in Southeast Asia, impacting 11,000 people in 29 villages. The project helped eradicate opium production in Thailand and develop the economically neglected area through sufficiency economy.

The Doi Tung region became financially self-sustainable by 2001 after it created the DoiTung Brand whose products range from coffee grounds and macadamia to clothes, home wares, stationary and tourism initiatives and even designer products sold by companies such as IKEA. The project has been lauded as “one of the world’s best examples of alternative development” by the United Nations.

Other past or present domestic initiatives of the foundation are a number of reforestation, water management and rural development projects in Thailand, as well as an opium eradication project in Shan state in Myanmar, an cannabis eradication project in Aceh, Indonesia, a rural rehabilitation and development project in Afghanistan and a farming project in Myanmar’s Magwe Region. The foundation also provides know-how to a self-reliant Muslim agricultural community in Bangkok’s suburban Nong Chok district, the Koiruttakwa community.

 

 

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