04 March 2012

Self-Sufficiency: Paw-yoo-paw-kin

Since 1973, ubiquitous King Bhumibol has proposed a "Philosophy of a Sufficiency Economy." This connotes sufficiency, moderation, and economizing for agricultural communities, but on a deeper level, what kind of farming does this support?

During our agriculture unit and home stay (in Yasothon Province in Northeast Thailand) there seemed to be widespread support for this initiative. However, I struggled to gauge what effect it was actually having on quotidian agriculture practices. There seems to be a huge disparity between what the government supports with its policies, what the king promotes and how farmers farm. Government policies have generally supported the import of chemicals from China, with the market now surpassing $250 million. Chemical farming has long since become the norm, partly because Thai cities were built on the rice tax imposed in the 50's and Thailand is now one of the world largest exporters of Jasmine rice. The majority of this rice is grown using pesticides to increase the yield on a crop that Thailand cannot afford to lose. Thailand is a 95% Buddhist country, and within Buddhism there is an important tenet – paw-yoo-paw-kin, or self-sufficiency. Thai people are being bombarded by notions of self-sufficiency from every angle, but when asked about their motivations they still seem to diverge from the King's and Buddhism's teachings. Throughout our exchanges, everyone we asked from members of the Alternative Agriculture Network, conventional farmers, even sugarcane companies were all supportive of the initiative. However, when asked why most farmers switched to organic farming, their motivations were never because of the initiative but for health, social and economic reasons.

I stayed in the home of two organic farmers, Mae Jim and Paw who transitioned almost twenty years ago because of health reasons. They plant rice, herd buffalo, raise chicken and have an edible garden. Their meals are comprised of herbs, fruits, vegetables, rice, eggs and chicken from their own land. Each week Mae Jim goes to the market three times to sell produce and buy produce other members of the local organic community. This community is extremely tight-knit within the community it is normal for villagers to trade produce with each other, and help each other with their harvest. These exchanges have led the organic villages to become primarily self-sufficient. Meanwhile, comparable conventional farming villages rely on their crops for exports. Their food goes far away, and the food they eat comes from far away. Based off of these trends it would seem that a switch to self-sufficiency would also entail a switch to organic, but that is not what the government seems to be proposing.

-Fay Walker

Occidental College


Mina Dinh said...

I’ve been really interested in the theory of Sufficiency Economy since I read about it on the airplane. The theory itself does not state how one should practice agriculture; the theory is mostly abstract ideas. And I think that’s why there is a major difference between government and village initiatives. Both sides can make valid arguments for how their actions follow Sufficiency Economy. While in Yasothon, I didn’t notice how the theory factored into the switch to organic farming. However, in Roi Et, I saw many posters about it. Perhaps it was because they have just begun their movement, and they are using the theory to unify the village. My mother from Roi Et told me that she follows Sufficiency Economy and pointed to the few bananas and pineapples that she grew. While the theory doesn’t say that one should grow a few crops, she is certainly interpreting a few tenets of the theory and putting it into practice.

Anaise Williams said...

The idea of self-sufficiency has always interested me. I’m struggling with the fact that it would make sense for governments to both promote self-sufficiency and not promote it for the sake of the economy. It makes sense to me that governments would not promote organic because of product output. In Thailand’s case, it appears that many self-sufficient citizens switch to organic only because of individual/family health problems and not for the greater population’s sake. For instance in a sugar cane village many villagers use chemicals for their fields, but then have a small organic patch from which they eat from. In an exchange with the Green Market, the discussion of transitioning was mostly centered on rashes and high blood-chemical levels rather than national self-sufficiency. I would be interested in going back to agricultural communities and getting direct opinions on the King’s self-sufficiency concepts.

Alex Acuña said...

I agree with Fay that the government doesn't practice what it preaches, but sometimes their actions are downright ridiculous. I remember in the Land Unit when we visited a community forest, and the villagers told us the government (I forget which office) cut down a huge swath of forest just to plant 999 in the kings honor. At the same time, villagers are persecuted for picking herbs from the forest. Even if the government is going to de facto encourage the reliance on imported chemicals, one would think they would support some semblance of sufficiency by allowing villagers to live off the land.