วันพฤหัสบดีที่ 25 มีนาคม พ.ศ. 2553

living off the land

not be destroyed. We must restore the forest which has been destroyed so that it will be revived — both the natural forest and the farmed timber forest are for people's use.
"We must improve the quality of the people's lives. They should have stable livelihoods and land to farm, and not suffer hardship. The people should live in harmony with the forest, like a little house in the big forest, with the people serving as the guardians of the forest."
With these words, Her Majesty Queen Sirikit initiated the Highland Agricultural Development project in 2002, after visiting highland communities in the northern provinces of Phayao, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.
Throughout the 60-year reign of His Majesty King Bhumiphol Adulyadej, Her Majesty has long been concerned about the intertwined problems of deforestation and rural poverty. An enthusiastic naturalist who has accompanied His Majesty the King in his travels to all corners of the nation, Her Majesty has become keenly aware of the environmental problems facing the country due to increased population pressure and forest encroachment, as well as large-scale commercial activities such as logging.
During her annual birthday address, which takes place this month, and in speeches upcountry to both government officials and local villagers alike, she often makes an impassioned plea for the Thai people to join hands to help save the nation's precious natural resources. "In 10 years time, we will face a water shortage. The way to solve this problem is through reforestation", Her Majesty declared in January 2004 during a trip to Doi Bo Village in Muang District, Chiang Rai province, awakening her audience to the severity of the problem facing not only the village, but to the country as a whole.
Located in remote areas upwards of 500 metres in altitude, many of the communities included in the project were impoverished, relying on the exploitation of increasingly scarce natural resources to eke out a living, by cultivating rice, maize, opium poppies and gathering forest products. Most of the villages are communities of the Akha, Muser, Yao, Lahu and Lisu hill tribes. A number are located along drug-trafficking routes near the Burmese border.and-burn agricultural practices led not only to deforestation, but also to forest fires, soil erosion and the destruction of natural watersheds. The resulting water scarcity made farming even more difficult and exacerbated the problem of food scarcity. Poor nutrition was coupled with bad sanitation and housing conditions, contributing to diseases and weak health. The below-subsistence conditions forced youth to migrate into the towns looking for higher-paid jobs, leaving only children and old people behind in the villages.
Trapped in this vicious cycle, the villagers in these areas faced an uncertain future with decreasing agricultural yields and income, thus encouraging further encroachment of watershed areas. Meanwhile, this pressure on the land took a toll on the environment, with barren hilltops, flash floods and dwindling streams becoming an increasingly common occurrence in the once lush and verdant forests that covered Northern Thailand.
In response to these problems, Her Majesty the Queen launched the Highland Agricultural Development project in order to offer the communities there a better quality of life; to help them learn and apply agricultural theories to earn a living; to safeguard and renew natural resources such as the forest, land and water; and to support the governmental policy of eradicating instability and drug problems in the border areas. In line with all the Royal Development Projects, this project is founded on the principle of helping the people in order to enable them to help themselves and become self-supporting. Learning by example, they are able to use their knowledge to benefit themselves in the long term.
The development project is guided by the "sufficiency economy" philosophy of His Majesty the King. His Majesty has defined sufficiency as "...having enough to live on and to live... It means having enough and being satisfied with the situation. If people are satisfied with their needs, they will be less greedy. With less greed, they will cause less trouble to other people." Articulated and put into practice more than 30 years ago, the philosophy emphasises following the middle path in both the development and management of the country at every level of society, from the family up to communities to the state. In agricultural production, farmers are encouraged to learn to first produce enough for their own consumption and sustenance, before marketing the surplus to others.In keeping with the holistic approach to the development work undertaken by the Royal Family, which encompasses all dimensions of human development from health to education to security, the project enjoys full co-operation from a wide range of government agencies, local government and the villagers themselves. Each partner has actively contributed their expertise and goodwill for the success of the project — among this long list are the district and provincial governments, the Royal Thai Army, the Natural Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, this last part of the government includes groups as diverse as the Land Development Department, the Royal Irrigation Department, the Livestock Department and the Fisheries Department.
Currently, there are 18 project sites under Her Majesty's patronage in the three provinces. At each of the sites, a Highland Agricultural Station has been established. Providing both land and technical expertise, each station serves as a learning centre for the local villagers in the production of highland crops, with an emphasis on using appropriate agricultural practices. Under the guidance of agricultural professionals, the villagers test crops suitable to the cold climate, as a substitute or supplement for the crops they are already growing. The project emphasises a non-toxic approach to agriculture, eschewing chemical fertilisers and pesticides in favour of organic alternatives. Her Majesty has noted with concern that these "chemicals are very harmful. They ruin the land and destroy the forests. We should find a way to control their use, for the benefit of the country."

At any one station, hundreds of fruit trees are planted —including persimmons, pears, peaches, chestnuts, macadamia nuts and avocados. Arabica coffee has flourished at this altitude. Garden vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, pumpkins are also grown for local consumption and for the market. The vegetables are sold in nearby villages, Chiang Mai and Bangkok. In the future, dedicated urban retail outlets will provide city dwellers easy access to the garden-fresh produce year round.Her Majesty has also encouraged the planting of flowering trees and plants, which would attract tourists in the future, providing income to the villagers from eco-tourism.
By going through the complete agricultural cycle from land preparation to planting seedlings, transplanting, care taking and harvesting, the villagers gain confidence in their enhanced skills. They are then able to introduce the techniques on their own farms, leading to higher productivity and yields, allowing for increased home consumption, lower food expenses, and most importantly, better health and nutrition.
The villagers learn to develop and maintain small-scale irrigation systems using check dams, irrigation channels and ponds for storing and directing water. The hillsides are terraced to maximise arable land and to help shore up the slopes. The villagers are helped to set up agricultural co-operatives in order to establish production and marketing plans. Some of the co­operatives have started agro micro-industries to increase the value-added potential of their products.
To supplement the villagers' nutritional sources, fish and frogs are released into the waterways, while poultry, sheep, goats and other livestock are raised both for food as well as for products like wool. In recognition of the Convention of Biological Diversity, Her Majesty has stressed the need for surveys of the existing species in the area at the start of the project, and to monitor their populations carefully after the introduction of these animals, in order to determine the impact on the local eco-system.In addition to the land devoted to cultivation — typically numbering in the hundreds of rai — an even more substantial area, often at least one thousand rai or more, is set aside for reforestation and conservation activities, in accordance with the project's overall land and water conservation strategy. Vetiver grass is grown on steep slopes to prevent erosion and check dams are constructed in watershed areas to help retain water. Trees are planted in deforested and watershed areas. Community forests are cultivated for fuel and for use by the villagers. A number of near-extinct and endangered species of flora and fauna are raised and released back into the wild, including native birds, deer and forest orchids. The work is undertaken by a corps of volunteer forest rangers, comprised of the villagers themselves, who pledge their services for the protection of the forest.
As with all Royal initiatives, at the heart of the Highland Agricultural Development project remains the well-being of the people in the immediate area. Since its start, thousands of villagers have been directly touched by the project. Tens of thousands more have benefitted indirectly as the lessons from the agricultural stations have been transferred to surrounding communities, who have since learned how to improve their agricultural and ecological practices for a sustainable and self-sustaining future. Indeed, the loving concern and gracious wisdom of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit has been a blessing for the entire country, as the forests of Thailand are being renewed and the watersheds saved.