Written by Jessica Blosberg, University of Minnesota
As we flew away from Chiang Mai and rose above the cloud level this afternoon, my breath was taken away at how beautiful the sunset was. My mind started wander, and I kept thinking about how blessed we are. What an experience it has been to be exploring such a beautiful country, learning about agriculture, and spending time with some of our greatest friends from across the USA? During our time in Chiang Mai and Fang, we were introduced to agricultural methods and concepts many of us had never dreamed of before, or had only seen in pictures. Personally, I was excited to learn about rice and tea production, as I have not been able to study them in-depth and up close until this trip.
The concept of the Royal Projects in Thailand is something I have dreamed of, but have not seen in action, and when I have, it has not been successful. Thailand’s King started the Royal Projects in 1969 and has devoted much time and money to seeing it through, making sure the hills tribe people of northern Thailand have opportunities for good quality of life as much as farmers in the lowlands, or citizens whom reside in the cities. Our visit this morning took us to the Nong Hoi Royal Project Development Center. They are in the highlands of northern Thailand, which allows them to focus on growing crops that are more suitable for higher altitudes, rather than growing common low-altitude crops or tree crops. Strawberries, grapes, raspberries, mulberries, lettuce, plums, chilis, and bell peppers are a few of the crops grown in this area. These are cash crops in Thailand. One unique part of the Royal Projects is how dedicated they are to environmental conservation. For example, this area is 4,000 rai, which is equivalent to about 1,581 acres. Due to surrounding forests, and the Royal Projects intending to not promote deforestation, this area is not expected to grow.
The Nong Hoi Royal Project community consists of 150 families, and approximately 520 people. Farmers are provided seed by the Royal Projects, and are expected to grow the crop, and then sell it back to the group. At the development center, the crops are trimmed, washed, and stored until they can be sent to a processing center for packaging and shipping to consumers and stores. The whole Royal Projects program works together across 38 locations in the northern provinces of Thailand. It was started by the King, and he has visited many of the farms and visited with farmers and villagers over the years, but it has been continued by the people who respect and look up to him.
The original purpose of the Royal Projects was to replace poppy crops (opium) with cash crops that produce food, in order to help people in the highlands in the northern part of Thailand. It has since been successful, and continues to provide communities with more profitable and comfortable lifestyles. The new crops that replaced the poppies have brought in more, or an equal amount of income, meaning that farmers have had a good incentive to switch to not supporting the opium supply. Along with alternative, more useful crops, education, healthcare, and community-building have been focuses of the Royal Projects and the improvements they bring to the tribespeople. Overall, I have been impressed by the Royal Projects. They have been successful, are globally recognized, have programs in other countries modeled after their success, and give a very positive impression of the Thai culture and its progress to making lives better for its people.