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Home > Opinion > Sufficiency approach vital in globalised times

Sufficiency approach vital in globalised times

The Sufficiency Economy is an innovative approach to development designed for practical application over a wide range of problems and situations.

This approach was formulated by His Majesty the King as a result of his long experience in development work. Owing to its practical nature, its robust simplicity, and its special relevance in the era of globalisation, the approach deserves to be more widely known.

His Majesty ascended to the throne of Thailand on June 9, 1946 at the age of eighteen. From early in his reign he showed that he would become a most unusual monarch for the modern age. He grew rice, bred fish and kept cows in the palace compound. He liked clumping around muddy fields directing irrigation projects. He became a pioneer in devising techniques for purifying water by aeration and rainmaking through cloud seeding. He spent as much time as possible on tours around the country, talking to the people, launching development projects, and checking on their results.

His reign almost exactly coincides with the "development era" in Thailand. By most conventional measures, Thailand's development has been a great success. But from early in his reign, His Majesty recognised that the pattern of Thailand's development carried great risks. In particular, the smallholder farmers who made up the largest segment of the population were in danger of being ignored in this development, or else becoming its victims.

His Majesty did not object to national policy, which would be beyond his constitutional role. Instead, he provided practical demonstrations of an alternative path and its results. He developed technologies, infrastructure, and production systems that were appropriate for the small-scale farmer. He launched thousands of projects to implement these measures for the benefit of local communities. And he founded development centres to catalogue and disseminate the findings.

Through this time, he also meditated on the practical findings from these projects, filtered through a spiritual approach to life. From the 1970s onwards, he spoke about these meditations - first mainly to groups of students at university graduation ceremonies, later to a national audience on television. His thoughts were partly in the form of general principles of living - the importance of learning, ethics, perseverance, tolerance - and partly practical observations on development at the local level and the national level.

Ultimately, His Majesty's ideas were dubbed the Sufficiency Economy, which can be summarised in the following way. The Sufficiency Economy is an approach to life and conduct which is applicable at every level from the individual through the family and community to the management and development of the nation. It promotes a middle path, especially in developing the economy to keep up with the world in the era of globalisation. Sufficiency has three key principles: moderation; wisdom or insight; and the need for built-in resilience against the risks which arise from internal or external change. In addition, those applying these principles must value knowledge, integrity, and honesty, and conduct their lives with perseverance, toleration, wisdom, and insight.

Sufficiency in this sense should not be confused with self-sufficiency, turning inward, rejecting globalisation, or retreating towards the mirage of a simpler world. Rather, this approach offers a way to cope with the unavoidable realities of the market and globalisation in the contemporary world. The Sufficiency approach stresses that individuals need a certain measure of self-reliance to deal best with the market, and countries need a certain measure of self-reliance to deal with globalisation. Sufficiency has the dual meaning of "not too little" and "not too much". The principle of moderation or the middle way is a guide for finding the right balance between internal resources and external pressures, between the needs of society at the grassroots, and the imperatives of the global economy.

The "Thailand National Human Development Report 2007" focuses on these ideas.  The approach of human development puts people and their wellbeing at the centre of development and provides an alternative to the traditional, more narrowly focused economic growth paradigm.

Human development is about people, and about expanding their choices and capabilities to live long, healthy, knowledgeable, and creative lives.

The thinking on the Sufficiency Economy clearly belongs in the realm of human development. It focuses on humanity, makes sustainability key, favours wellbeing over wealth, and insists on the importance of learning. However, there are additional reasons why this theme has been selected for this report.

First, the thinking on the Sufficiency Economy has developed as a very practical effort to achieve the goals of human development, and has won support because of its simple realism. As such, it represents a fund of learning developed from the bottom-up, which has real practical applicability in other places that face similar challenges in this globalised world.

Second, it goes beyond much development thinking by linking the search for people-centred, sustainable development with the cultivation of human values. In short, it is not so much about technique as about right thinking. As such, it helps to add a new depth to the idea of human development.

On 26 May 2006, UN secretary-general Kofi Annan presented a Human Development Lifetime Achievement Award to His Majesty. He said, "His Majesty's 'Sufficiency Economy' philosophy…is of great relevance to communities everywhere during these times of rapid globalisation.

The philosophy's "middle way" approach strongly reinforces the United Nations' own advocacy of a people-centred and sustainable path toward human development. His Majesty's development agenda and visionary thinking are an inspiration to his subjects, and to people everywhere".

At present there is no comprehensive analysis in English of how His Majesty's ideas evolved, what they mean, how they are used, and what is their potential scope. In recognition of the 60th anniversary of His Majesty's reign, and in the belief that his thinking is a significant contribution to human development, this year's Human Development Report for Thailand is devoted to the Sufficiency Economy.

Dr Chris Baker is the principal writer and editor of the United Nations Development Programme's "Thailand Human Development Report 2007: Sufficiency Economy and Human Development".

This is an overview from that report.

The full report can be downloaded at: http://www.undp.or.th/nhdr2007/index.html

Chris Baker


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