WE ARE AN ADMIRER OF THE LATE THAI KING
(Memoirs of an Agri Journalist)
On two occasions, we were able to tour his Chitralada projects in the 100-hectare villa where the royal family’s palace in Bangkok is located. As early as the late 1950s, a big portion of the Chitralada Villa was converted into some kind of an agricultural research station with the King having hands-on involvement.
Filipino politicians and private individuals are not exactly right when they say that the Thais learned how to produce rice from Los Baños and the irony is that we have been importing rice from Thailand for so many years. No, as early as the late 1950s, the King had initiated the collection of various strains of rice from different parts of the country and field trials were conducted at Chitralada to select the best ones. The best rice farming practices were also disseminated. During the traditional yearly Royal Ploughing Ceremony in May, just before the rains came, the best seeds were distributed to the farmers for them to plant in their farms. At the Chitralada, high production was not only the goal. They also experimented on adding value to farm wastes like the husks which were turned into briquettes for industrial fuel.
The late King also played the most important role in promoting dairying in Thailand. It all started when the king of Denmark gifted the Royal Couple with a few head of dairy cattle. King Bhumibol got so interested in milk production that he inspired the Thai scientists to eventually develop a Holstein Friesian breed that is adapted to the tropical climate of Thailand.
It did not take long for the Thai farmers to get into serious dairy farming. And soon there was surplus milk being produced. So, what did King Bhumibol do? He established a milk processing plant at the Chitralada Villa where farmers sold their excess milk. The facility processed the milk into bottled fresh milk, yoghurt, cheese, ice cream, powdered milk and even tablets. Small packs of milk tablets are very convenient for school children to bring with them to class.
The Nongpho Dairy Cooperative in Ratchaburi province is Thailand’s biggest dairy coop and is under Royal Patronage. In 2017, it was reported to have sales of its products amounting to 3-billion baht. The King was said to own about half of the co-op’s shares of stocks.
In the briefing that we received during our two visits to the co-op, we learned that King Bhumibol gave back much of the dividends he received to the co-op for the scholarship of the farmers’ children, for research and development, and for extension work.
The Nongpho co-op had 5,000 dairy farmers as members during our first visit about seven years ago. They were taking care of at least 50,000 dairy cows.
When we asked our companion from our Department of Agriculture how many dairy cows we had in the Philippines, we were told that we had at that time more or less 40,000, about 17,000 head of which were in the milkline. “Wow,” we were virtually
floored and blurted, how we wished we also had a king in the Philippines who could have done the same as King Bhumibol to our own milk industry.
Aside from rice and dairy projects at the Chitralada Villa, King Bhumibol initiated development projects as early as 1961, including experiments in mushroom production, fish culture, forestry, energy, and other interrelated matters.
From the second floor of the reception hall where visitors are given a briefing on the various activities in the Chitralada projects, we saw a pond stocked with fish (tilapia). All around the edge of the pond, Vetiver grass was planted to keep the soil from being eroded.
It turns out that Vetiver grass was the King’s favorite plant for his soil conservation projects.
A book containing the Thai King’s Royal Activities and International Cooperation.
The Thai King’s initiative in dairying once resulted in a surplus of milk production.
The Thai King walking through a muddy field.
Vetiver planted in a badly degraded soil to prevent further erosion and soil degradation.
Experiment on Vetiver grass to find out how long the roots can go down the soil.
Members of a co-op helped by the Thai King show their export quality mangoes.