(Mem­oirs of an Agri Jour­nal­ist)

Agriculture - - The King And I -

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.

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