ROYAL FOOD ON YOUR TA­BLE

SIAM PARAGON MAKES ROOM FOR A NORTH­ERN FEAST OF HILLTRIBE PRO­DUCE IN THE THIRD ROYAL PROJECT MAR­KET

The Nation - - FRONT PAGE - EKKARAT SUKPETCH

BANGKOK RES­I­DENTS can this week again stock up on pro­duce grown in the North by hill­tribes earn­ing in­come through projects ini­ti­ated by His Majesty the late King Bhu­mi­bol Adulyadej.

The Royal Project Mar­ket re­turns to Siam Paragon for the third time from Thurs­day through Novem­ber 30.

The mall’s Hall of Fame and Parc Paragon will be trans­formed into a “Food from the Earth” farm­ers’ mar­ket, where the fo­cus will this year be on figs, rhubarb, peaches, straw­ber­ries, kid­ney beans, rice, meat and fish, and cof­fee and tea.

Chefs will be on hand show­ing visi­tors the best ways to pre­pare the foods for the health­i­est out­come, as ap­pe­tis­ers, sal­ads, mains, desserts and drinks. The recipes they demon­strate will in­clude Kid­ney Bean Rice Pan­cakes, Spicy Grilled Beef with Rhubarb, and Spicy Rain­bow Trout Salad (with Lisu chilli dip!)

An ex­hi­bi­tion will re­count King Bhu­mi­bol’s Royal Project Foun­da­tion, which helps north­ern farm­ers de­velop crops that can thrive at high al­ti­tudes and in cold tem­per­a­tures.

Switch­ing to these more suit­able crops brought an end to the slash-and­burn agri­cul­ture, de­for­esta­tion and cul­ti­va­tion of opium that once pre­vailed in the area.

Hi-tech map­ping vi­su­als will trace the foun­da­tion’s his­tory as the re­gion was trans­formed. Denuded moun­tains and slopes car­peted with pop­pies gave way to the re­plen­ished forests and ver­dant crop­lands seen to­day.

“There are now 39 Royal Project de­vel­op­ment cen­tres with 200,000 mem­bers in 40,000 fam­i­lies across six north­ern prov­inces,” says the foun­da­tion’s mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor, Narongchai Pi­patthana­wong.

“We’ve care­fully selected the prod­ucts for this event to show­case our suc­cess in not only pro­duc­ing high-qual­ity pro­duce for the mar­ket, but also in bring­ing sus­tain­able lives to lo­cal peo­ple.”

The foun­da­tion’s book “Food for Health” will be un­veiled at the mar­ket. It too is about the late monarch and his suc­cess in re­plac­ing opium cul­ti­va­tion with le­gal cash crops. It also pro­files the nine prod­ucts high­lighted at the mar­ket and fea­tures sev­eral recipes for them.

The Royal Project de­vel­op­ment cen­tres present fas­ci­nat­ing over­views of sus­tain­able liv­ing and the means for al­le­vi­at­ing poverty. I re­cently vis­ited projects in Chi­ang Mai to learn how the high-qual­ity pro­duce is grown and raised.

Figs re­quire painstak­ing ef­fort in a cli­mate like Thai­land’s. They were first planted about 30 years ago at Royal Agri­cul­tural Sta­tion Angkhang in Fang district, the Royal Project’s orig­i­nal re­search sta­tion. The ex­per­i­ment failed there and fared no bet­ter on Doi In­thanon. It was just too cool for the fig trees to pro­duce fruit.

But the tem­per­a­ture is warmer at the Pang Da Royal Project De­vel­op­ment Cen­tre in Samo­eng district, and figs have been grown there for the mar­ket, though they re­quire care­ful han­dling while they ma­ture un­der roofs. Too much rain causes the roots to rot and high hu­mid­ity leads to rust un­der the leaves. The trees are also vul­ner­a­ble to in­sects such as the longhorned bee­tle, which bites a hole in the stem to lay its eggs. The holes are fa­tal to the trees.

Figs are now also grown at the Mae Sa Mai Royal De­vel­op­ment Cen­tre in Mae Rim district, and three va­ri­eties are be­ing cul­ti­vated – Black Genoa, Brown Turkey and Black Mis­sion. The Royal Projects cur­rently pro­duce be­tween 300 and 1,000 kilo­grams of figs a week.

The book “Food for Health” ex­plains that King Bhu­mi­bol loved eat­ing figs, a taste he ac­quired as a child in Switzer­land. Her Royal High­ness the late Princess Mother was well aware of their healthy ben­e­fits. She once eased the pain of his aph­t­hous ul­cer with a thin slice of fresh fig over the blis­ters.

Rich in cal­cium, fi­bre, cop­per, man­ganese, mag­ne­sium, potas­sium and many an­tiox­i­dants, figs can also help con­trol blood pres­sure.

More than a decade was spent find­ing the right kind of peach to grow in Thai­land. The Am­phan Angkhang grown on Doi Angkhang is named for its golden flesh. Mainly sweet with just a lit­tle tang, it’s per­fect for jam and smooth­ies and can be cooked with syrup for a re­fresh­ing treat.

Ev­ery March and April the Royal Project also raises three other peach vari­ants – Earligrande, Tropic Beauty and Jade.

“One day His Majesty asked the Hmong what was their source of in­come, apart from opium,” the foun­da­tion’s chair­man, His Serene High­ness Prince Bhisadej Ra­jani re­calls in the book.

“They said ‘peaches’, and told the King the in­come from grow­ing opium and their small peaches was about the same. His Majesty thought that, if even a small peach could earn the same as opium and if it could be made to grow big­ger and taste bet­ter, it could prob­a­bly gen­er­ate more in­come.”

His Majesty asked Kaset­sart Uni­ver­sity re­searchers to look into the mat­ter and do­nated Bt200,000 from his own pocket to es­tab­lish the Royal Hill Tribe As­sis­tance Project in 1969. That be­came the Royal Project in 1980 and the Royal Project Foun­da­tion in 1992.

Rhubarb is grown only at the Royal Agri­cul­tural Sta­tion Angkhang and Khun Huay Haeng sub-cen­tre. Its cul­ti­va­tion is so tricky and time-con­sum­ing that it hasn’t yet been en­cour­aged else­where. Ex­per­i­men­ta­tion is on­go­ing. Typ­i­cally, it takes a year for the stalks to be­come ad­e­quately fleshy. Both green and red va­ri­eties are grown and they’ve been found suit­able for pies and jams as well as savoury dishes.

In 1974, hill peo­ple were urged to grow more cof­fee rather than opium af­ter King Bhu­mi­bol trekked for seven kilo­me­tres to see the plan­ta­tion at Baan Nong Lom, a Karen vil­lage on Doi In­thanon.

“He’d heard we planted cof­fee and came to visit,” says Payo Tharo, who was the head­man there at the time.

“He con­vinced us to stop grow­ing pop­pies and gave us bet­ter cof­fee shrubs to plant in­stead. To­day our vil­lage pro­duces about four tonnes of un­pro­cessed cof­fee a year.”

The ara­bica cof­fee grown in the shade at Doi In­thanon is dis­tinc­tive for its aroma, bal­anced taste and low caf­feine con­tent of just 1 or 2 per cent. It’s fared well enough in Thai­land that it’s grown at 24 de­vel­op­ment cen­tres – in­volv­ing a to­tal of 9,491 rai and 2,600 farm­ers, who can pro­duce 400 to 500 tonnes un­pro­cessed a year, and the Royal Project guar­an­tees their prices.

Shaken and bounced about as his Land Rover ne­go­ti­ated the North’s treach­er­ous “disco roads”, as he jok­ingly called them, King Bhu­mi­bol ar­rived in Baan Mae Thor in Hod district 48 years ago. He prod­ded the lo­cal farm­ers to try grow­ing red kid­ney beans, which would eas­ily sur­vive the long haul to dis­tant ur­ban mar­kets.

Easy to cul­ti­vate, the kid­ney bean wants lit­tle more than sun and welldrained soil. The US Agri­cul­tural Re­search Ser­vice sup­plied the ini­tial seeds, but the Royal Project sub­se­quently de­vel­oped new species that can gen­er­ate two har­vests a year, one of the project’s big­gest suc­cess sto­ries.

Fish farm­ing and an­i­mal hus­bandry are also part of the suc­cess it’s en­joyed. Rain­bow trout for the ta­ble, stur­geon for the black caviar, Bresse chicken, pheas­ants, sheep for wool – these are all the fruits of His Majesty’s fore­sight and ded­i­ca­tion.

Ter­raced rice fields are one fea­ture of Baan Mae Klang Luang on Doi In­thanon – the other is stur­geon-breed­ing farms.

Work­ers pluck frag­ile tea leaves at the Khun Wang Royal De­vel­op­ment Cen­tre.

Cherry ara­bica cof­fee is cul­ti­vated at Baan Nong Lom on the slopes of Doi In­thanon.

Peaches in syrup are a top seller for the Royal Project.

Rhubarb is prov­ing trick­ier to adapt and is thus far grown only in two lo­cales.

Red kid­ney beans are sturdy enough for long hauls to dis­tant mar­kets.

High­land brown rice is high in fi­bre and Vi­ta­min B1.

Figs de­mand a roof if they’re to be suc­cess­fully nur­tured.

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