Opening Address


H.S.H. Prince Bhisatej Rajani

"Challenges in Agricultural Development under Global Force"

Dr. Shan,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I now declare this symposium open, and would like to take this opportunity to speak to you briefly.

The subject I would like to talk to you about concerns the highlands of Thailand. In our country we have an ethnic minorities population of about 600,000 who are referred to as the Hill Tribe peoples. Most of them, except for the Karen and the Lou, generally carry out slash and burn agriculture. They cut down the trees, burn them, plant rice, corns and then opium. They used the cleared land for maybe 3 or 4 years until the soil fertility has gone, then they move on. I think many of these peoples started migrating from China, and now they are in Thailand.

Just now, I mentioned opium, and many people in the world, including Thai people, have considered the land where opium is grown to be golden. About 30 years ago, His Majesty the King talked with the Hmong peoples near the royal palace in Chiang Mai. He found that apart from opium, the Hill Tribes had another income from growing a variety of small local peaches, with income was nearly the same as opium.

His Majesty knew that opium land was not golden at all. He said that if small peaches produced the same return as opium, bigger peaches would produce a bigger income. Thus he formed the Royal Projects and gave us an instruction to make the peaches bigger. This, we found, could be done by using better and improved varieties from abroad. I think we finally succeeded in getting suitable varieties from Florida in the USA.

Once we had filled the order to replace opium with fruit, the king also said that we should try vegetables and flowers of the temperate kind, which could produce very high income in a tropical country, like Thailand. The highlands are not tropical, they are temperate and yet, whatever we could produce would be considered as exotic in Thailand, and command higher prices. However, we had the problem that apart from opium, we did not know what could be grown there or how to grow it, so we began conducting a lot of research.

Three universities, several government departments, and other organizations helped us in the research. I understand that to date, we have succeeded in producing about 8 fruits that pay the farmers better than opium, plus many flower varieties, and around 80 different vegetables. If you go around our project areas and want to look at opium poppies, it's no longer possible. The Hill Tribes don't grow opium anymore, because other crops are more profitable for them.

Now, our principle consideration in highland organization is that the land should be given to the villagers, not to companies, or to people with a lot of money to take the land from the farmers. I should explain the hindrance we face is the scarcity of land, and people already there are having trouble obtaining income and food. If you were to go up there and produce a lot of cash, once you can show them the cash, and say that you want to buy the land they will sell it to you. They would never have seen so much money in their lives, but after a while their money would be gone and they would be hungry and be in trouble again. So we say that the land belongs to the village collectively and not to the individuals.

The villagers in fact are the Hill Tribes. They generally lack experience in growing anything but opium, or at least they did. They are also independent. They do what ever they like, mainly this means that the delivered quality is not as high as it possibly could be.

I mentioned that the quality is not absolutely the highest possible, but we have a very tight control of chemical use. We do a lot of checking into this aspect, as we wish to have no residual chemical toxicity in our produce. In quantity, it is difficult to produce as much or as little as should be done, because of, for instance, the weather.

Another consideration is that to grow crops anywhere, one has to consider the climate, or how low is the temperature, for example. Additionally, the distance to, and the condition of the roads must be taken into account. If we produce something fragile in a remote area, it spoils easily. So we have to consider this factor as well. Another difficult thing about our marketing position is that if something is in short stock in the markets, the local traders will go up and grab whatever produce they need from the farmers, so we in turn are then a bit short.

Now we come to the subject of marketing. We know that successful agribusiness comes from effective linking of production and marketing. For us, marketing is a little difficult, because we have to do everything ourselves and we are not professional marketers. We admit that we don't know very much about marketing. We are short of funds, which means that our packaging design is not as good as it could be, the product promotion, and the advertising is left lacking when compared to fully commercial organizations.

When I say that we have to do all the marketing, please consider that even the trucking has to be done by ourselves, and due to the climate we have to use expensive refrigerated trucks, which cost nearly 2 million baht each. We have to do the grading and the packing. We also have to provide cool storage for our produce when waiting for transport.

Because of the expenses behind these factors, we are now giving the responsibility of this work to a few other organizations or individuals. It has historically been the project doing the transportation, and the packaging, and so on. We have in the past done this alone. Today we are moving forward and advancing our clients' case as well. Now we try to get the Hill Tribes to do it themselves. In the highlands, some villages now even own their own refrigerated trucks.

Another advancement we have made has been to introduce a form of parallel marketing system. By this I mean that we do the retailing and the wholesaling ourselves. At the same time we appoint selected others to come and also partake in the retailing and wholesaling. Working closely together enables us to ensure that our purchasing friends do not engage in profiteering at the expense of the Hill Tribes, and of course they are still able to do a better job of the marketing than we are.

Possibly you may feel sorry for us, because we have to do so much work on such restricted budgets in order to aid so many people. Do not be. Sympathy will not advance our cause, but synergy will advance both our causes and yours. This international symposium has at it's core a search for that synergy, through international cooperation and information sharing. I would like to offer my thanks to all of you for participating and enabling the advances that those actions will bring.

If you will now excuse me, as I have spoken at greater length than I intended, I must cut short my speech and step down from the stage in order that the scheduled program may proceed.

Thank you all for listening, please enjoy this International Symposium on Agribusiness Management and it's host city of Chiang Mai.