TRAVEL PULSE Making development sustainable in Thailand by Lawrence Watson Lawrence Watson is a retired management consultant who recycled himself in 2000 to assist social enterprises develop sustainable economic activities. Lawrence is a member of the advisory board of the Mae Fah Luang Foundation (under Royal patronage) and the Doi Tung Development Project-Thailand. He lives in Brussels. In April, the UN General Assembly examined progress made in Alternative Development (AD) projects (“alternatives” to the cultivation of narcotic plants like opium). At last, there is recognition that narcotics are not the core “supply-side” issue – rather they are a symptom of the real root cause - poverty. So the challenge is to make AD projects truly effective over the long term and increasingly the development community is using the word “Sustainable”, demonstrating an expectation for more tangible results from such projects. One of the countries at the forefront of this effort has been Thailand. For over 15 years I have had the opportunity to observe a well-respected Thai royal foundation (MFLF), founded by the Thai King’s late mother “Mae Fah Luang.” MFLF has been in the forefront over a period of 40+years to ensure that development is indeed sustainable - creating a set of vibrant “social enterprises” that generate profits that – in turn – are used for even more community development. For me, the very word “development” suggests a dynamic journey from an unacceptable situation (poverty, absence of adequate health-care and education…) to one where debts are repaid, family incomes becomes sufficient and where savings are generated for hard times (crop failure, floods…). The Thai King calls this the “sufficiency economy” – a careful balance between “enough” and wasteful excess. Another word would be “sustainable”. Such a balanced development process only works however if it is underpinned by adequate health care, education and investment in infrastructure – integrated, holistic development. 36 The Thais have understood this; working in communities in the “Golden Triangle,” they have successfully replaced opium with alternative products. Initiatives like the Doi Tung Development Project have reforested the watershed area and planted easy-to-grow products like bananas and bamboo that you can use, eat and sell – a “sustenance forest”. Additionally, economic forests were created (coffee, macadamia nuts…) where products are professionally farmed. Elsewhere, vegetable gardens provide even more products for consumption and sale. More products…but more regenerated forest! But what’s new in that – what did the Thais do differently? Three points resume the approach. (1) Time required (2) Community acceptance (3) A focus on value-added opportunities as the development journey unfolds. 1. Development takes time – quick shot 2 year programmes can improve things temporarily but are not enough to build sustainable change. Value-chains and behavior change are not created in 2 years; education alone takes 12, providing the skills needed to undertake higher value-added activities.