How do natural resources relate to national security? This question has been at the heart of a joint workshop of Thailand’s Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) and IUCN held in Chiang Mai from 29-31 May 2013.
ISOC has recognized that natural resources and livelihood development are intrinsically linked to national security and that natural resource degradation is a major threat to local communities. This is why it has been given the mission to expand the Royal Initiative Projects to Thailand’s 34 border provinces.
The Royal Projects were initiated by His Majesty the King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand over 50 years ago with the aim to help rural and marginalized people improve their quality of life, secure sustainable livelihoods and conserve natural resources. They are based on the principle of sufficiency economy, which consists in securing basic needs and happiness instead of greed, and on good governance.
The Royal Projects can serve as a model for ISOC to improve livelihoods and natural resource use in the border provinces of Thailand. IUCN, on the other hand, will bring its experience in working with communities to conserve nature and develop sustainable agricultural practices in a multi-stakeholder approach.
“The aim of the workshop is to exchange ideas and experiences in order to identify the best ways to extend the Royal Projects to more areas”, explained Dr Robert Mather, Head of IUCN Southeast Asia Group.
At the opening of the workshop, Mr Suwat Thep-Arak, Secretary-General of the Royal Development Projects Board, emphasized, “this is the right moment for the army to open up and to expand national security to the conservation of natural resources, water, forests, energy, and livelihoods to help people conserve nature and the environment”.
“In the past, the threats and conflicts came from the outside, while nowadays conflicts oftentimes come from the inside”, added Mr Adisak Tanyakul, Deputy Secretary-General of the National Security Council (NSC).
During the workshop, which had been made possible through the financial support from PTTEP and Total E&P Thailand, the participants learned about the foundations of the Royal Projects and shared their own experiences and practices. Different guest speakers presented examples of royal projects, including the Royal Agricultural Station in Ang Khang. This agricultural station was initiated in 1969 by His Majesty the King to conduct research on temperate climate fruit, and to encourage the local hill tribes to cultivate crops such as fruit and flowers instead of growing opium.
In a study visit to the Royal Development Centre “Huai Hong Krai” in Doi Saket, Chiang Mai, the participants learned how this study centre conducts research and implements activities in the fields of conservation of watersheds, reforestation and agricultural development.
In the brainstorming sessions, the participants highlighted important points and recommendations. First and foremost, in order to engage local communities, it is critical to respond to the needs and wishes of local communities and to take stock of local knowledge. Indeed, as one participant explained, “development starts from within”. The involvement of different stakeholders such as the private sector, the regional and district government, local schools, and learning centres is also a key for success. Finally, the participants identified devoted leadership and good coordination with the central government as necessary conditions for the successful implementation of the projects.
“The Royal Projects are a major force in putting His Majesty the King’s philosophy of moderation, responsible consumption, and resilience into practice”, said Dr Wiwat Salyakamthorn, President of the Agri-Nature Foundation, and he encouraged the representatives of ISOC to be ‘warriors against poverty’ and leaders of change.
Mr Saimuang Wiriyasiri, Advisor to the Royal Initiative Projects, added, “the sufficiency economy is not a theory, but a philosophy or way of life. Our actions need to be guided by this philosophy and each action needs to add knowledge and understanding.”
The first activities to expand the Royal Projects will be implemented in 12 pilot provinces in a joint effort by ISOC and IUCN. Activities could include capacity building of local communities in forestry, the strengthening of livelihoods through the promotion of agricultural and other potential off-farm products, and the conservation of protected areas.
“By replicating and expanding the success stories of the Royal Projects, ISOC and IUCN can contribute to create a sustainable and prosperous future for the communities of the 34 provinces whose livelihoods depend on natural resources”, concluded Major-General Gamon Suwabhabh, Director of ISOC Coordination Office Unit 6.
As the army opens up to work with different sectors toward sustainability, the expansion of the Royal Initiative Projects can bring better livelihoods, quality of life and jobs to the people. By pulling our strengths and resources together, we can solve the real challenges of access to resources while strengthening national security.