This is my fourth post on Thailand’s 2007 Human Development Report. It discusses chapter 3, “Sufficiency economy in action”.

This chapter is another public relations piece for the sufficiency economy approach. It discusses a range of broadly defined sufficiency economy initiatives at local, corporate and national levels. The main case study discussed is the Inpaeng Network in northeast Thailand. The activities are described in terms of the three-stage model of local development discussed in my previous post. Network members started by turning away from cash cropping to local subsistence production; they then developed a range of external economic relations based on the clever identification, processing and marketing of local products. The result is a sufficiency success story:

The communities of the Inpaeng Network are far from being isolated from the outside world and the pressures of globalization. Almost every household has a TV, and over half have a mobile phone. More and more children go to secondary schools in town and are exposed to the consumerist fashion of the age. The decision to retreat from mono-cash-cropping almost a generation ago was not a withdrawal from the world. Through their connections to markets, government agencies, universities, other networks and even Japanese schools, they are much more broadly and deeply involved in the outside world than before that first decision.

This is encouraging. But I must confess to some lingering scepticism. The chapter does document some of the “challenges” facing the Inpaeng Network but it is primarily a public relations piece. There is no attempt at any rigorous analysis of, for example, the impact of Network activities on household budgets; the extent to which Network participants are supported by household members working in urban areas; the extent to which network activities are dependant on external grants and other forms of financial support; and the relative role of Network activities in local livelihoods. Nor, surprisingly, is there any consideration of how villages active in the Network perform in relation to the UNDP’s human development indicators. In other words, we are provided with some very nice imagery but no concerted attempt to seriously evaluate the Network in terms of sufficiency principles or its social impact in terms of human development. New Mandala would love to hear from any readers who can provide any further insights into the Network’s activities and their impacts on local livelihoods.

The rest of the chapter covers a range of different issues. Let me deal with some of them briefly.

First, there is a discussion of various royal initiatives that have implemented sufficiency economy principles in relation to environmental management. Vetiver grass (used extensively in an attempt to combat erosion) gets a mention with no consideration at all of its negative impacts on local farming systems.

Second, there is discussion of various corporate initiatives in relation to sufficiency economy. Siam Cement (in which “the Crown Property is a major shareholder”) will appreciate the publicity and strong endorsement. There is a lot of good common sense advice about how principles of moderation and integrity can improve business performance. Interestingly, a corporate “Sufficiency Alignment Index” is proposed. As I stated in a previous post, it would be interesting if indices could be developed for other aspects of sufficiency economy and some consideration given to how these correlate with other aspects of human development.

Third, there is some discussion of how sufficiency economy may inform a more conservative approach to national economic management. Some of the specific policies of the Thaksin government are briefly considered. The popularity of the village fund is acknowledged, but it is suggested that the scheme should be re-designed to put greater emphasis on savings. The 30 baht health care scheme is also acknowledged as making “a major contribution to human development” and “lifting more people above the poverty line than any other single government scheme” but it fails on sufficiency economy criteria for not being built on firm foundations: “the planning and implementation lacked moderation and insight.” Interestingly the chapter says nothing substantial about what “sufficiency economy” may have to say about the great disparities in access to government services that are documented in chapter 1 of the Human Development Report. Community self reliance is all very well, but it doesn’t address the issue that some people have much greater government support than others!

Finally, there are some general comments about how sufficiency economy can inform national development strategy and education.

In brief, the chapter provides an interesting picture of sufficiency economy’s various dimensions but makes very little attempt to critically evaluate initiatives in terms of their adherence to sufficiency economy principles or their contribution to human development.