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Decades before Sustainable Development became the buzzword of UN agencies, Thailand had already experienced it with the Sufficiency Economics theory, perhaps the most everlasting legacy of King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
As a result, Thailand came to understand, and to apply the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy, or SEP, which has the principles of self-sufficiency, moderation, and reasonableness at its core.
Speaking at the Fifth Bloomberg ASEAN Business Summit, held in Bangkok on 21 June 2019, the Prime Minister indicated that although the number of Thais in poverty has steadily declined from 57.07 percent of the total population in 1990 to 7.87 percent in 2017, Thailand is still confronted with the problem of economic and social inequality.
It is also facing environmental degradation, which is why the country gives importance to sustainable and holistic development.
He said that the financial crisis in 1997 was another important turning point that made Thailand realize that dependence on the global economy, without nurturing inner strength and immunity to external shocks, will render Thailand vulnerable.
In 1997 when Thailand suffered its worst economic crisis, King Bhumibol Adulyadej came up with his own solution or theory based on the experience of over 40 years in helping his people to adopt a sustainable development model.
A development model inspired by Buddhist values
The philosophy of sufficiency economy stresses Buddhist values and the middle path as an overriding principle for appropriate conduct regarding consumption and production.
In a sufficient economy, generation of material wealth is not the ultimate aim. Instead the final goal is to create environmentally healthy, self-sufficient communities in which basic human needs are met through Iocal natural production methods.
Sufficiency economy, taking form through the contributions of various institutions and academics, has seen a wide range of interpretations of its aim and origins, as well as different views about its application.
Today there is widespread agreement that sufficiency economy is meant as a development alternative based on an attitude towards life that encompasses three components: moderation, reasonableness, and self-immunity.
Reducing inequality through Sufficiency Economy
Because His Majesty the King Bhumibol was aware of how high economic growth can lead to imbalances of development in various areas, he has devoted himself to reducing the imbalances through the concept of Sufficiency Economy and royally initiated projects.
From 1946 to 2009, the population in Thailand rose from 17 million to 63 million, representing an increase of threefold. During the 63-year period, Thailand’s GDP also increased 32 times and per capita income rose tenfold.
In terms of poverty, 24 million Thais were classified below the poverty line in 1986. In 2007, the number dropped to five million, accounting for 9 percent of the population.
His Majesty has also initiated more than 4,000 projects classified into various categories, such as agriculture, water resources, the environment, occupational promotion, public health, public welfare, and communications. Six Royal Development Study Centers have also been established to conduct research and development activities to ease problems faced by local residents in each region of the country.