Every day in my small Soi (street) in Thailand, I greet the 83 year old Thai grandmother roasting her small, sweet bananas on a charcoal grill made from an old converted oil drum. Ying gets up before 5 am to catch her regular customers as they pass by on their way to work. She is often seen still serving customers late in the afternoon.
I have never seen her without a smile on her face and I guess she makes just enough from selling her bananas to justify her long hours.
Ying represents to me the ethos, self-reliance and spirit of the sufficiency economy philosophy initiated in Thailand by H.M. the late King Bhumibol in 1946.
Soon after ascending to the throne in 1946, King Bhumibol toured the country and became aware of the hardships facing the poor. At that time, the per capita GDP was about US$200. He took a keen interest in rural development, and instituted a number of royal projects to help the lot of the rural impoverished.
Sufficiency economy is not a theory about how the economy of a country works, but rather a guide for making decisions that will produce outcomes that are beneficial to development.
The principles of SEP’s application promote enterprise, hard work, reasonableness, moderation and prudence.
Thailand’s adoption of SEP principles and practices are fully supportive of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals
I draw a comparison with Ying’s enterprise to some in the Solomon Islands who seem still to have a cargo cult mentality and expect everything to be handed out to them, examples being roofing iron, water tanks, solar lights, outboard engines, canoes etc, without having made an effort to acquire such things by themselves by creatively working to be self-sufficient.
The argument goes that there is no money to start small self-enterprise schemes and I accept that this is essentially true and one must hope that the government and provincial authorities will encourage more small scale lenders to grant loans to those who have sound ideas to help themselves become self-sufficient.
Once less reliance on hand outs is achieved the sooner money can be put into real development and infrastructure requirements such as roads, bridges, sanitation and clean water supplies.
A change in mindset from the old cargo cult way of thinking must be encouraged to ensure self-immunity and protection from the impacts arising from the rapid socioeconomic, environmental and cultural changes in the world.
At the same time, it is essential to strengthen the moral fiber of the nation, so that everyone, particularly public officials, academics, and business people at all levels, adhere first and foremost to the principles of honesty and integrity.
Thailand values its SEP policy as a practical tool to effectively manage capitalism in a way that aligns and engages it with social sustainable development while fostering accountability and empowerment of communities.
More importantly, the main goal of The Sufficiency Economy policy is to measure economic development not just using GDP, but also by taking the reduction of social inequality and poverty into account.