November 24, 2008
Royal Chitralada Project
When one thinks about a palace, well one conjures up images of beautiful palatial grounds, topiary, mazes and rose gardens, winding paths. But that's not the case for the King of Thailand. Many years ago, His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great(Rama IX) turned the Chitralada Villa, Dusit Palace (Bangkok) into an agricultural and self sufficiency experimental farm. So right in the middle of Bangkok behind beautifully adorned "traditional" gates sits a farm. We're talking cows and milking machines, bees producing honey and literally "royal" beeswax, crops growing.
I learned all this on a recent outing recently with students from a Chulalongkorn Thai economics class. Beloved by the people of Thailand and respected world wide, their Majesties the King and Queen are known for their generosity and support of the "common" people. The King of Thailand, His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great(Rama IX) is not only longest reigning one of the richest monarchs in history (He came to the throne in 1946) but he's also a farmer and a good one at that.
While agriculture today is an important component of the Thai economy (half of all Thais derive their income from agriculture), at the time the King ascended to the throne, it was even more important. Today the per capita income of Thai citizens is about $8,000, this was not the case 50 years ago. Agriculture dominated and incomes were low. The king launched the royal projects to serve as benchmarks and models of agricultural modernization.
Through the years, the projects and experiments have changed due to economic needs and agriculture development. Thailand now focuses a "green and happy society." This is related to a type of economic develoopment called "Sufficiency Economy." This philosophy stressed the middle path as the appropriate way to conduct and live life at all levels. Sufficiency means modernization but with due consideration to integrity, peace, quality, stability as well as sufficient protection from external and internal shocks.
Enough of the economics theory. On with the farm...
The farm contains numerous experimental projects. Regarding milk, the farm produces fresh and dry milk as well as milk pellets (chalkie tasting). The King has long been interested in hydroponics (growing things without soil) and the farm shows various types of plants growing in unique media.
My personal favorite project was the use of compressed rice husks to make fuel logs. Rather than throwing the husks away, they are tightly compressed into logs. The logs can be burned as they are or turned into a charcoal-like substance. The advantage of rice husk logs is that they burn cleaner and are less likely to lead to death as occurs with charcoal used in confined areas. While the process needs some refining, it's a neat use for an item that normally has been considered waste.
I also found the process to make exotic papers extremely interesting. Plant fibers are placed in a big vat and turned into pulp. A mould and deckle (screen mesh on a wooden frame) catches the mushy fiber. As it dries it turns into beautiful paper. The color and texture varies by the plant fibers used.
Other semi-commercial projects include a cheese factory, rice mills, dried vegetable , juice and vegetable canning plants, alcohol factory, fish meal, mushroom culture, and beeswax-candle making plants. Biodiesel A total of 700 people work in the royal project area.