Thailand's Sufficiency Economy Philosophy: Reflections from the trainees

BANGKOK, Oct. 30, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- Ministry of Foreign Affairs states that Thailand is an active player in promoting South-South cooperation for development. Since 1992, Thailand has started providing technical assistance to foreign countries and expanded to include trilateral cooperation with a third country development partner. When Thailand was Chair of the Group of 77 in 2016, it proposed Sufficiency Economy Philosophy (SEP) as an alternative path to achieve the SDGs, believing that the value of SEP is universal and applicable anywhere. [ ]

Before Thailand was hit by the 1997 financial crisis, the economic prospect had been bright and promising with frequent annual double-digit growth. The country's aspiration to be one of Asia's next economic tigers seemed within reach. But when the economy crumbled and investors panicked after the bubbly illusion disappeared, the nation was reminded by His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej to return to the basics and find the right balance between maintaining growth and development through SEP.

With over two decades behind us, time has proven that the essence of SEP, namely moderation, reasonableness and prudence have been essential elements in shaping one's mindset that encourage people to examine carefully their strengths and constraints before making any decision. Hence, the country has been relatively immune from external shocks like the global financial crisis in 2007.

What exactly is SEP and how relevant is it to development? After years of introducing the philosophy beyond Thailand and organizing training courses, the Thailand International Cooperation Agency (TICA) recently launched an essay contest on SEP among TICA alumni. The main objective of this contest dubbed "Share it with TICA" was to follow up on how SEP was understood and applied in various contexts. The viewpoints are interesting and reflect the practicability of SEP.

Heidi Inostroza, an NGO volunteer from Chile, initially thought that SEP was just another theory. But after attending three TICA training courses in Thailand, she gradually understood the concept of moderation, reasonableness and prudence and took it as an approach for sustainable development. Rather than being a development model, SEP is a philosophy guiding the livelihood of people at all levels. The main idea is to live a sufficiency lifestyle and avoid taking advantage of other people or the environment. Likewise, SEP evidently shares the underlying concept of sustainable development.

Inostroza experimented SEP in an indigenous village in Arauco province in Chile by setting up a sheep cattle bank and an organic farm. The purpose was to create self-reliance and empower the villagers in the community by reducing their expenses while raising income based on local and diversified production, as well as through the sustainable use of the environment involving agricultural practices and the zoning of land.

This perspective is supported by Evaristo Makwaya, another TICA alumni from Zambia, who believes SEP could help strengthen the potential of local communities in order to address their own self-identified needs and be less dependent on bureaucratically centralized development planning.

Some thousands of miles away from Chile, Jephias Matunhu, a development studies professor at Midlands State University in Zimbabwe, has started incorporating SEP in modules that he is teaching. He attended a training course in SEP at Naresuan University in 2017.

For Matunhu, SEP is a way of thinking that aims to achieve development through application of moderation, sufficiency and reasonableness principles. It calls for the implementation of development strategies that are environmentally, socially and economically sustainable while emphasizing morality in all human transactions. In his essay which won first prize, he pointed out that SEP is relevant to SDGs such as in recognizing the importance of water resource and in eradicating poverty by promoting community empowerment.

Matunhu is implementing SEP in Chivi District, Zimbabwe, where poverty is forcing people to survive by harmful coping strategies such as reducing the number of meals and portions per day as well as migrating to neighbouring countries. The plan is to empower the villagers with knowledge and provide access to information such as weather patterns and financial management. He views that SEP is a promising narrative to sustainable development and could be applied in decision making of industrial enterprise and government offices as well.

In summary, SEP is not a how-to handbook for development projects. It is a philosophy that encourages the 'middle path' and self-reliance that could be applied at individual, organizational or national levels. Examples from Zimbabwe and Chile have demonstrated that SEP could guide the way towards finding balance between people, planet and prosperity. And once the balance exists, sustainability will certainly endure.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs Tel: +662-203-5000 ext. 22043

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