The Standardized New Theory Farm
It's important to understand that Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej (1927-2016) didn't look at subsistence farming as an end in itself. He saw it as a firmer base on which small-scale farmers could build commercial farming than the capital-intensive approach that while reasonable for setting up factories and non-farming retail businesses never did work well for small-scale commercial farmers as a group.
In essence he told the Thai small-scale commercial rice farmers, who were always suffering from food insecurity and mired in debt, 'Go back to square one. First get yourselves to the point where you can be self-sufficient in providing for your own food needs and the needs of your family. Then network with other self-sufficient farmers (easy to do in rural Thailand, which has many farming villages.)
'Once you have a network, then the network can pool any surplus harvests and get a better price for the harvests than you can individually. Then your network can hook up with another network of self-sufficient farmers, and so on.
'And with a portion of the profits from sales of surplus harvest, your network can branch into setting up small-scale retail businesses based on their farms' produce; for example selling herbal preparations.
'Once you have your little retail businesses set up, THEN is when you can think about taking on debt, as a cooperative, by borrowing from banks to expand your businesses and make any capital-intensive improvements to your farms.
'This means you're taking on debt against your retail businesses, NOT against your farms.
'And you always have the fallback of food security because your farms are set up, under my farming system, to be fully self-sufficient; i.e., everything you need for a rounded diet is grown/raised right on your farm.
'Moreover, with all your food needs taken care of by your subsistence farm, you don't have to spend any of your profits from selling surplus harvest on buying food.'
That's in essence what he was advocating, although I've explained it in my own way.
In short, he applied capitalism and debt financing at a juncture where the farm itself was protected against being sold to pay off debts, and where the farmer didn't have to take on even more debt by turning to loan sharks.
The system sounds simple but it wasn't done on any significant scale that I know about until King Bhumibol came along. This was in part because subsistence farming was never modernized until he did it. Subsistence farming had been left to molder, continuing with traditional methods that often weren't adequate to produce a truly self-sufficient food source for the farmer. Indeed, much subsistence farming has always been supplemented with hunting, gathering, and fishing.
His majesty looked at six acres (the average size of a small farm in Thailand) and asked himself in essence, 'How would I feed myself and my family a well-rounded diet from just this amount of land?' Which also had to make room for the farm family's domicile and livestock outbuildings. Yet I think he got a lot of help in working out the NT farm from the Thai farmers themselves. He was a great listener.
He did the seemingly impossible by plugging every cutting-edge technology he could find into his New Theory farm, and when he couldn't find a solution to a particular problem, he invented one.
So while it might have taken him several years to refine and standardize the NT farm and its economic system, he solved the key problems with small-scale commercial farming that have bedeviled societies the world over, ever since the turn of the last century. That was when mechanized equipment made it possible for small landholders to engage in commercial farming. Since then it's been one disaster after another for such farmers.
He didn't invent cooperative farming, but he worked it into a system that provided small farmers with the financial security they had always lacked. Dr. Sumet Tantivejkul, Secretary-General of the Chaipattana Foundation, well-summed King Bhumibol's allover approach:
Technical experts have often found that His Majesty’s ways to solve problems are so simple that nobody has thought of them before. His Majesty prefers simplifying complex situations, making confusing issues understandable, and using common sense to solve problems. “Make it simple” is His Majesty’s frequent advice. Simplicity underlies most of his development initiatives.For details on the New Theory Farm, see this article.