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An evaluation of Thailand's present S&T situation: a macro-level study

The question of whether Thailand can achieve self-reliance in science and technology will be discussed by means of a techno-system model.

The general techno-system model shown in figure 2 has three major components, namely, the input, the techno-system, and the output. The input component is made up of a number of systems, functional subcomponents such as the infrastructure, manpower, and management. The techno-system component consists of subcomponents like the R&D system, the diffusion system, and the knowledge stock system. The techno-system used has both a direct and an indirect output.

Unlike the direct output, which is measurable, the indirect output seems to be complicated, requiring a knowledge of several disciplines - economic, social, and environmental - and resources to measure it. The economic impacts are primarily concerned with, for example, the proportion of the R&D cost to the product cost, and the proportion of the trade deficit to the production cost. The social impacts are concerned with the social capability of the country to absorb the relevant technologies being developed or introduced. The environmental impacts reflect pollution problems, particularly in terms of the capability of the country to control them. Finally, the resource impacts focus upon the capability of the country to control and utilize local resources.

There are seven possible levels of ability to use technology. Table 3 summarizes the level of technology use and the desirable education of users.

Fig. 2. Techno-system model

Table 3. Level of technology use and desirable education of users

Level Description Desirable education
1. Benefit from use User does not have to concern himself with the operation of technology Any level only
2. Copy/operate/maintain User can copy or operate, implement or maintain Primary
3. Judiciously select User can make decision to select appropriate technology for his own use Secondary
4. Replicate User can copy but able to produce a better output Vocational or engineering degree
5. Adapt/modify User can adapt/modify technology to suit his own working conditions Advanced degree in engineering or long experience
6. Innovate User able to come up with new product using same concept Advanced degree with research experience
7. Create New product based on new concept As (6) above

In Thailand, 91 per cent of the population has primary education, 8 per cent secondary, and 1 per cent university or vocational. The optimum level of technology use would involve the ability to select technology appropriate to given working conditions. For Thailand to achieve self-reliance and the ability to select technology, she must also be able to implement, manage, operate, and maintain the system.

Five concepts are used to describe the capability of the country to develop the technology suitable to its physical, economic, social, and cultural environments, which constitutes the essence of self-reliance. These capabilities are those of selecting, implementing, managing, operating, and adapting (fig. 3).

The system characteristics are primarily qualitative, namely feedback, diffusion, and memory. Each characteristic is further subdivided into variables which express further details. Each of these is given a value based upon the observations that appear in reports and individual interviews: 1 = absent or low; 2= partly or medium; and 3 = present or high.

Fig. 3. Conceptual framework of S&T self-reliance indicators

Table 4. Indicators of Thailand's self-reliance in science and technology

System characteristic Variables Indicators Empirical references Value
Indicators of techno system
Goal-setting Local autonomy Foreign influence in policy formulation A certain degree of foreign influence 2
Existence of plan for local autonomy - Little interference from government in the production process 3
- Encouragement of more private participation in macro management  
Vertical integration - Very weak vertical linkages at all levels 1
Articulation of techno-system policies Role of nation in policy for- mutation - Policy formulation is mostly top-down 1
Control Role of nation in corporate decision-making Existence of corporate programme in setting up of national plan Not clear 1
S&T selection Existence of S&T selection No 1
Output control Existence of evaluation programme in the national plan Not clear 1
System control Role of private sector in the system's operation Some mention 2
Existence of system evaluation in the national plan Not clear 1
Dynamics Adaptations and innovations in the relevant technologies Number of adaptations and innovations in the relevant technologies Very few innovations. some adaptations 1
Quality of technological adaptation and innovation Specific applications only 1
Patterns of R&D outputs Structural feature of R&D outputs Mostly basic and some applied research 1
Application of R&D output Percentage of applicable R&D output to total About 70% applicable with limited users 2
Percentage of local R&D products to imports Very low 1
Change in manpower with relative know-how Rate of change of amount of S&T manpower Increasing at high rate during last decade 3
System memory Documentation Existence of local technical library Subregional distribution 2
Existence of historical technical statistics Very few 1
Quantity and quality of document    
System feedbacks Linkage of process with local R&D Support of local R&D by the production process About 50% 2
Linkage of production process with training and education Utilization of locally trained technicians and engineers programme Yes 3
Utilization of local resource persons Some foreign influences in policy formulation only 3
System maintenance Adequacy of local technological educational system Relevance of curriculum to country`s development needs Fairly independent, without proper linkage to country's development 2
Quantity of graduates Sufficient for local use 3
Quality of graduates Thai standard 2
Adequacy of local supply of industry hardware and maintenance Local supply of hardware High percentage of imports 2
Interdependence/ integration Network of the system Existence of various components of the techno-system Yes. but the performance is not impressive 2
Interdependence/linkage of the subsystem Rather poor 1
Indicators of outputs
Direct output Quantity of product Adequacy for local consumption Weighted average of production / consumption =1 3
Percentage of export Weighted average of export / production = 0 012 - 0 37 2
Quality of product Standard Local standard controls (comparable to ISO) 2
Indicator output Economic impacts Individual B/C ratio Agricultural production = 1; industrial production = ? 2
National B/C ratio ? ?
Percentage of S/D cost to production cost Agricultural production =10.05%: others = 87.8% (1980) 2
Percentage of trade deficit to production cost -5.5% (1980) 1
Social impacts Social capability in absorbing Operative capability only 1
the relevant technologies    
Unemployment Increasing rate, partly due to improper use of S&T 2
Environmental impacts Pollution Pollution in some main rivers and estuaries in the Gulf of Thailand 2
Pollution in the food chain  
Pollution-control capability Industrial law but rather loose control in many ways 1
No deficit control in the agricultural sector  
Resource impacts Local resource utilization Use of local human resources 2
Use of most available resources  
Resource control capability No practical control of properresource utilization 1
Output indicator 1.75
Techno-system indicator 1.74
Self-reliance indicator 1.745

The result of the analysis of the techno-system in question appears in table 4. Knowledge stock indicators are:

1. Number of research institutions and laboratories.
2. Number of higher education institutions engaged in development of S&T.
3. Number of S&T degree-holders.
4. Number of scientific journals.
5. R&D expenditure.
6. Foreign technological collaboration.
7. Payment for imported technologies.

The analysis gives the self-reliance value of the techno-system as 1.74, which is rather low.

Self-reliance is thought to be weak in the following areas, where the average score is 1.0:

1. The structure of S&T organization reflecting a top-down approach.

2. No mechanism to select imported ideas, concepts, and tangible technologies so that they fit the country's environment.

3. Inadequate efforts to evaluate the progress of both the R&D programmes and the National Development Plan.

4. Insufficient adaptation and innovation, both in quantity and quality.

5. Low proportion of local technologies to imported ones.

6. Doubt about official statistics on R&D development.

7. Lack of linkages in the R&D subsystems.

Case-studies in agriculture

Eight micro-level case-studies were carried out in the agriculture sector to examine the self-reliance strategies. These were on crops (rice, sugar cane, and pineapple), livestock (dairy, cattle, pigs, and poultry), and fisheries (fish and shrimp). Details from the case-studies indicate that the use of technology is uneven, except in a remote farming community. Farmers in all parts of the country are now practicing commercial rather than subsistence agriculture. Thai farmers' behaviour, it was found, is a rational response to social and economic conditions. Poor farmers are unwilling to cooperate in technology-oriented development programmes because they correctly perceive that the programmes often introduce uncertainties, largely because of the higher costs of production. However, once they perceive that assimilation of modern technology is beneficial, they adopt it. The use of technology for agricultural production is, however, uneven because of the technology costs as well as of farm prices. All case-studies at the micro level indicate that, in order to respond to an unstable environment, farmers practice a combination of traditional and modern technologies.

The commodities studied varied in commercial complexity. Rice, pineapple, and sugar cane serve as inputs into the agro-industry of the country. Rice is a primary product that is further processed in a rice mill, while pineapple and sugar cane are processed in a cannery and refinery respectively. Because of the small scale of dairy cattle enterprises, milk produced daily is supplied to small-scale processing plants operated by either the government or the private sector. Inland fish and shrimp production is also small compared to offshore fishery enterprises, and basically supplies the demand of local consumers. Keeping chicken and pigs, on the other hand, because of urban demands, can be a large-scale operation. Even here, however, operations are smaller in the countryside, and largely supply a slaughterhouse that supplies local market demand.

The analysis revealed moderate self-reliance values for rice, chicken, pig, dairy cattle, and shrimp and fish, and low values for pineapple and sugar cane (table 5). The values in all cases do not differ significantly, mainly because a large portion of the techno-system is controlled by a government-supported research organization. It is usually found that the goal settings for all research programmes are mostly determined by the government. Consequently, the number of projects carried out annually and of innovations in agricultural production, as well as the allocation of resources and the system's maintenance, is substantially controllable. A high self-reliance figure is therefore found in all cases for these characteristics. As a result of their freedom from control by the government sector and of other relevant factors, characteristics such as system feedbacks, interdependence, and part of systems maintenance have brought the self-reliance figure down.

The findings suggest a number of measures to remedy the weaknesses of the techno-system. These all concern the effective transfer of technology. The case-studies indicate that there is insufficient evidence to support the proposition that the more sophisticated the technology, the greater its application. Rather, the reverse effect is observed.

These micro-level case-studies have led the study team to put forward two propositions.

Proposition 1. Neither the level of modern S&T nor the extent of its use correlate with self-reliance. The appropriateness of the S&T level, however, correlates significantly with the user's ability.

Proposition 2. There is little correlation between the techno-system value and the techno-system output value. The real meaning of self-reliance in S&T is therefore a functional combination of these two values in accordance with the appropriateness of the S&T and the user's ability.

Table 5. The micro-level stage of self-reliance

  Rice Pineapple Sugar cane Poultry Pigs Dairy Inland shrimp/fish
Linkage with industry Rice mill Cannery Refinery Slaughterhouse Slaughterhouse Cooperative milk-processing plant Market
S&T self-reliance value 2.16 1.80 1.67 2.15 2.04 2.17 2.00
(situational) (situational)
Level of technology usea ** **** **** *** *** **** ****
Strengths of the system R&D dynamic As for rice As for rice As for rice      
Weaknesses of the Linkages between production process and sup porting system As for rice As for rice As for rice system      
Improvement suggested Appropriate As for rice As for rice As for rice      
R&D output
Market information
Management skill

a. * = very traditional;
***** = very modern. Number of asterisks in one column reflects position between these extremes.

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