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4. Thailand

Traditional path of development
Development of the country in the national plans (1961-1986)
An evaluation of Thailand's present S&T situation: a macro-level study
Case-studies in agriculture
A desirable path

Thailand has taken considerable steps in national development since the country's first Social and Economic Development Plan in 1961. However, the country depended for this development upon imported production items and industrial technologies, which caused it to run up a high foreign- trade deficit. In agriculture, moreover, the increase in the use of modern technology did not in general compensate for the high cost of production, with the result that the country's farm population was drawn in to an economic vicious circle.

The government has consequently been criticized for this distorted development, and for its poor strategy in the use of science and technology (S&T) for national development. A call for the appropriate use of S&T has been widely made across the country.

The present study develops a concept of self-reliance in S&T for national development, adapted from the successful examples of other countries. The major objectives of the study are: (1) to formulate a desirable strategy for national S&T development, and (2) to get an indication of the country's level of self-reliance in science and technology.

On the basis of these two objectives, the scope of the present study is to define self-reliance in S&T appropriate to the country's present social and economic capacity; to develop a conceptual framework for analysing the country's status in S&T; to carry out case-studies at both macro and micro level to give confidence in the framework developed; and to formulate an appropriate strategy for the development of science and technology.

The term self-reliance means different things to different people, depending on the history of national development, and the social, economic, and cultural constraints of a country. For Thailand, self-reliance in S&T is defined as "the ability of the country to make autonomous rational decisions on science and technology in developing, selecting, implementing, managing, and operating technology and in replicating a useful technology in such a way that the country benefits. "

Fig. 1. Role of science and technology in national development

There are five discernible stages in the development of technology, namely operational, adaptive, replicative, innovative, and creative. The study team holds that the first three stages are achievable whilst the last two seem beyond the country's capacity, given existing constraints.

Science is the knowledge of natural phenomena. Technology, on the other hand, applies a knowledge of science to help meet human needs and solve problems. Technology has two major components, software and hardware. The former concerns knowledge, while the latter constitutes the equipment and material used in production. S&T influences societal development and its role is represented in diagrammatic form in figure 1.

The above functional component inputs are interdependent: a change in one component creates a change in others. Science and technology is only a part of the process of societal development.

Traditional path of development

Thailand has been perceived as a "soft culture" society. Thais are noted for being very tolerant of the cultural and other differences of other peoples, and have absorbed many external cultural influences, particularly religion -principally from India - building technology, and, more recently, high technology.

Religion may be thought of as "software" technology, although, in the form of religious buildings and images, it could also be considered as constituting technological hardware.

In building technology, Thais have adapted their indigenous timber technology to create a distinctive Thai building style. They have developed this technology to the point that they can now use it to prefabricate houses.

The transfer of higher industrial technology, for example in transportation (railways, automobiles, etc.), started during the reign of Rama V when trade with European countries increased and modernization began. Other technological practices, such as the use of farm machinery in rice production, also began during the same period. Agricultural and other forms of production also changed from ones aimed at meeting only household and local demands to ones targeted at the export market. Modern irrigation was developed to support this new drive, and other necessary technologies, such as post-harvesting techniques, rice mills, river transportation, and food processing, were introduced.

After the Second World War, more automobiles, trucks, and aeroplanes were used in transportation. These accelerated the transfer of related technologies in, for example, road, highway, and railway-building technology. These, in turn, changed the educational curricula as the nation responded to these new technologies.

The newly introduced technologies influenced the modernization of the country beyond agriculture. Statistics show that the country's economy has experienced a satisfactory level of growth in production. However, doubts about the system have persisted, as some economic indicators, such as the trade balance and benefit-cost ratios, have shown negative trends. It appears that the more the country invests in production inputs and technology, the less the proportional output.

Development of the country in the national plans (1961-1986)

The country has been developed by three decades of national development plans, the first of which began in 1961. External political pressure, as well as the need to rebuild the country after the Second World War, and the demand for the elimination of inequality in income between the urban and rural sectors, influenced the development effort.

The first National Plan resulted in tremendous changes in the country's infrastructure, including increased transportation, roads, and railways, and a rise in the number of educated people. Income generation was also a focus. The figures given in table 1 suggest, at first sight, that the country had developed positively with regard to education, the economy, and technology.

Table 1. Changes during national development plans (percentages)

Development sector 1961 1985 % change
Urban (%) 12.5 (1960)a 18.2 (1982) +5 7b
Rural (%) 87.5 (1960) 81.8 (1982) -5.7
People with basic education ( % ) 51.3 (1960) 82.4 (1980) + 31.1
People with higher education (%) 0.6 (1960) 2.3 (1980) + 1.7
GNP at 1972 prices (millions of baht)   309,122 (1982)  
Per capita GNP at 1972 prices (baht)   6,375 (1982)  
GINI coefficient 0.5627 (1963) 0.6079 (1981) 4.52
Trade balance (market prices, in millions of baht) -290 (1961) - 69,984 (1984)  
Roads (km) (1983)   33,148  
Railways (km) (1983)   3,735  
Airways in distance flown (km) (1983)   54,644,936  
Schools (no. per capita) (%) 0.1(1961) 0.15(1981) +0.1
Land resources
Agricultural area (%) 21.29 (1961) 45.83 (1984) +24.54
Forest area (%) 53 33 (1959) 30.55 (1982) - 22.78

a Figure in parentheses refers to year the data were obtained.
b. + means a quantitative increment only, not an improved quality.

However, in discussing these development indicators attention should be paid to the input, the process, the output, and the linkages of the entire system, rather than to the direct output of the sectors alone. Furthermore, planning tends to focus on the measurement of a tangible outcome, but there are many aspects of development that cannot be captured in this way, notably the social and human aspects. All the national development plans neglected these aspects.

At the initial stage of national development, agriculture was emphasized with a view to meeting both domestic and export needs. As early as the sixteenth century, the export of agricultural commodities was the result of foreign influences, which changed the economic and production structures of the country. The increased demands of the external market expanded the area under cultivation. But this extensive growth resulted in a great loss of forest resources (table 1). One should note that in 1985 the majority of the population was still living in rural areas; the increase in production in the country occurred essentially through the exploitation of traditional technologies.

While primary and secondary education disseminated basic science and technology from Western countries, the need to combat foreign domination and the realization by national leaders that a static knowledge of S&T could no longer help the country adapt itself to a changing world opened the country to innovative ideas and concepts. Students were sent abroad for training in order to facilitate the introduction of innovations and accelerate the country's modernization. Yet, though the country was seriously pursuing innovative technology, little attention was given to the development of mechanisms to select, control, and adapt the imported items to match the country's resources.

The first National Economic Development Plan (1961--1966) focused primarily on developing agriculture to meet world market demands. The import substitution industry was also highlighted. During this transformation period, the government helped to provide the necessary infrastructure and to develop technical skills, and the private sector was urged to participate in production under the close guidance of the government.

The government introduced science and technology in two ways first, by sending students abroad, and second by the purchase of technology goods. These two channels helped accelerate the acquisition of a technological capacity, yet it created a social cleavage: those in the urban sector benefited through educational opportunities and the utilization of imported technologies, while those in the rural sector had less opportunity to do so. Furthermore, the items acquired for industrial development were used mainly to produce goods for the local market.

Replicating or buying appropriate technology was not considered. In agriculture, though foreign technologies had some influence, the majority of farmers still used indigenous technologies. However, the output of agricultural products increased satisfactorily as a result of extensive cultivation.

In the second National Economic and Social Development Plan (1967-1971), the basic roles of government and private sector remained unchanged. The government continued to construct physical infrastructures, such as roads, railways, and irrigation dams, as well as providing the rural community with important health services. The private sector, on the other hand, was being continuously urged to put more effort into the production of industrial goods. The government continued sending students abroad, and the purchase of technological items continued. There was a continued neglect of mechanisms for selecting and controlling foreign technology.

Within the agricultural sector, an increased use of modern production technologies, in the form of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and small farm machinery, was pursued. Most of these, however, were imported. Although agricultural production increased tremendously, it did not keep pace with the increased production costs.

As a consequence of the second National Plan, certain undesirable phenomena emerged. These included a higher unemployment rate, a higher migration rate, and water pollution resulting from the drainage into waterways of chemical residues and waste materials from manufacturing. The government responded in the third National Economic and Social Development Plan (1972-1976) by the imposition of regulations and codes. Other measures were the expansion of compulsory education to neglected rural areas and an improvement in the quality of, and opportunities for, higher education. It was expected that the demand for higher technical skills would increase. Local physical structures, such as roads and local health care and rural development projects, were also emphasized during the third Plan.

Because of the package of policy measures adopted by the state during this period, industrial production was increasing at a high rate. Many of these products, particularly textiles, were mainly for local consumption. However, the industrialization of Thailand still had a number of barriers to breach.

The first of these was the continuous import both of foreign technologies for local manufacture and of materials - particularly iron-based materials - for industrial products (table 2). This led not only to a serious trade deficit, but also to a reliance on foreign support for industrial development. The government increased the number of S&T degree-holders, but most of these were mainly engaged in industrial management, process operation and maintenance, and product control sections. Another problem was the lack of selection in technology, which denied technologists the chance to improve their capabilities in order to progress to the replication and innovation stages of technological development.

During the 15-year period 1966-1980, rice output increased by 19 per cent, but the area under rice cultivation increased by 47 per cent.

Table 2. Expenses for imported steel and steel-based products (millions of baht)

Year Non-electrical items for industry Machinery and parts for agriculture Tractors Iron/steel Other metals
1957 567 12 54 467 86
1962 1,232 19 133 479 147
1967 2,875 33 655 1,231 422
1972 4,706 36 345 2,046 1,043
1977 10,424 106 2,062 6,352 3,454
1982 19,329 164 1,679 11,323 5,811
1984 32,979 192 1,821 14,035 7,339

Similarly, during the six-year period 1974-1979, the gross amount of maize produced increased by 50 per cent, while the cultivated area increased by 61 per cent. This undesirable trend occurred at a time when the government was promoting the extensive use of modern production technologies, such as chemical fertilizers, pesticides, improved seed varieties, and improved techniques. The more the government emphasized the use of such technologies, the higher the cost of production became for the farmers.

By the fourth National Economic and Social Development Plan (1977-1981), industry was able to produce enough to meet domestic consumption needs. The government had invested considerably in the construction of the basic physical infrastructure for future industrialization. In a policy shift, it now established a policy of exporting industrial products. This also implied a shift of emphasis from agricultural exports to the industrial sector.

The policy, which gave effective economic incentives to entrepreneurs, was successful in terms of higher GDP rates. Yet the government had no concrete policy for developing technology on a self-reliant basis. The country continued importing foreign hardware technologies and iron-based materials for industrial purposes, increasing the trade deficit. S&T-trained manpower was still engaged primarily in machine operation and maintenance. But for the government, technology screening was not important as long as the country benefited from the exported products. And in the agricultural sector, although production rose the problem of the high cost of production was not addressed and farmers suffered.

During the fifth National Economic and Social Development Plan (1982-1986), the government continued its policy of industrial pro motion for exports. This policy was reinforced by the discovery of petroleum. The policy for agricultural development also remained the same as in the preceding Plan. Experience with the Plan indicates that the poor structure of S&T development had not been sufficiently remedied.

Since the first National Economic Development Plan initiated in 1961, the country has followed a constant policy of purchasing foreign technologies, particularly hard industrial technologies and iron-based materials. The agriculture sector, in contrast, has been able to generate its own indigenous techniques for agriculture. But some modern production inputs in agriculture have been imported on a continuous basis. These indicate not only a heavy trade deficit, but also a lack of interest in developing one's own technology.

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