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A desirable path

Thailand has attempted to develop technology as a springboard to industrialization. However, one could map out a more desirable path, given the country's limited resources.

Two different concepts, "supply push" and "demand pull," help decide the investment of resources in technology. The former is more applicable to a developed country where unlimited resources exist to be invested in a desired technology. In a resource-poor country like Thailand, demand pull is more relevant, since the limitation in national endowments has to be kept in mind so as not to direct resources to a low-priority sector.

We have used six significant factors to decide whether and where the country should invest: physical infrastructure, natural resources, S&T resources, economics, cultural heritage, and manpower resources and the S&T resource base.

Thailand is considered ready to pursue a path of industrialization and has invested considerable resources in building an infrastructure for industry. Those infrastructures available even at the village community level include, for example, transportation and electrical power. In contrast, the resources invested in agricultural infrastructure are inadequate: irrigation is one example. With limited national resources, the country chose to invest more in industry than in agriculture.

Since the first National Economic Development Plan, Thailand had continuously imported iron material and other industrial items, causing a trade imbalance in the country. This indicates that the heavy investment in industrial infrastructure and the government's incentives have not developed a strong industrial base for the country (table 4). The industrial sector is still at the operative stage of mastery of software technology. In agriculture, on the other hand, software capability (i.e. the farming system) has reached the replicative stage, although capability in hardware technology (i.e. farm machines) is at the operative stage. Because of its modest resource demands, Thailand should promote more development in the agricultural sector.

The rainfall pattern and the type of arable land indicate that all regions of the country except the North-east are suitable for general agricultural production. In some parts of the North-east, rainfall is sufficient for vegetable growing. By and large, Thailand's natural endowments favour agricultural production.

Proportionately, Thailand possesses more land for rice production than the Philippines, Japan, and the Republic of Korea. However, its yield per unit area is lower than that of all these countries, as well as of India and China (table 6). Government statistics also show that the longer the country continues its present production practices in agriculture, the less the productivity of the crops will be. Statistics indicate that increased crop production has in fact been obtained from the expansion of land under cultivation. A favourable policy for agricultural development, economic incentives, and suitable agricultural technologies at the farm level could change this.

In the Republic of Korea, the private sector has to share the cost burden in S&T development. A law was enacted to encourage, indeed force, the industrial community to train technicians by, for example, providing vocational schools. Since 1982, the Korean government has devised a mechanism to encourage the private sector to increase investment in R&D and in related technological activities. As a consequence, investment by the private sector in technological capability, including R&D, has increased sharply. A similar situation exists in Japan. Much constructive experience in technological self-reliance can be drawn from the Japanese and Korean examples. These experiences could be fruitfully used to direct S&T development in Thailand.

To increase "hardware" capability in Thailand, it is suggested that:

1. All involved in "hardware" work (e.g. skilled workers and producers)? regardless of the size of the factory, should be registered.

2. Skill development should be promoted through training programmes.

3. Academic institutions should be encouraged to achieve higher standards.

4. Professional associations should be established as centres of exchange of perspectives, skills, and production. Central institutions with responsibility for developing and replicating skills and production should also be established, and a network for communicating technological information among institutions should be set up to facilitate technology transfer.

To increase self-reliance, efforts should be made to carry out exploration for raw materials that are now imported as well as to develop alternative materials. R&D in agriculture and industry should ensure that research results are more accessible to users. All research programmes, moreover, should be continuously evaluated.

The study results indicate that the development of technical skills through an exchange training programme would be useful. Materials science, metal processing, and industrial process design are priority disciplines. An international network in S&T information, aimed at achieving self-reliance, should be another focus of cooperation.

Table 6. Relationship between the harvested area of rice and the yield per unit area


Harvested area (millions of rai)a

Yield per rai (kg)

Country 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981
Thailand 55.68 55.84 54.08 56.86 56.90 225 312 291 305 312
India 251.76 243.62 243.58 253.12 250.00 314 331 261 328 328
Philippines 21.93 21.68 21.11 21.56 21.85 314 332 345 345 353
China 231.73 210.95 216.19 213.63 215.50 559 655 680 666 678
USA 5.68 7.51 7.25 8.33 9.61 791 804 825 790 874
Japan 17.23 15.92 15.60 14.85 14.23 987 1.027 958 820 901
Republic of Korea 7.55 7.68 7.70 7.62 7.65 1,098 1,086 1,023 787 919

a. 1 rai = 0.16 hectare.

Human resources development for industry requires that the majority of the population possess a basic knowledge of science and technology. Education is investment capital. Yet the people in Thailand are holding back progress, since the majority do not possess sufficient technical skills and knowledge for national development, particularly in industry. Formal, informal, and non-formal education could be used to change this situation. Higher education opportunities for the rural population should be rapidly expanded.

Thailand would benefit from an educational exchange programme, which would increase the capability of its human resources. Mutual assistance in technology should be developed through training programmes. A country cannot develop in a vacuum - it needs to acquire the relevant essential information. Information from indigenous or exogenous sources has to be organized in networks, so that it can be widely accessed by institutions and used in an open-minded and cooperative manner.


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