Advancement of Indian Agriculture, Food and National Security: Two lessons from Thailand

India is a country of farmers, there is no dispute about this. Similarly, many developing and undeveloped countries of the world are also countries of farmers

Representative photo
Representative photo

Ashish Kumar Singh

India is a country of farmers, there is no dispute about this. Similarly, many developing and undeveloped countries of the world are also countries of farmers. An example is Thailand, which is one of the world's major rice-exporting countries. In the 1960s, when India was lacking in food production, Thailand helped by sending sacks of rice. Today too, we can learn two new lessons from that country.

The first is the upliftment of backward tribes through cash crops like coffee, tea and sugarcane. This effort has been successful due to the joining of hands by private entrepreneurs and the Government of Thailand for the development of the Shan Tribe resident in North Thailand. The Shan Tribe is spread across parts of Thailand, Burma, China and Laos. For this reason, this tribe is neglected in all these countries. Apart from this, this entire area is covered by dense forest. These forests are exploited by separatists, terrorists, arms smugglers and most importantly, drug dealers. Even today, due to the large-scale opium cultivation here, this area is nicknamed by the CIA as the Golden Triangle.

Surprising changes have taken place here in the last decade. The main reason is that the government of Thailand has considered this area suitable for coffee cultivation. This region of northern Thailand, bordering Burma, is mountainous, and the temperature here remains cool throughout the year. Rainfall is also high here.

All these three factors are conducive to the production of coffee. Coffee has been grown in South Thailand for many years, so the country already has all the knowledge about growing coffee. Senior leaders of the Shan tribe have also accepted that this is a way to save the youth of their tribe from trafficking and violence. Not only this, the cultivation and export of coffee is also a good source of employment.

In this effort, the Thai government provided land and security, and private investors raised capital so that the harvest would be successful. This effort has been very successful in the last ten years, and this "Thailand model" has been discussed in many Western and Asian countries. Burma and Laos are also trying to take advantage of this chapter.

This can also be beneficial for India. There are similar forest areas in our country where tea and coffee can be grown. The local tribals of these areas will also benefit, and these areas, which are prone to naxalism, terrorism and drug trafficking, can be connected to the economic mainstream of India. This effort is being run in the state of Chhattisgarh for some years. Ioncure plans to take this effort one step further. Not only the production of tea, but also the cultivation of forest medicines and forest wealth should be encouraged, which can prevent many diseases, and can promote the physical and economic health of India, and can also raise the internal security of the country.

In the 1990s Thailand was notorious for sex and drug tourism. Due to the action of the police, this illegal business only went underground, and came under the possession of the world mafia. That's when the Ministry of Tourism of Thailand found an effective solution to this problem-- food tourism, that is, the promotion of the delicious cuisine of Thailand worldwide. The plan was very simple, but in just two decades, it changed the image of the country:

  1. In any country in the world, the government of Thailand was ready to provide fresh Thai ingredients for free to anyone who was willing to invest the space and capital to open a Thai restaurant.

  2. Thai young men and women were given chef training to cook original Thai food, and were given jobs in foreign restaurants.

  3. Journalists and celebrities were invited to taste the food in these restaurants and mention them in the media and on social media.

This plan was very successful. Not only were hundreds of restaurants opened in the USA, European countries, South Africa, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand, but thousands of Thai youth were also employed. The discussion of Thai food spread, new recipes were discovered (such as Pad Thai Noodles), and even featured on TV shows. The number of tourists going to Thailand in search of exquisite delicacies increased, and sex tourism decreased. Not only did Thailand improve its image, but its soft power was also promoted through its cuisine. Now, by watching videos on YouTube, people cook Thai dishes in their homes, and for this import food items from Thailand (like galangal, kaffir lime, Thai brinjal) whose cultivation is also benefiting the farmers there.

Indian food is no less delicious, and our food is praised all over the world. Why then should it not be considered the soft power of India, and why should it not be promoted? Punjabi, Mughlai, South Indian cuisines are well-known, but the cuisines of other states, regions and tribes of India can also be presented through marketing, advertising and media reviews around the world. Not only can millions of youths be given chef training, they can also be given food entrepreneurship training. Why not open Awadhi, Rajasthani, Assamese or Chhattisgarhi restaurants in cities like New York, London, Paris, Melbourne?

The state of Chhattisgarh is in the forefront in this matter as well, and is promoting its local fruits and vegetables. Not only this, Chhattisgarh is promoting their organic farming, so that it can be sold to health-conscious people in the country and abroad.

Chhattisgarh is reaping the benefits of these two lessons, and this should be followed by other states as well. A team of academics, researchers and scientists including Dr Sukant Khurana, Raamesh Gowri Raghwan, Aakshat Sinha, Dr Abhijeet Banerjee and others are making an effort in this regard so that other states can follow suit too and farmers of our country could reap benefits.

(Ashish Kumar Singh is studying politics at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia).

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