Monday, 10 December 2018

World Soil Day & His Late Majesty King Bhumibol’s Birthday

 

By Siwalai

His Late Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest-reigning monarch, was regarded as the great king of Thailand and deeply loved by all Thai people. His works and achievements have been recognized internationally as evidenced by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s first Human Development Lifetime Achievement Award which was presented to His Late Majesty by the former United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan on 26th May 2006.

Among the late Kings’s numerous development projects that gained recognition worldwide is the soil management. His Late Majesty carried out soil surveys in all regions, and made a large number of experiments to find ways to help farmers improve the soil quality and increase agricultural productivity. As a result, the date of December 5, the birthday of His Late Majesty, had been chosen to be the World Soil Day by the International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS) to honour his work in the area of soil science and soil resource conservation and sustainable management.

The History of World Soil Day


Following the 17th World Congress of Soil Science in Bangkok in 2002, the International Union of Soil Sciences had recognized the importance of the work of His Majesty the late King in the field of soil resource development, in particular agriculture development. The International Union of Soil Sciences then made a resolution to propose December 5 as the World Soil Day in His Late Majesty’s honour.

On December 6, 2013, the Economic and Financial Committee of the 68th Session of the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution to declare December 5 of every year as the World Soil Day. The objective of this international observance is to promote and raise awareness of the importance of soils towards agriculture development, nutrition and food security at the national and international levels to address the challenges of continued world population growth.

Late King Bhumibol's Concepts in Soil Resource Management

Throughout his 70-year reign, His Late Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej had tirelessly worked and dedicated himself to improving his people's lives. The late King Bhumibol made regular visits to his subjects in all regions, especially in remote and impoverished areas, therefore he understood the real problems of people in each area very well. He realized that soil health was absolutely essential to the well being of farmers, as without fertile soil farmers could not possibly grow healthy crops.

Soil is a very essential element in agriculture, and soil in Thailand is not suitable for farming everywhere. In such problem areas, it is often difficult for farmers to move elsewhere to seek a better living. In most cases, they have to remain where they are. Consequently, the crops are not very good, and often not enough to feed the family.

His Late Majesty King Bhumibol began to feel worried about this for his people at the early stage of his reign. He began to think about different ways to improve the soil quality, so as to help the poverty-stricken peasants. As a result, he conducted several research experiments and initiated royal development projects to protect and restore soil health in every region of Thailand. Starting in 1968, the late King tested various methods to conserve and enrich soil, mostly natural methods to create balance in the environment.

His Late Majesty King Bhumibol’s concepts in soil resource development and examples of his solutions to soil problems are evident in all six Royal Development Study Centers, established in all regions of Thailand. According to the late King Bhumibol’s concepts in soil resource management, there are six types of soil problems as follows:

Sandy Soil

Sandy soil is loose and allows roots to penetrate through easily. But it contains little food for plants. To overcome the problem, moisture and organic matter should be supplied to the soil constantly. The late King first had the method tested at the royally initiated Khao Hin Son Development Study Centre in Phanom Sarakham District, Chachoengsao Province.

According to the King’s idea, the solution to the problem was to build a reservoir as a source of water supply for farming use, keeping the surrounding earth moistened, and helping to restore healthy forest conditions. For steep sloping areas, vetiver was to be planted along lines of the same height, so that its thick roots would form a wall preventing landslide.

Rocky Soil and Arid Land

This type of soil is like sandy soil whose surface level has been blown away leaving only rock and gravel, in which plant cannot grow. It is of the same type as the earth in Huai Hong Khrai Development Study Center of Doi Saket Dictrict, Chiang Mai Province, which has resulted from the destruction of forest land and which has been rehabilitated through His Late Majesty’s idea to build a reservoir and to plant plenty of vetiver like what has been done at Khao Hin Son Development Study Centre.

Hard Soil and Laterite

This type of soil is fine, heavy and not easily permeable by air or water. In the dry season, it is so hardened as to be hardly penetrable by roots. Huai Sai Development Study Centre, Cha-am District, Phetchaburi Province has engaged in solving the problem of hard soil by using the method advised by His Late Majesty as follows:

  • Build a reservoir by drawing water from a main watercourse to maintain moisture and to provide water for sparing use.
  • Replant agricultural cash crops, such as fruit trees and annual plants. Improve the soil with compost and green manure by growing leguminous plants and then ploughing and covering them up. Plant vetiver hedgerows horizontally across a slope to prevent the soil from being washed away and to retain soil moisture.

Saline Soil

Saline soil is a type of soil that contains high level of soluble salts which reduces plant growth. The salt in the saline soil found in Northeast Thailand is mostly common salt occurring in the form of sodium chloride.

The late King then advised that the irrigation system should be used to wash off the salt left behind in the surface soil and the gullies until the water becomes drinkable. Such a project was carried out at Huai Bo Daeng in Ban Muang District, Sakon Nakhon Province, where there was a salt field in operation. According to the King’s opinion, the mountain brook Huai Bo Daeng was dredged and the earth banks were heightened to prevent water in the salt field from spilling into the brook, so that the farmers could use the brook water to grow rice. Meanwhile a large pond was dug beside the salt pit to keep the waste water until it was evaporated or released underground through small artesian wells.

Soil Erosion

The loss of topsoil and soil erosion is one of the country’s major problems leading to the deterioration of soil resource. The late King was the first in Thailand to recognize the potential of vetiver grass as a practical, economical and efficient management and conservation tool to tackle soil erosion.

His Late Majesty had found the potential of the vetiver grass that could be planted to conserve soil and water. The fibrous root system of vetiver grass penetrates deep down into the soil at great depth and acts as the natural erosion-control barrier. In June 1991, the late King ordered the use of vetiver grass for soil conservation and water quality management to be investigated and experimented. Consequently, pilot experiments of planting vetiver grass were conducted in several Royal Development Study Centers. The main place is at Doi Tung Development Project in Chiang Rai Province, where the vetiver hedgerows planting was introduced in 1992 to secure steep hillsides from soil erosion.

Acidic Soil

Much of the land in the southern region is composed of water-soaked peatland. The deeper marine clay contains pyrites that become very acidic when exposed to oxygen. During his visit to Narathiwat in 1981, the late King Bhumibol observed that vast areas in the province were swampy and “un-agricultural,” because of soil acidity.

His Late Majesty discovered that the effective way to improve swamp areas was to lessen the soil acidity. He came up with the “klaeng din project”, which involves a study of naturally occurring process of acidification and soil improvement. Literally meaning “playing a trick on soil,” klaeng din is a soil treatment process. Water can be used to flush the acidity from the soil. Limestone dust worked into the soil helps ease the acidity problem to a certain extent. At the initiative of the late King, the Pikun Thong Royal Development Study Center was established in Narathiwat Province in 1982 to carry out the klaeng din project.

More Recognition for the Late King Bhumibol on Soil Management

On April 12, 2012, His Late Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej was presented with the Human-itarian Soil Scientist Award at an audience granted to Prof. Dr. Stephen Northcliff, Executive Director of the International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS) and a group of IUSS executives. The award was granted in recognition of the late King as the first monarch of the world who had attached great importance to the management of soil resources and had continuously carried out various activities in support of soil management until all this had become well known to the public and accepted locally and internationally.

At the award presenting ceremony, Prof. Northcliff delivered a brief laudatory speech, saying that all members of the International Union of Soil Sciences throughout the world had known the vision of and work done by His Late Majesty in sustainable soil management very well ever since the 17th meeting of the World Council of Soil Scientists which was held in Bangkok in August 2002.

His Late Majesty was both a leader and an active participant in the work of solving soil problems. In doing so, His Late Majesty was an excellent example for other countries to follow and an inspiration for the members of the Councils of Soil Science and the International Union of Soil Sciences to cooperate in carrying on the activities in sustainable soil management that His Late Majesty had initiated in Thailand. (Data sources: www.mfa.go.th, www.fao.org.)

Main Menu