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close this bookTechnological Independence The Asian experience (UNU, 1994, 372 pages)
close this folder4. Thailand
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentTraditional path of development
View the documentDevelopment of the country in the national plans (1961-1986)
View the documentAn evaluation of thailand's present S&T situation: a macro-level study
View the documentCase-studies in agriculture
View the documentA desirable path
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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



% change


Urban (%)

12.5 (1960)a

18.2 (1982)

+5 7b

Rural (%)

87.5 (1960)

81.8 (1982)



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)


Trade balance (market prices, in millions of baht)

-290 (1961)

- 69,984 (1984)


Roads (km) (1983)


Railways (km) (1983)


Airways in distance flown (km) (1983)


Schools (no. per capita) (%)




Land resources

Agricultural area (%)

21.29 (1961)

45.83 (1984)


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)


Non-electrical items for industry

Machinery and parts for agriculture



Other metals











































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.