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Local to Global: Vision of Isan

Thailand’s northeastern region of Isan is fostering people-public-private partnerships to connect local supplies with global demand. This will enable the region to grow and be visible on the radar of global connectivity and trade.

            “Isan”is thelocal nickname for northeastern Thailand, the largestregion in the country. Covering one third of the country’s area, Isan has a population of approximately 22million, which is also one third of the the country’s population. It is strategically located adjacent to Lao PDR and Cambodia, endowed with rich resources from the Mekong River. Isan’s terrain is mostly mountainous, which is perhaps why it tends to be overlooked by foreigners, or even Thais, who prefer the idyllic, beautiful beaches that have received global acclaim as a paradise for sea lovers.

 

            Isan, with its rich history and culture, and many interesting stories to be told, has been a relatively well-kept secret.Despite its modest outlook, Isan has thrived on agriculture and has potential for further development. The government and the private sector have a vision to promote its local products, as well as tourist attractions, to the world. This is indeed timely and practical in the post COVID-19 years, when the push for economic recovery and economic growth will be most needed to compensate for the vast social and economic losses.

            To promote Isan and to connect local supply to global demand, both the private and public sectors in Thailand and abroad need to synergize their efforts, and to adopt a holistic approach to advance economic diplomacy. The Government realizes that in this era of accelerated digitalization and modernized technology, Isan has to be well-equipped to strengthen its potential, whether it is in promoting tourism, supporting SMEs and MSMEs in expanding trade channels, or boosting creative innovation in design thinking and research for new products.

            With these considerations in mind, on 2 April 2021, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, together with the Ministry of Interior and six other agencies, including the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Creative Economy Agency, Department of International Trade Promotion, National Food Institute of Thailand, National Innovation Agency, and Thai Airways, joined hands to organize the “Local to Global: Vision of Isan” event. The objective was to showcase Isan’s local products and to exchange views on how the region could enrich its economic know-how, innovation, and creativity, so that its products could earn a place in foreign markets. In addition, the event also sought to broaden entrepreneurs’ horizons on opportunities to promote and to develop their products in line with global standards, so that Isan could become a model for other regions.

 
                                                                                                                                            Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand

            Thailand has long been ready for the post Covid period.  that corresponds to the world’s rapidly changing dynamics and emerging trends. This points to the concepts of sustainability, eco-friendly development, and environment-conscious manufacturing process which are currently and widely advocated by many countries, including Thailand.          

                  In this regard, Mr. Chutintorn Gongsakdi, Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Mr. Pisanu Suvanajata, Ambassador of Thailand to the UK, suggested that in curating this new narrative, Thailand has to utilise all the existing tools and to analyse global trends, so that Isan’s products can match global demand. During the discussion, it was reiterated that “TeamThailand, be it the Royal Thai Embassies, Royal Thai Consulates-General, or the Thai Trade Offices, stand ready to support the promotion of Thai products abroad, as well as business matching opportunities for Thai entrepreneurs wherever and whenever possible.

            Isan has potential, and more to offer, than many people may notice. One of its famous products is “Praewa Thai Silk Fabric,” which some people have praised as the “Queen of Silk.” Locally woven in Kalasin province with intricate details, Praewa silk has reached the same standards as famous global brands. Hence, it is fitting for Praewa silk to be recognised at the global level, and for local producers, the Government, and the private sector, to work together in boostingmore Thai products to such prominence. The “Local to Global” event is the first step towards this goal.  

            Isan has many good practices. Youngergenerations, including generation Y entrepreneurs, have applied modern technology, innovation, and creative thinking to comply withglobal standards, while contributing to the development of their local community. Siam Tech Farm is one example of a group of local entrepreneurs in Chum Phae, Khon Kaen, who have made use of Chumphae’s natural assets, such as crickets and Tubtim Chum Phae rice.

 

            When raised and cultivated under a standardized approach, these products bring higher income to the community, and with a dose of creativity, they have the potential to be exported globally. Chum Phae community has raised crickets by utilizing a modern technology application to control the feeding time. This helps reduce costs and increases their monthly income to 30,000 – 40,000 baht. Moreover, these local entrepreneurs have created cricket pasta made from Tubtim Chum Phae rice, which is gluten free and healthy, so as to have a product that is unique and exclusively available.

             On tourism, Isan can offer authentic cultural experience that is now a popular travel trend among the younger generations. A company called “Local Alike” has partnered with local communities in Isan to organise community-based tourism and hands-on activities. The package starts with learning about unique products in the community and then using technology and innovative thinking to add value. For example, the presentation of local dishes has been re-designed to resemble a chef table dining experience. The income generated from such community-based tourism would return to the local communities and contribute to people’s livelihoods and local development.

            On the infrastructure development front, there is Khon Kaen City Development Company, which grew from the cooperation of 20 key business partners in the province. The company aims to strengthen Khon Kaen’s infrastructure to stimulate development for the benefit of future generations and to transform Thailand into a logistics hub of ASEAN. The company has thus far produced prominent projects, such as the city rail project and Khon Kaen Smart City. 

            These are only three of several more success stories of how a people-public-private partnership could drive local products to catch up with global trends. Isan is just part of the jigsaw of Thailand’s long-term economic diplomacy to promote Thailand’s potential to the international community. Team Thailand is well prepared to facilitate Thai entrepreneurs in showcasing their products and to build back better post COVID-19 from the local community level upwards.

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