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Chulalongkorn University Upholds Sustainable Use of Land

The Times Higher Education University Impact Rankings 2020 has placed Chulalongkorn University 1st in Thailand and 45th in the world for social and economic impact based on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 15: Life on Land, which focuses on land and ecosystem sustainability.

Chulalongkorn University’s accomplishments in research, teaching, academic services, activities, policy planning, and continuous collaboration and partnership with public and private sectors have earned the University recognition for SDG 15: Life on Land. Throughout the years, Chulalongkorn University has contributed to the sciences, social sciences, and humanities development – which are core components to a well-balanced and sustainable land ecosystem.

One research that stood out and visibly impacted the land ecosystem was the project, “Microbial Pesticide Innovation for Increasing Agricultural Production, Clean Food, and Environmental Restoration”, led by Professor Dr. Alisa Vangnai of the Department of Biochemistry, Faculty of Science.  Since some of the soil in Thailand has been damaged over the years with extensive use of pesticides, the discovery of “energetic microbes” was a great solution to help break down chemical pesticides and herbicides in soil.  The project helped improved the properties of agricultural products without the use of harmful chemicals, created a healthier and more sustainable environment, helped farmers increase their income, and built a safe food chain system for consumers.

“One day, I had the opportunity to meet a group of local farmers and one of them shared that they spent over 30,000 baht on soil restoration products that did not seem to work.  However, once the energetic microbes were used, he noticed the difference and wanted to continue repurchase these microbes.  I believe that this project has proven beneficial to more than just the environment.  It has also helped the economy and income of farmers too”, said Professor Dr. Alisa Vangnai, the biochemistry expert.

Chulalongkorn University’s efforts is not only limited to Bangkok.  The University has a Center of Learning Network for the Region in Saraburi and another in Naan province, both functioning to promote sustainable development throughout the country.

Beginning in 1989, the Project for the Development of Administration Office of Chula-Saraburi Area has appointed researchers to survey the biological, physical, and ecological features of the area to find ways to develop the soil.  The project was in partnership with the Plant Genetic Conservation Project under the royal initiative of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.  Since then, the center has played an important role in forest restoration and worked with local communities to build water reservoirs, plant vetiver grass and other plants to prevent landslides, and use mycorrhiza to increase forest restoration efficiency in Thailand.

Similarly, the Lainan Research and Technology Transfer Station in Naan has helped restore soil in the area.  Since farmers have been planting only one kind of crop and used large amounts of pesticides and herbicides, the soil and water sources are contaminated. For this reason, the Nan Forest Conservation Project, a collaborative effort between Chula, Kasikorn Bank, and other local civil society groups and public organizations, was launched.  The team introduced organic fertilizers and supported an agricultural community to switch farming methods and ensure that the crops are chemical free and uncontaminated.  Other projects include creating a disaster management plan to deal with floods, action plans to conserve historical sites, and redesigning the city for tourism.

“The Center of Learning Network for the Region has worked with different departments and sectors to support the learning and knowledge of those in the local communities, along with developing career paths, promoting the economy, while remaining sustainable.  Every part of the process and coordination of the project is supported by locals and a network of students that help make it possible,” says Assistant Professor Dr. Wichase Khonsue, director of The Center of Learning Network for the Region.

Another notable initiative for ecosystem sustainability was the Andaman Pilot Project by Dr. Narumon Arunotai from Chulalongkorn University Social Research Institute.  Funded by UNESCO in 1997, the project began with a field survey of locals, most of whom were of the Chao Le ethnic group, impacted by the urban and economic development in the Surin Islands, Phang Nga.  Due to the changes in urban and economic development, natives to the area were limited to maritime occupation rights, lacked housing rights, and had no protection of their own culture.  The research results from the Andaman Pilot Project have helped outsiders to understand the community, while creating sustainable development approaches, such as creating sustainable tourism for visitors to understand the culture of indigenous groups, like the Chao Le, and other communities across Thailand.

“The world was introduced to the Chao Le during the tsunami, and now that we have research collected from the public sector and civil society, we can clearly see the value that coastal ecological culture brings.  With the outbreak of COVID-19, the Chao Le and other indigenous groups have started to trade food and crops, which reflects the importance of culture, self-reliance, and a sustainable ecosystem in local communities,” says Dr. Narumon Arunotai.

The collaboration between Chulalongkorn University and the Chao Le have also inspired local Mokens to create a tourism business model.  Under the project, “Take a Tour with Moken”, tourists experience authentic Moken culture and lifestyle through tours and exhibitions.

The research and years of dedication to collaborate with others have allowed Chulalongkorn University to work towards a sustainable life on land.

Chula’s encouragement and support for research is excellent for teachers, students, and the public.

Associate Professor Dr. Suchana Chavanich Faculty of Science, Chulalongkorn University