Weekly Local Biography

  Hagen Dirksen

The Honorary Consul of the Federal Republic of Germany in Chiang Mai is Hagen Dirksen, a man who is also the Senior Project Advisor, Asia and Pacific for the German GTZ International Services.

He jokingly describes himself as having descended from farmers and dyke builders, having German, Dutch and Polish forebears. He was the second youngest child and says that he was ‘designated’ to go into agriculture. “As a child I had an interest, spending my holidays on farms in the countryside.” However, there was obviously no ‘choice’ offered to the young man.

He went to agriculture college and after four years, which included his compulsory military service, graduated in International Agriculture. “I already knew I didn’t want to be a small share farmer and I enjoyed the concept of large (scale) agriculture.” He also knew that he now valuing his own independence, not being pushed around by people as he had been, such as his father, or the army.

He had studied English and Spanish to widen his opportunities as jobs were not so plentiful for young graduates, and hoped that this would land him a job in South America. “I had always wanted to go to South America, but the job I was offered was in Bangladesh!” So Bangladesh it was for the next two years as assistant to the project manager in a large national livestock project farm, funded by the German government.

During this time he began exploring Asia, feeling that Bangladesh was at least an entry point to the continent. “I learned Asia had many faces.” He also found there was a huge contrast between Bangladesh and Thailand. “Asia was definitely interesting.”

Finding that he was more interested in the organizational side of agriculture, after Bangladesh he decided to return to academic studies and spent three years in Germany and the UK, emerging with post-graduate qualifications, including an M.Sc.

Now he was ready to look at joining an international organization, such as the World Bank and was successful in his approach to the German development group, GTZ, who were active in Asia. They had several posts available - Bangladesh (again!), Indonesia or Thailand, but Thailand looked the most interesting.

He arrived in the Kingdom and began working in settlement programmes. “It was (a case of) rickshaw drivers who were becoming farmers. They needed international donors to improve the life of these people.”

Following this he became a consultant for the European Union, but was always in this region and neighbouring countries. After this tour of duty he returned to Germany, to get ready for his next posting. “My next destination was to be Africa, but because of my Asian experience I was sent to Sri Lanka to be an advisor to the government in Colombo, coordinating foreign assistance and donor programmes.”

He spent six years in Sri Lanka, but would travel to Thailand frequently. So much so that he even joined the Bangkok Sports Club, an organization that cost only 9,000 baht to join in those days. “That was a very lucky move,” Hagen admitted!

At the end of his time in Sri Lanka he was supposed to return to the GTZ head office in Germany, but fate intervened. “I got a call from Chiang Mai. They needed a team leader for the Thai-German Rural Development programme.” This involved settling highlanders in Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son as part of the opium cultivation reduction plan. “This was part of the visionary approach of HM the King to integrate the mountainous areas into the mainstream of development.”

He settled into Chiang Mai and remained in charge of the project until 1998, overseeing the gradual take-over of the programmes by Thailand, who were by then attracting sustainable funding to keep the projects viable. Hagen is justifiably proud of the achievements. “We had a good name - we stayed a long time. These are long term processes - moving people from slash and burn to modern agricultural techniques.” During this time he had also become involved with similar projects in Laos, Vietnam and Burma, and was an acknowledged resource person for other projects in the region.

His standing in the community, recognized by both government and NGO’s resulted in his being approached by the German Ambassador to become the Honorary Consul. “I asked for time to think about it. Chiang Mai had become my destination, economically and emotionally, and the workload from GTZ was reducing, so I took it on.”

He is still involved in specific projects, now encompassing Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and even Afghanistan, which he described as, “The most recent challenge!” There he has to present the programmes for rural development. “The EU is the largest donor,” said Hagen. “The money goes into the rehabilitation, not into the military machine.”

When not representing Germany or looking at methods to promote crops alternate to the opium poppy and the like, Hagen enjoys a couple of rounds of golf every week, now playing off a handicap of 17. “It is important when living overseas - mental health needs physical fitness,” says Hagen, who incidentally is still a member of the Bangkok Sports Club!

He is also part of the cultural art and music scene in Chiang Mai. “It gives me a lot of enjoyment, as does raising money for charities. Chiang Mai is developing into a real cultural hub,” he said.

Whilst obviously ‘winding down’ in some ways, he aims to continue to work for as long as his services are required, and accepts willingly the responsibilities of being an Honorary Consul. “I have to represent my country in the best possible way, fostering good relationships between Germany and Thailand in the North.”

Other than that, he wants to live a healthy and peaceful life. “Money is no longer the main object.” He also wants to visit some countries where he has never been before. “One is South America, the only continent I have never visited!” It certainly would be a shame to waste all that learning of Spanish!