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Rice millers asked to help pay farmers

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The Commerce Ministry has sought assistance from rice millers to pay half of the rice pledging amount owed to farmers to help those suffering from the government’s delay payment. 

Farmers together with anti-government protesters under the People's Democratic Reform Committee surround Commerce Ministry on Thursday. (Photo by Pattanapong Hirunard)

Caretaker Deputy Commerce Minister Yanyong Phuangrach said the ministry had spoken to representatives of the Thai Rice Mills Association to seek the cooperation of its members to accept the pledging tickets from farmers and pay around 50-60% of the amount owed to them.

Farmers would then repay the millers when they get the full amount from the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC).

Under this proposal, farmers do not have to pay interest to millers as the government will shoulder the cost.

Mr Yanyong said the government will seek permission from the Election Commission to get 1.2 billion baht of central budget funds to pay the interest for the farmers.

“This proposed method will depend on voluntary decisions by the millers. If the millers agree with it, the project can be implemented within February,” he said.

The Finance Ministry has been trying to acquire funds to finance the pledging scheme. The BAAC has agreed to extend a debt moratorium for farmers for six months and is also offering low-interest loans.

Manat Kitprasert, president of the Thai Rice Mills Association, said the group had no objection to the proposal as it would be a way to assist farmers, but it has to consult with members on the pros and cons.

The decision would have to be voluntary for its 500-600 members.

Farmers are not so sure about the scheme. Prasit Boonchey, president of the Thai Farmers Association, said the proposal might not be practical because farmers are not confident that financial institutions would approve loans for millers to free up funds. There was also uncertainty about whether the caretaker government had the authority to spend central budget funds to absorb the interest for farmers.

He said the best way at the moment is for the government to open warehouses for stock checking and speed up rice sales by setting prices based on quality in order to get some money.

Farmers in several western provinces travelled to the Commerce Ministry in Nonthaburi on Thursday to demand the government pay them their due.

Around 2,000 farmers from the North have signed a petition to be submitted to the Office of HM Principal Private Secretary complaining about the overdue payment for rice pledging.

Another group of farmers from the central provinces of Chai Nat, Ang Thong, Singburi, Suphanburi and Pathum Thani are blocking the Asian Highway in Ang Thong to pressure the caretaker government into paying them for their pledged rice.

Caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra posted a message on her Facebook page saying she had directed the Finance and Commerce ministries to secure funds quickly to pay farmers who have still not been paid for rice pledged under the scheme last year.

Because of its caretaker position, the government has limited authority to handle the situation because the law prohibits it from making any deal that could create a debt burden on the new administration, she said.

Meanwhile, farmers in Surin and Nakhon Ratchasima received payment on Thursday.

The 21 BAAC branches in Surin received a total of 155 million baht to pay farmers on Thursday while the bank's branches in Nakhon Ratchasima got 138 million baht.

In Surin, the BAAC has already paid out on 21,005 tickets worth 1.86 billion baht. It has to pay for another 73,634 tickets costing 6.8 billion baht. The bank also expects more rice to get into the system before the end of the scheme on Feb 28.

In Nakhon Ratchasima, a total of 99,714 tickets worth 7.7 billion baht have been pledged with the bank. It has paid out on 18,078 tickets worth 1.58 billion baht.

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