Yukol Limlaemthong appears to be the most qualified minister in the latest cabinet reshuffle by the Yingluck Shinawatra-led government, according to businessmen.
Yukol: Farmers must plan ahead
The former agriculture permanent secretary seems to be one of a handful of newly appointed ministers who truly understand what they have been assigned to do.
Mr Yukol's working experience has been spent mostly in the Agriculture Ministry, with his capability in tackling the 2004 bird flu crisis one of his obvious achievements.
The new agriculture minister was also praised as a troubleshooter who was ready to give advance warning to the private sector once the crisis happened.
More importantly, Mr Yukol is one of the few new ministers the private sector wants to stay in office for a four-year term, said Pornsil Patcharintanakul, a vice-chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce (TCC).
"To stay competitive and survive amid widened trade liberalisation, particularly for changes induced by the Asean Economic Community, we need smart farmers who can think and plan themselves," said Mr Yukol, also a former director-general of the Livestock Development Department.
"Smart farmers should be well equipped with comprehensive farm-related information and government policies to supplement their decision-making for production. Advice on production, cost management, marketing information and how to use technology for production should be also made available."
Mr Yukol warns that Thailand's farming sector will be harder hit by a labour shortage, climate change and greater competition from an influx of regional products once regional economic integration takes place.
His priority is to accelerate setting up an agricultural information centre mainly focusing on Thailand's top 10 products. Agricultural offices nationwide will be assigned to gather production information from each province as well as data on costs, productivity, volumes and consumption.
Provincial offices will have to propose action plans on agricultural development so that available information can be compared with that of other areas.
This will eventually lead to agricultural zoning in which more appropriate areas with lower costs should be promoted for particular production.
"Zoning will help to strike a balance between energy crops and edible crops, as we will know which areas are proper for edible crops and which for energy crops such as cassava, sugar cane and palm oil," he said.
"For certain crops such as palm oil where we are not competitive, we may have a production plan only for domestic consumption."
In his attempts to convince farmers to participate in zoning, Mr Yukol has already started discussions with the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC), Kasetsart University (KU), the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI) and the TCC.
The BAAC will offer low-interest loans to farmers, issue credit cards and offer crop insurance, while KU will provide academic and advisory support.
The TCC and FTI will be asked to organise matchmaking for products.
More importantly, the ministry has been preparing an agricultural youth project to encourage younger generations to become farm-related entrepreneurs who will understand not only production but also processing, marketing and technology applications.
Mr Yukol said the Rice Department has been assigned to prepare a comprehensive production plan whereby the crop would be classified into rice for cooking, for processing into cosmetics and for medicine that contains high antioxidants, for instance.
Farmers should also be encouraged to set up community rice varieties and sell their own varieties.
"All the plans, if achieved, will help to enable farmers to overcome poverty," Mr Yukol said. "And in the future the agricultural sector will change from having only dirty and manual jobs."
About the author
- Writer: Phusadee Arunmas
Position: Business Reporter