Vatchari makes U-turn, says rice pledge price to stay put

The price of rice under the government's pledging scheme will not change next season, commerce permanent secretary Vatchari Vimooktayon said yesterday.

Farming by phone A rice leaf is scanned using a mobile phone application, BaiKhao, which can suggest to farmers suitable proportions and quantities of fertilisers to put on their crops. The technology was developed by the National Electronics and Computer Technology Center in Pathum Thani province. APICHIT JINAKUL

Ms Vatchari had earlier triggered a farmer backlash by indicating that the pledging price would be slashed.

She said yesterday however that the idea of lowering the pledging price had been proposed by the National Rice Policy Committee's (NRPC) secretariat, but the idea had not been approved.

She now expects no changes either to the current pledging prices - 15,000 baht per tonne for white rice and 20,000 baht per tonne for fragrant rice - or to conditions for farmers to enter the pledging programme.

Ms Vatchari had said on Wednesday that the Commerce Ministry would recommend that the NRPC slash the pledging price to 13,000 baht. That drew the ire of farmers, who threatened to protest if the price cut went ahead.

Ms Vatchari said the Commerce Ministry estimated the pledging cost for the 2012-2013 second-crop season would be about 100 billion baht, which would fall within the budget approved by the cabinet.

She expected 7-9 million tonnes of paddy to be entered into the pledging scheme out of the 11 million tonnes produced nationwide during that period.

The next meeting of the NRPC, to be held in the middle of this month, will also look at ways to reduce production costs for rice farmers, she said.

The ministry may propose setting benchmark rates for land rental and rice harvesting or may include those services in its price control list if needed.

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong said the commerce ministry would have the final say on whether to cut the pledging price.

"The commerce minister [Boonsong Teriyapirom] has said there would not be a pledging price cut and I have to respect that decision," he said.