The government's costly rice pledging programme is again under fire, this time riling Virabongsa Ramangkura.
"I disagree with the government's plan to use taxpayers' money to subsidise the state's rice pledging scheme in the off-season harvest," said Mr Virabongsa, chairman of the Strategic Committee for Reconstruction and Future Development.
"The government had better shift its focus to promote high-value crops such as Hom Mali rice, organic rice, energy crops and fast-growing plants such as eucalyptus and the neem tree (Sadao). These will generate more benefits."
In the meantime, Thailand should not grow rice to compete with neighbouring countries, instead adjusting to compete with developed markets such as South Korea, said the chairman of the Bank of Thailand at a forum on small businesses.
"I feel sorry for the loss of decent farmland, especially around the Chao Phraya River Basin in the central plains below Chainat Dam, which has stepped up second-crop rice production to cash in on the government's pledging scheme," he said. "This area should stop growing cheap grains at the taxpayer's expense."
The National Rice Policy Committee decided last week to maintain its pledging price at 15,000 baht per tonne for white rice. At that price the government needs more than 100 billion baht to pay for the next round of grain purchases.
The committee also agreed to impose an additional condition to prohibit rice grown for less than 100 days from being pledged. The requirement was imposed to improve the quality of pledged rice.
The government spent 336 billion baht for the previous crop year to buy 21.6 million tonnes of pledged paddy. Some 6.9 million tonnes were from the main crop and 14.7 million from the second crop, with 118 billion baht buying paddy in the main harvest and 218 billion for the second crop.
The government projects 300 billion baht will be needed for the 2012-13 harvest, with 200 billion used to cover 10 million tonnes of paddy rice in the first crop and the rest to cover pledges of 6-7 million tonnes in the second crop.
In addition to the white rice price, the scheme gives farmers up to 20,000 baht for Hom Mali rice.
Since it was launched by the Yingluck Shinawatra government two years ago, rice production has jumped sharply as farmers seek to take advantage of the pledging prices, which when launched were as much as 40% higher than market prices.
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