Second-crop rice farmers encouraged to diversify
The government aims to cut rice production to 27.2 million tonnes of paddy from an average of 33 million tonnes a year, shrinking the rice plantation area to 60.6 million rai from 68 million as part of its agricultural reform.
Tanit Anakewit, deputy permanent secretary to the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry, said farming in inappropriate locations produced low-quality rice, mainly during the second crop, and such areas will be encouraged to grow other crops.
Of the 68 million rai of rice farmland, 12% is an area that grows second-crop or offseason rice.
The government aims to reduce rice production, particularly for the second crop, and encourage farming of green beans, soybeans, organic vegetables, sugar cane, tapioca and livestock using innovative technology.
However, the reduction will be on a voluntary basis and should take five to 20 years, said Mr Tanit.
He said rice production should be reduced to only one main crop, while the government should provide support to produce seeds, machinery and soft loans.
Mr Tanit said the government's rice megafarm scheme is a move in the right direction as it cuts farmers' production costs.
The megafarm project provides soft loans, machinery and agricultural equipment to farmers to cut production costs and raise productivity. It was implemented last year and participating farmers pool their farmland into one large plot, using modern equipment to harvest.
Participating farmers can borrow up to 5 million baht at 0.01% interest from the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC), while the Commerce Ministry is responsible for the marketing and sales of the rice and finding buyers.
Acting as a group, participating farmers can negotiate for better access to markets and financial resources such as loans. This grouping and joint management is intended to ensure efficiency in the entire rice business -- from planning to farming and marketing to distribution.
Last August, the cabinet approved 3.25 billion baht worth of lending packages via the BAAC for megafarm projects for 2017-19.
Last year there were 381 rice megafarms spanning 940,000 rai. A total of 63,000 farmers participated in the scheme.
The Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry aims to expand the scheme to 426 rice megafarms this year covering 1.05 million rai, with the number of participating farmers totalling 72,142. Officials are reviewing incentives to entice more farmers to take part.
Somporn Isvilanonda, a senior academic from the Knowledge Network Institute of Thailand, suggested the government concentrate more on hom mali rice development, noting how Thai premium hom mali rice has been losing its aromatic quality because of improper cultivation processes.
The government is also being urged to promote growing coloured rice and organic rice that can fetch higher prices and faces less competition.
He said global demand for rice is expected to gradually fall as consumers reduce rice consumption in favour of vegetables and fruit.
Mr Somporn expected world rice production to increase, causing a glut.
He said global rice production in 2016-17 increased by 2.4% to 484 million tonnes, up from 472 million tonnes for the 2015-16 crop.
Global demand increased by 1.5% to 476 million tonnes in 2016-17, up from 469 million tonnes in the 2015-16 crop, said Mr Somporn.
The global rice surplus rose to 7.19 million tonnes for the 2016-17 crop, up from 3.66 million tonnes for the 2015-16 crop.