Organic exports to hit B5bn
Thailand aims to raise organic food exports to 5 billion baht in next few years from 4 billion now.
"Rice production now engages over 16 million people or 3.7 million households, and represents 40% of the country's workforce and a quarter of the population," said Winichai Chaemchaeng, vice-minister for commerce. "Rice production also relies on global demand, as half of the country's output is slated for export. But Thai farmers remain among the poorest in Asean, with more than 1 million households living below the poverty line."
Thailand's poverty line was 2,575 baht per person per month in 2013, rising to 2,647 baht in 2014 and falling to 2,644 baht in 2015, said the National Economic and Social Development Board.
He said the government is committed to driving structural changes in the rice sector to produce higher-quality products such as organic rice, coloured rice and rice with a geographic indication.
The government also pledged to support post-harvest logistics, technical and managerial skills, and linkages between farmers and manufacturers of food, nutraceuticals, cosmetics, beer and biofuels.
The government aims to increase organic rice production to 20% of the country's rice output over the next two to three years from 10% now. The market for organic agricultural products is worth 2.3 trillion baht, of which 4 billion is from exports.
Siree Chaiseri, vice-president for research at Kasetsart University, said global demand for food has changed quickly, with consumers preferring convenience, freshness, cleanliness, safety and longer shelf life. Consumers also tend to consume low-sugar and colourful foods such as purple corn, yams and black rice.
According to the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture, the world's appetite for organically grown foods has become too big to be ignored, worth an estimated $80 billion in 2014. The biggest markets are Europe and the US.
Sales of organic foods are growing at double-digit rates in many countries. The fastest growth is reported in China, up 32% per year from 2010 through 2014, driven in part by public anxiety over chemical contamination in food, as several scandals have underlined.