Farmers urge action after top rice fails to win prize

Farmers urge action after top rice fails to win prize

Rice traders are calling on the Ministry of Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives to prioritise the development and improvement of rice varieties after Thailand's signature jasmine rice, Thai Hom Mali, failed to win the World's Best Rice award for a second year.

Vietnam's ST24 rice won this year's award, while Cambodia's premium fragrant rice, Malys Angkor, won the honours in 2018.

Chookiat Ophaswongse, honorary president of Thai Rice Exporters Association, said missing the award twice in a row indicates that their rivals have been continuously working on developing their product.

Thai jasmine rice had won the honours in 2009, 2010, 2014, 2016 and 2017.

"As far as I know, Vietnam's ST24 has never been named best before, which shows that it has made a significant improvement. This is worrying for Thailand because the Vietnamese product is almost half the price of Thai rice," he said.

Thai Hom Mali rice goes for US$1,100 to $1,200 (B33,289 to B36,315) per tonne, while the Vietnamese version is priced at $600 per tonne, he said, adding that Vietnam also has better yield per rai and lower production costs.

"This has put us on notice and the Agriculture Ministry should focus on the development and improvement of Thai rice varieties. Our neighbours like Vietnam and Cambodia have almost caught up with us," he said.

He noted that if nothing is done to improve the quality, Thai rice may become a thing of the past in just five years because buyers will opt for a cheaper version if there is no big difference. Also, he said, Vietnam has spent five years improving the sweet, delicious taste of ST24 rice.

The annual rice contest is conducted by a panel of international chefs who inspect and evaluate the aroma, taste, texture and shape of the rice grains in question.

Kirati Ratchano, Foreign Trade Department's acting chief, tried to ally concerns by saying most importers still recognise the quality of Thai rice, though he admitted that the authorities need to maintain and improve it.

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