Government urged to tackle northeast's water supply issue

Government urged to tackle northeast's water supply issue

Farms in the Northeastern Economic Corridor depend on good water supplies

A file photo shows farmers harvesting rice from an inundated rice field in Nakhon Ratchasima in October 2020. Despite periodic floods in certain areas, the region's farming sector faces a drastic water shortage almost every year. (Photo: Prasit Tanprasert)
A file photo shows farmers harvesting rice from an inundated rice field in Nakhon Ratchasima in October 2020. Despite periodic floods in certain areas, the region's farming sector faces a drastic water shortage almost every year. (Photo: Prasit Tanprasert)

The government is being urged to tackle water supplies to the farm sector in the northeastern region if it wants to go ahead with bio-economy development in the planned Northeastern Economic Corridor (NEEC), which will be similar in form to the current flagship Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC).

Narongchai Akrasanee, chairman of Khon Kaen University Council, said water supply was the most important factor for the agriculture sector which produces upstream products for bio-economy development.

"Sufficient water supply will upgrade the productivity of the agriculture products such as tapioca, rice and sugar cane in the northeast," said the former energy and commerce minister at a video conference on the NEEC organised by the National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC).

The government is now eyeing the development of three new economic corridors that are instrumental to increasing investment and rehabilitating the economy over the next 5-6 years.

They are the NEEC, the Northern Economic Corridor (NEC), and the Southern Economic Corridor (SEC), which are similar in form to the flagship EEC. They are scheduled to be promoted in the 13th national economic and social development plan that spans 2023-27.

The NEEC covers the provinces of Udon Thani, Khon Kaen, Nakhon Ratchasima and Nong Khai. The corridor is expected to manufacture products to supply the EEC and China, with an emphasis on bio-economy development because of the area's plentiful raw materials such as rice, tapioca and sugar cane.

According to Mr Narongchai, the productivity of the northeastern farm sector progresses slowly because it lacks sufficient water supply.

He cited the first three years of the 12th national economic and social development plan (2017-22), which showed that the total factor productivity of the agriculture sector in the northeast grew by 20%, slower than the 11th national plan (2012-16) in which the rate grew by 23%.

However, the productivity of the service sector had made quite good progress, growing by 58.6% in the 12th national plan, up from 46.6% in the 11th plan.

"Water development projects in the northeast should be developed first if the government wants to drive bio-economy as a growth engine to the northeastern region," said Mr Narongchai.

There are 16 water resource development areas in the northeast but 14 areas have insufficient water supplies, he said.

Mr Narongchai suggested that in the first phase of the development, the NEEC needed to focus first on the logistics industry because the regional infrastructure including double-track rails, motorways, and the Sino-Thai high-speed train project linking Bangkok and Nong Khai, have made a lot of progress.

He said Thailand should look to capitalise on the high-speed rail network linking China and Vientiane, which is scheduled to commence operations in December this year.

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