Pundits slam measures to assist farmers as inadequate

Pundits slam measures to assist farmers as inadequate

Farmers harvest rice in the fields. Rice is one of the only crops the government has addressed in terms of agricultural policy. (Photo: Yongyuth Phuphuangphet)
Farmers harvest rice in the fields. Rice is one of the only crops the government has addressed in terms of agricultural policy. (Photo: Yongyuth Phuphuangphet)

Industry observers are pointing out the government's support measures for agricultural products, especially rice, are mostly retreads of previous measures by former administrations.

They said if the assistance or support measures involve budgetary allocations, they should come with conditions.

Aat Pisanwanich, a lecturer in international economics, said after evaluating the government's assistance measures for farmers, he found the main policy is suspending debt of up to 300,000 baht per farmer for three years.

Other state measures include assistance for rice farmers of 1,000 baht per rai for up to 20 rai, not exceeding 20,000 baht per household, and loan support to delay the sale of rice by allowing agricultural cooperatives to purchase rice at prices higher than the market and share profits with farmers.

NOT GETTING TO THE CORE

Mr Aat said compared with other production activities, the agricultural sector has received minimal assistance from the new administration, addressing only surface issues such as debt suspension and financial aid to rice farmers.

The underlying problems in the sector remain unaddressed, he said, as the government has not come up with any long-term solutions for agricultural products if prices decline.

There is also a deficiency in policies for water management in agriculture caused by the El Niño weather phenomenon, said Mr Aat.

More importantly, there are no measures to reduce production costs and increase productivity per rai, while its export promotion efforts are concentrated mainly on China, with insufficient risk diversification into other export markets, he said.

Foreign entrepreneurs cannot obtain updated market information, while state measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for agricultural products still lack clear plans, said Mr Aat.

Thailand's greenhouse gas reduction plans remain vague compared with Vietnam's specific goals, such as a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in rice cultivation within a certain time frame. This will result in a loss of opportunity and competitiveness in foreign markets, he said.

PASS THE RICE

"The assistance measures for other agricultural products, aside from rice, still lack clarity as the Srettha Thavisin government has focused on the digital wallet scheme and tourism promotion over the farming sector," said Mr Aat.

"For products such as rubber and oil palm, the government has yet to introduce any special support measures."

He pointed to the absence of measures to modernise agricultural product processing to create added value, such as health food and future food, as well as a deficiency in driving the bio-, circular and green economic model in farming, which is considered essential.

"Middlemen and logistics intermediaries continue to be the primary factors contributing to high agricultural product prices, but the benefits are limited for farmers," said Mr Aat.

"Consumers then have to purchase products at high prices."

He also suggested Thai organic product standards be revised as they are not widely accepted internationally.

In addition, the government should come up with effective measures to tackle foreign traders and buyers who now control Thailand's agricultural product market, as they weaken local traders, said Mr Aat.

NOTHING NEW

Nipon Puapongsakorn, a distinguished fellow at the Thailand Development Research Institute, concurred that the agricultural support measures of the new government differ little from those implemented by the Prayut Chan-o-cha administration.

He said the state's financial assistance to farmers who agree to delay sales by storing rice in their barns is ineffective as only rice farmers in the Northeast still have barns. Farmers in the central region no longer own barns, said Mr Nipon.

In addition, farmers in the central region tend to sell their grain once it is harvested, making the measure ineffective, he said.

According to Mr Nipon, the measure offering farmers 1,000 baht per rai should come with conditions requiring participants to help conserve water and ensure clean air.

He said some farmers, particularly in the central region, tend to use water wastefully.

Mr Nipon advised the government to support high-quality rice seeds that result in higher yields, as farmers currently use their stored rice seeds, leading to significant mixing of different varieties, decreasing the yield per rai.

"Government support and assistance measures should come with conditions that can be followed up on," he said.

"There must be monitoring of the conditions to enforce compliance. The conditions should vary in each respective area."

TECHNOLOGY URGED

Visit Limlurcha, president of the Thai Future Food Trade Association and vice-chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, said as the farm sector is crucial for the country and closely related to various industries, especially the food industry, the private sector proposes efforts to elevate the sector through technology.

The government should provide knowledge on agricultural practices, increasing productivity per rai, and come up with prudent strategies to reduce expenses, including the use of organic fertilisers, said Mr Visit.

Authorities should encourage the application of modern technologies and innovations to enhance R&D of plant varieties to increase crop yields and raise the value of return per rai, he said.

In addition, the government should focus on promoting the processing of agricultural products to add value, generating income for the sector and utilising market-oriented innovations, said Mr Visit.

Support is recommended for adapting crop cultivation to be more suitable for the natural and economic environments, he said.

The emphasis should be on creating a sustainable and economically viable agricultural sector by leveraging long-term market innovations and providing support for transformative changes in crop cultivation, said Mr Visit.

Furthermore, the private sector has highlighted the challenges posed by climate change, drought and flooding that affect agricultural production and food exports, he said.

The chamber recommends the government implement measures to address the water crisis and manage it effectively, said Mr Visit.

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