He who dares wins as Grisada leaves his mark
Prior to his appointment as Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister over a year ago, Grisada Boonrach, a former interior permanent secretary, had already been known as a man who always left his mark on offices of state that he served.
About two decades ago, as the chief of Mae Ai district in Chiang Mai province, he demonstrated unprecedented courage by giving Thai citizenship to 1,243 tribal villagers. This act may have landed him a lawsuit in the Administrative Court, but it also earned him stellar marks for his resume and in the public's eye ever since.
Later, as the governor of Yala province, he was praised for his can-do attitude and aggressive work style, such as his late-night inspection of bomb scenes alongside local soldiers. Despite his "friendliness" towards a certain political camp, he has been praised and promoted by governments from all political sides.
So, it is not surprising that the outgoing minister is trying to leave his signature indelible mark in his final days at the ministry.
On July 3, he pledged to decide within a week on whether to issue a ministerial regulation, under Section 57 of the Fisheries Act 2015, to define the minimum size of pla thu, or mackerel, that can be caught and brought to shore. This is to prevent potential destruction of pla thu stocks, a staple food for Thais, and my all-time favourite food.
His move came after news reports suggested that mackerel is at risk of disappearing from Thai waters in five years. One of the culprits behind this is the continued use of destructive fishing methods.
Fishermen have been accused of using fine-mesh fishing nets to catch juvenile fish, which should have been left in the sea to reproduce and grow. The minimum acceptable catch size of mackerel is 14 centimetres. Yet nowadays, fishing boats often catch mackerel which are as small as a human thumb.
This means a ministerial regulation can be issued under Section 57 to effectively ban trawlers from catching mackerels which are shorter than 14cm.
Mr Grisada's idea drew support from conservationists and small-scale fishermen, who have always wanted destructive fishing methods eliminated.
However, commercial trawlers threatened to bring 50,000 fishermen to protest in Bangkok if the regulation is issued.
This was the first of many challenges Mr Grisada faces in his final days in his post.
Then came his second challenge.
On Monday, the minister instructed officials to explore every possible legal avenue to impose an immediate ban on three toxic farm chemicals -- paraquat, glyphosate and chlorpyrifos -- and come up with alternatives.
"I am ready to sign the [ban] order before leaving the post," he said.
Personally, I wonder why the minister waited this long to get this tough. The issue has been in the spotlight for over a year, and all along the Department of Agriculture under his ministry has been opposing calls to ban the toxic trio.
Putting my scepticism aside, I hope that Mr Grisada will make worthwhile decisions in his final days in office.
It is about time that the government regulates the type of fishing nets that fishermen can use, and bans the use of destructive fishing gear that may cause fishing stocks to collapse.
Some might say that it could affect the fisheries industry, which is a lifeline of the country's exports and a source of about a million jobs. But changes to the marine ecology and a reduction in aquatic stocks will have a much worse impact on the industry. Like it or not, the industry's future pretty much depends on whether there are enough fish to catch.
With regards to the farm chemicals, it is just a matter of time before the government caves in to pressure from consumers to ban them. Over 50 countries already ban glyphosate outright, while 17 countries impose restrictions on its use. As an exporter of agricultural products, Thailand will miss out on the chance to make Thai food and farm exports premium products if it continues with the current policy.
On fisheries, once there is a drastic decline in fishing stocks, ministers will be forced to take actions that upset the entire industry. The era of ministers who kowtow to large fishing companies is obsolete. Look at Susi Pudjiastuti, the tattooed maritime affairs and fisheries minister of Indonesia. So far, in her bid to crackdown on illegal fishing, she has sunk over 360 illegal foreign fishing boats. Her "Susinisation" -- drastic measures adopted to clamp down on illegal and destructive fishery -- won her massive public support and praise.
The thing is, proposed changes which face resistance today can be accepted in the future. It is a matter of who will be remembered as the one who dared to push for those changes.
Anchalee Kongrut is an assistant news editor of the Bangkok Post.
Assistant News Editor
Bangkok Post's Assistant News Editor