Rice farmers must prevail

Rice farmers must prevail

A variety of milled rice including Hom Mali are sold at Or Tor Kor market in Bangkok. (Photo by Seksan Rotjanamethakul/Bangkok Post)
A variety of milled rice including Hom Mali are sold at Or Tor Kor market in Bangkok. (Photo by Seksan Rotjanamethakul/Bangkok Post)

For Thais, rice is not just food; it is an object of pride for the country. Therefore, the recent news about Thailand's Hom Mali rice losing its "world's best rice" title is causing quite a stir.

A contest that recently took place in Phuket drew rice producers from neighbouring countries, including Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam as well as China, India, Pakistan, and the United States.

It was also reported that the Rice Exporter Association of Thailand submitted only one sample of Hom Mali rice from a province in the northeastern region for the competition.

In the end, the Hom Mali rice came second after Cambodia's "Pkha Romduol" rice.

While some critics are sceptical about the winning criteria and the contest's standards, the unsatisfying result is another wake-up call about the dire need for change in the government's rice policy and its assistance measures.

While these measures aim to maintain Thai jasmine rice's quality and farmer competitiveness, they may not be enough.

In fact, the government each year allocates a huge sum of money, mostly in the form of subsidies, to assist farmers.

The subsidy for rice farmers for the 2023 fiscal year came to a massive 15.5 billion baht.

But financial assistance without a clear direction may mean money going down the drain.

Despite the hefty financial assistance, a large number of farmers remain trapped in debt and cannot stand on their own feet, relying instead on the state. Many are landless farmers.

It is ironic that farmers who produce food for the whole nation have to experience poverty and food insecurity.

As farmers are struggling, rice quality and yield-per-rai have declined substantially, given that land degradation is partly caused by mass farm chemical use.

Rising production costs strip Thai farmers of their competitiveness, and despite an increase in global demand, Thailand has lost its title as the world's biggest rice exporter as other countries can now grow rice at a lower cost.

Thai governments -- regardless of whether they are elected or not -- tend to deal with farmers' problems, such as the cycle of floods and droughts as well as disease outbreaks, with knee-jerk reactions rather than rolling out reliable long-term strategies.

For instance, in very dry years with severe water shortages, the authorities casually tell farmers to switch to growing other plants, without even thinking about their lack of skills and knowledge, the additional production costs involved, and farmers' access to markets.

Meanwhile, when there are floods, most urban areas are saved at the expense of rice farmers.

Besides, the authorities have never tackled price gap issues, causing farmers to receive very little from selling rice that consumers have to buy at a much higher price.

The authorities should pay more attention to calls for the development and improvement of rice strains, and instead of giving cash handouts, they should do more to help farmers to adapt and adjust, so they can cater to market demand and cope better with the impacts of climate change that affect harvests. However, this requires more research, action plans, training, as well as loans to enable farmers to produce efficiently.

Farmers could easily make a decent income if the government learnt how to tackle their problems properly.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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