Leave no farmer behind
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Leave no farmer behind

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin recently launched an initiative aimed at transforming Thailand, already a major food exporter, into a global agriculture hub. Such an ambition is not new for the government, but the plan faces numerous challenges.

In his "Ignite Thailand" address, he said the agriculture policy is a major focus for the government due to its fundamental role in the country's economic and social development. He noted that over 40% of Thais are involved in agriculture, and added the government is committed to elevating the sector and tripling farmers' incomes within four years.

The plan to drive exports, improve prices and add value to agricultural products is commendable. Yet despite these efforts, farmers often suffer from unfair interest distribution and persistent inequality.

According to the Puey Ungphakorn Institute for Economic Research, Thai farmers are heavily indebted, with the average debt exceeding 450,000 baht per household.

Over 57% of farming households carry debts beyond their repayment capacity. Data from the Office of Agricultural Economics reveals the average annual income for farming households is only 206,310 baht.

Meanwhile, an analysis of credit bureau data from over five years shows that just only 28% of the 3.5 million farmers in the country have been able to reduce their principal debt, while 56% are struggling with repayments and 16% are unable to make any payments.

This persistent debt issue is likely to be inherited by future generations, perpetuating a cycle of financial hardship. The policy to establish Thailand as an agricultural hub is promising. But this ambitious goal, if attained at all, will not truly benefit everyone if unfair income distribution is not corrected.

Farmers often produce large quantities of goods but sell them at low prices due to middlemen. This is a chronic problem in Thai agriculture. These products are then sold to consumers at high prices, raising food costs while farmers accrue more debt. The true beneficiaries are often large businesses that buy low and sell high.

Historically, agricultural policy has been trapped in a vicious cycle of subsidies. Agricultural products have become tools for politicians to gain votes, as farmers constitute a large voter base.

Subsidies funded by taxpayers are used as political instruments without genuine efforts to solve farmers' issues. This practice has led to the cynical notion that politicians prefer to keep farmers impoverished to maintain their political control.

Addressing chronic problems in agriculture through inclusive measures is an urgent matter and must be a core part of the prime minister's plan to turn the country into an agricultural hub.

Efficient debt relief programmes, fair trade practices, technological and innovative support, sustainable farming methods and support for cooperatives and farmer organisations -- ensuring they genuinely represent farmers -- are essential. However, the most critical aspect is determining how and when to take serious action on these issues.

While the prime minister's policy to drive the agricultural sector is significant, it is imperative the government address these deep-rooted issues of inequity and persistent debt.

Only by ensuring fair benefit distribution and genuine support for farmers can Thailand truly become a global agricultural hub and uplift the lives of its farmers, securing sustainable and equitable growth for the future.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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