Somkid touts Hokkaido smart agricultural model
Combination of tourism and farming expected to lure visitors, writes Chatrudee Theparat
Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan's main islands, is known not only for breathtaking scenery, onsen hot springs and ski areas, but also advanced agricultural technology and ecotourism.
Agriculture plays a large role in Hokkaido's economy, with a quarter of Japan's arable land located on the island.
The island ranks first in Japan in terms of the production of a range of agricultural products, including wheat, soybeans, potatoes, sugar beets, onions, pumpkins, corn, raw milk, beef and many other products, including more exotic crops.
Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak said the government is applying Hokkaido's development of technology for the farm and tourism sectors to upgrade Thailand's community-based tourism and tackle poverty among farmers.
Mr Somkid recently led officials from the Industry Ministry, the Board of Investment (BoI), the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) and the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC) to visit Japan between Nov 7-10.
"Thailand should learn to use more advanced technology in the agriculture sector because the country has become an ageing society and is facing a shortage of young workers in the sector," he said.
Mr Somkid has assigned the state-owned BAAC to seek solutions to support smart farmers and offer soft loans to enable them to apply smart machinery in farming such as drones, which help cut costs and provide better health for workers in the farm sector.
"Acquisition costs for smart machinery in the farm sector are quite high, so the government needs to design proper solutions to entice more machine manufacturers to lower their prices," he said.
The BoI has been assigned to devise investment packages in the agriculture segment that can attract more investment in machinery manufacturing.
Duangjai Aswachintachit, secretary-general of the BoI, said tax perks are now available to the farming industry from upstream to downstream, covering agricultural product processing, organic fertiliser production, and breeding development both for plants and animals.
The BoI revised tax privileges for the agriculture sector in September, offering a corporate income tax exemption for 5-8 years to smart farming businesses such as software design and data analysis for management.
Existing entrepreneurs in the farm sector who want to upgrade their products to international standards such as food safety ISO 22000 are also eligible for a corporate income tax exemption for three years.
The BoI reported applications for investment in agriculture and farm product processing amounted to 49 projects worth a combined 9.5 billion baht in the first 10 months this year.
Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak visited YANMAR Agri Solutions Center in Hokkaido on Nov 8. *No photo credit*
Mr Somkid ordered the TAT to join hands with the BAAC to promote agriculture-based and community tourism, similar to Hokkaido, creating a linkage between the farm and tourism sectors.
"Thailand can apply Hokkaido's farm and tourism development to upgrade community tourism and generate revenue in the agriculture sector," he said.
Hokkaido has successfully created a linkage between tourism and the farm sector, attracting 235,000 Thai visitors in 2018.
Toshihide Yamakawa, managing director of Hokkaido-based Smart Agriculture Division, said Japan needs speedy restructuring in the farm sector and has applied technology to increase productivity in order to supplement the smaller workforce of young farmers.
"Japan is an ageing society, with the number of young workers in the farm sector dwindling," he said. "It is essential for Japan to accelerate using high technology."