Survey finds 40% of farmers live under poverty line
Some 40% of farming households are living below the poverty line, set at 32,000 baht a year, with the sector's low income and higher debt a drag on the country's economic growth, says the Bank of Thailand's Puey Ungphakorn Institute for Economic Research's (Pier) in a survey.
Farm income averaged 57,032 baht per household in 2017, below the government's target of 60,000 baht by 2021, said Witsanu Attavanich, economics professor at Kasetsart University.
Pier collaborated with the university's economics department to conduct the survey on the agricultural industry from 2003-13.
"Some 40% of farming households surveyed earned an annual income below the country's poverty line of 32,000 baht. Each farming household had 2.7 members on average," he said.
The debt burden of the sector is another key challenge, with 30% of farming households having debt of above the average annual farming income per person, 10% with debt of higher than three times, and 50% having debt below 0.6 times.
Prof Witsanu said the ageing farm population is also a hurdle for the sector, as agricultural labour aged 40-60 increased significantly from 39% of the workforce in 2003 to 49% in 2013, while younger farmers aged 15-40 declined from 48% to 32% over the same period.
In 2017, half of farming households owned below 10 rai of farmland per household, with an overall average of 14.3 rai owned for agricultural families.
Small plantation areas partly affected productivity of the sector, with 50% of total farming households having productivity levels below the mean.
However, farming households showed positive movements in replacing human labour with machinery, with 68% of total farming households using modern agricultural machinery.
The survey also found younger farmers have engaged in specialised farming, but not enough to build up economies of scale.
The government should support the younger generation entering the sector in order to strengthen the industry with innovative instruments and farm management, he said. These could build up both productivity and add value to farm products.
"The government's incentives must be on par with other countries' in order to sustain Thailand's agricultural sector," said Prof Witsanu.
Sommarat Chantarat, Pier's head of financial systems research, said big data analytics could be a helpful instrument for the government, to be used in directing subsidies to particular farmers instead of a blanket assistance scheme.