The government is stepping up efforts to address concerns about decreased rainfall and drought caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon that is affecting Thailand's agricultural sector, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said.
Speaking after a special cabinet meeting on Thursday, he said the government had attached great importance to the agricultural sector and people's well-being, especially on issues related to market expansion, increasing farmers' income, boosting farming efficiency, reducing production costs, promoting exports and ensuring sufficient food supplies for domestic consumption.
The impact of El Nino must particularly be taken into account when implementing measures to help the farming sector, he said, adding he has instructed the Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister to gather information on El Nino, including the impacts.
The impacts of El Nino will be discussed during the next cabinet meeting on Sept 13, he said, adding that measures will then be rolled out to address concerns.
He said he will make a two-day inspection trip to Khon Kaen, Udon Thani and Nong Khai in the Northeast starting today to observe the situation and hear local concerns.
Meanwhile, Mr Srettha said he has urged cabinet members to work closely with government officials and show respect as they play an important role in turning government policies into concrete outcomes.
Cabinet ministers must ensure that the promotion and career advancement process of officials is fair and transparent, he said.
He also highlighted the government's policy on transport infrastructure, which includes the comprehensive development of land, waterway, air and rail transport.
The integration of the Bangkok mass-transit ticketing system will be carried out for the sake of passenger convenience, whereas a proper fare policy will also be considered in line with the existing budget, he said.
Kriengkrai Thiennukul, chair of the Federation of Thai Industries, said the private sector is concerned about the impact of the drought situation, which is predicted to worsen this year.
He said accumulated rainfall between January and July was unusually low in every region, with the amount of rainfall in the Central Plains Region, in particular, falling by 40% when compared with the amount of rain the region usually receives during the rainy season.
He said that as of July, water levels in dams nationwide were critically low, especially in the Central Region and the West, with low levels similar to those detected in 2015 when the country was hit by severe drought.
"This is a major challenge for the government to tackle. If the situation occurs again, this will have a [negative] impact on people as well as on the industrial, agriculture and tourism sectors," he said.
"The government must prioritise efforts to tackle drought and the impact on agriculture from late this year to early next year," he added.
"It must speed up reservoir construction projects in the East, such as the Khlong Wang Tanod Reservoir in Chanthaburi, to prevent a repeat of water shortages hitting industrial plants as we experienced a few years ago," he noted.
Visit Limlurcha, vice chair of the Thai Chamber of Commerce and president of the Thai Future Food Trade Association, echoed this view, saying El Nino will inflict damage on the agricultural sector.
Crops that are likely to be the worst hit by El Nino include rice, cassava, rubber plants, maize for animal feed, oil palms and fruit, he said.
Mr Visit added that severe El Nino impacts could seriously affect sugar production in Thailand and India, as well as the harvesting of sugarcane in Brazil.
Mr Visit warned it could all lead to a sharp increase in global sugar prices.