By SOMLUCK SRIMALEE
He added that when farmers grow organic rice for export, they need a certificate to prove it matches global standards, and that was both difficult and expensive to achieve.
If the government wants to promote the country as an organic rice producer, it has to help farmers to apply for global organic rice certification, help develop rice seed and find a market with the right demand for the product, Charoen said recently.
Currently, the export of organic rice from Thailand accounts for only 5,000 tonnes of a total of 11 million tonnes exported per year.
However, there is a potential market for rice farmers if they can control the quality of their crop and develop rice seed to match the niche demand, he added.
Montri Gosalawat, the secretary-general of the Progressive Farmer Association who has grown organic rice since 1995, said that although organic rice was still a niche product, the demand has led to double-digit growth each year since 2009. It is especially popular in quality markets such as the United States and Europe.
The global demand for organic rice average 10,000 tonnes a year, of which Thailand exports half. With the market growing at an average 20 per cent a year, Thailand has great potential to develop and export organic rice if the government supports knowhow, applications for certification, development of seed and market sourcing, Montri said.
Production costs for organic rice are normally cheaper than on chemical rice farms. However, the organic rice price is higher because growing time is longer – meaning there is just one crop a year -– and demand is higher both in the domestic market and overseas.
The government target is to have 3 million framers harvesting organic rice from 10 million rai by the year 2021.
That would boost the supply of organic rice in the market by more than 200 per cent, but it will also reduce the price of organic rice, and mean that new markets have to be found.
Man Samsri, head of organic rice farming at Naso district in Yasothorn province, said the global price was not a factor when his area changed to growing organic 10 years ago.
“We changed our ways to grow organic rice because we need to improve our quality of life [that has suffered from farming with chemicals], and also to produce quality rice for our families to consume,” Man said.
The group has a total of 2,131 farmers who have combined their land to produce organic rice on 42,694 rais. Their rice now fetches a higher price in the market, Man said.
Currently, the group produces about 300 tonnes of organic rice a year. It has global “Hom Mali” certification, and 90 per cent of production is exported to Europe and the United States. The remaining 10 per cent is sold in the domestic market at an average price of Bt80 per kilogram – higher than the regular Hom Mali price of about Bt45 per kilogram.
“The high price is the final reason why we produce a high quality of organic rice, but our main benefit of producing organic rice is our strong health from consuming it,” Man said.
“This is the way to be sustainable farmers for the long term. If we have quality products, we can find the market that has the purchasing power to pay for quality products.”