Thursday, December 12, 2019

Commerce ministry frets over rice output

Jul 23. 2019
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By THE NATION

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Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanawisit said on Tuesday he would urgently meet rice exporters and related parties to discuss ways to boost exports once the government has unveiled its policies in Parliament on Thursday.

He expressed concern that the drought gripping the upper half of the country could hamper plans to export 10 million tonnes this year.

In a related matter, Anan Suwannarat, permanent secretary of the Agricultural Cooperatives Ministry, said the Department of Agricultural Extension had set up “war rooms” in all provinces to closely monitor the drought situation.

The drought that has extended from May into July could cost the economy at least Bt15 billion, representing 0.1 per cent of Gross Domestic Product, the Kasikorn Research Centre estimates.

The estimate is mainly based on the drought’s impact on the first rice crop of the year, known as the “in-season” crop.

The economic loss could be greater if damage to other kinds of farm produce is also taken into account.

In Lop Buri, the Pa Sak Jolasid Dam reservoir has dropped dangerously low, to only 4 per cent of capacity – even lower than it was four years ago when the central province withered in the grip of severe drought.

In Nan in the North, millions of worms have infested 47,000 acres of cornfields spanning all 15 districts, more than half the province’s land devoted to corn.

In Nong Khai in the Northeast, the Mekong River is running too low to catch any fish. The level is more than 10 metres below the top of the bank on the Thai side.

Residents are instead earning a living in construction or small business.

The news was only good in Ubon Ratchathani, also in the Northeast, where a significant amount of rain fell on Tuesday, credited to cloud-seeding operations.

A Muang Ubon farmer said his rice had narrowly escaped devastation in what he called the most severe drought he’d ever seen.

The Kwang Noi Dam in Phitsanulok currently holds 134 million millimetres of water – 14 per cent of its capacity. One of four major dams designated for dispensing water for public consumption, it is able to release just 10 per cent of what it normally shares.

Warawut Niumnoi, director of water distribution and maintenance at the dam, said only 91 million millimetres of water was available to distribute. 

There is currently no inflow at all, he said, and what is being released into the Chao Phraya plain can only be let go at 25 cubic metres per second.

Phitsanulok Governor Piphat Eakphapun has directed agencies to closely monitor the drought situation, prepare remedial plans for farmers, especially those growing rice and corn, determine the need for artificial rainmaking, and coordinate with the Department of Groundwater Resources on further plans.

The Army has established a centre to monitor the situation in real-time so that water can be provided to the drought victims efficiently.

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