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Weather hampers bid to improve Thai salt quality

Oct 10. 2019
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By The Nation

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Owners of salt farms are struggling not just with ruinous weather phenomena but also with overseas competition. The solution to the latter problem could be just a matter of improving quality.

Juadee Pongmaneerat, secretary-general of the National Bureau of Agricultural Commodities and Food Standards, said this week that the 1,200 households in possession of 84,500 rai of salt farms must adhere to “Good Agricultural Practices” (GAP) to ensure their product is acceptable to foreign markets.

Katekaew Sumpaothong, a salt farmer in Petchaburi, said more salt is lately being imported from India, sending the price of Thai salt tumbling.

“The price has dropped from Bt2-Bt3 per kilogram to Bt1 since the beginning of the year, and that means no profit for farmers,” she said. “Most farmers are heavily in debt due to accumulated loss.”

Thailand imported 151,480 tonnes of salt in 2017 worth Bt216 million, and the figures doubled the next year, to 389,589 tonnes and Bt437 million. 

In the first quarter of this year alone, 100,819 tonnes worth Bt120 million were imported.

“Now that India is our biggest competitor, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Development need to apply the GAP to guarantee quality and standards for consumers and industries,” Juadee said. “Salt imports also have to be lowered to help our farmers.”

She cited the Thai Salt Strategic Plan 2017-2021, which aims to improve quality and standards to meet market expectations and develop eco-friendly farming methods to ensure sustainable operations and stabilise prices in the long term.

Just three Central provinces – Phetchaburi, Samut Sakhon, and Samut Songkhram – are responsible for 90 per cent of the salt produced in Thailand. The rest comes from Chonburi, Chanthaburi, Chachoengsao, and Pattani.

Domestic annual production is in excess of one million tonnes and generates at least Bt2 billion in revenue. India’s salt tends to be cheaper.

But the climate and other environmental conditions hamper efforts to improve the quality of Thai salt.

The season begins in early November and ends in mid-May, a period when there is less rain. 

Salt grains can be harvested by mid-January, after which wholesalers begin buying it or farmers sell via cooperatives. The salt then moves on to food factories, mills, and storehouses.

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