Mon, November 29, 2021


Smart farmers: The driving force for Thailand’s agricultural sector

Kicker: Agriculture is a key economic driver in Thailand, especially from the aspect of people involved, size of area used and income generated. And this sector is set to play an even bigger role in the future, for which there will be one driving force – the “smart farmer”.

Initiated eight years ago, the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry’s Smart Farmer projected has helped reform the country’s agriculture and pull it into the digital age. The aim is to arm farmers with knowledge and expertise to deal with a rapidly changing agricultural system, as well as introducing a value-chain production system, according to Khajorn Raoprasert, deputy director general of the Agricultural Extension Department.

Under the “smart” system, farmers can use their knowledge as well as technology to make production more efficient, produce goods that are safe to consume as well as meet market demands. Once this system is in place, a Smart Farmer Model can be built for other farmers to follow.

Since 2014, the Department of Agricultural Extension has turned 166,900 farmers into Smart Farmers, created 18,143 Smart Farmer Models and 462 Smart Farmer Groups.

The Smart Farmer project has also given birth to Young Smart Farmers – a new generation of agricultural entrepreneurs. As of last year, the department had developed 15,640 Young Smart Farmers and is hoping this technologically savvy group can develop and introduce precision farming.

However, it has not been able to lure too many young people into the agricultural sector because it does not pay as well as the industrial or service sectors.

Changes brought by Covid-19

The Covid-19 outbreak, however, may have shifted the balance slightly over the past two years. Many factories have been forced to close resulting in many job losses and people having no choice but to return to farming.

Hence, there have been more Young Smart Farmers over the past year and the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry is hoping they will stay in the agricultural sector permanently.

In order to drive the Smart Farmer project, the department has been building agriculture promotion groups and holding activities to lay the foundation for future community enterprises.

“We aim to turn Smart Farmers into ‘models’ who are not only holders of knowledge, but also become a learning base within the community. This will make local communities stronger and more self-reliant. Smart Farmers will be promoted as ‘Model Entrepreneurs’ by focusing on the development of a business plan. This will give Smart Farmers access to knowledge that they can use to start and expand their business creatively and focus on innovation. They can then help other farmers develop, become strong and use sustainable practices,” Khajorn said.

He added that the process of turning farmers into Smart Farmers starts with assessing their potential before building a development plan, training, creating a learning network, marketing, forming a group management system to reduce costs, expanding opportunities as well as collaborating on research and development. Once the system is in place, the results are evaluated, turned into lessons and added to the database.

Meanwhile, for the Young Smart Farmers project, the department has come up with four steps:

Step 1: Getting the Idea: This step requires the individual to find his or her concept and motivation before moving on to formulating self-development plans, exchanging knowledge, building networks and assessing the plan’s potential.

Step 2: Setting up the project: The young smart farmer then develops smart agricultural activities by putting the concept into practice through the preparation of a preliminary agribusiness plan.

Step 3: Startup: A young smart farmer turns into a full-fledged agricultural entrepreneur when smart technology is put in place for management as well as a creative, innovative business plan under the “marketing leads production” concept. This also ensures a stable income.

Step 4: Go global: The new generation of farmers needs to adopt international principles and standards, which also includes upgrading products in line with the world market.

“Smart Farmers can be developed by getting farmers to participate in large-scale agricultural extension projects, which will change their mindset and ideas so they focus on assessment, potential analysis and adjusting to career and training. They will also develop skills on five key issues, namely cost reduction, productivity, product improvement, linking group development with marketing and the making of individual farm production plans,” Khajorn said.

The next step is developing managers for these large projects. The Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry’s aim is to put these large-scale farms back in the hands of farmers and put them at the centre of operations.

As managers, farmers can also apply their knowledge on issues such as breeds, fertiliser and which agricultural technology works best.

Farmers can also pool together their machinery to save cost, boost efficiency as well as manage the marketing side of things. Government agencies will be on standby to provide support. Managers are elected by members of the Smart Farmer and Young Smart Farmer projects.

The Department of Agricultural Extension has developed 4,675 large-scale plots since 2018, 2,560 of which will be allocated this year.

As a joint vision of the Agriculture and Cooperatives and Commerce ministries, with the former in charge of production and latter marketing, the “marketing leads production” strategy focuses on boosting Thailand’s competitiveness and GDP, as well as boosting the income of farmers and entrepreneurs. Its aim is to also turn Thailand into the world’s top food producer.

Guide to smart farming

The subcommittee in charge of the smart farmer project has two operational guidelines to work under – developing people and processing agricultural products.

The people-development job is divided into five groups:

● Farmers and farming groups focused on sufficiency economy or conservation among others;

● Businesses engaged in processing agricultural goods;

● Exporters;

● Academics;

● Consumers and users of agricultural products.

Guidelines for the groups’ development aim to ensure agricultural goods meet market demand and were produced using the BCG (bio-circular-green) economic model as a development mechanism. This can be further divided into five levels:

● Smart farmer: General farmers are given technical knowledge and expertise. Some 1.04 million smart farmers have been developed under the Smart Farmer Development Project.

● Specialist: A smart farmer becomes a “model” or specialist farmer. Some 75,181 model farmers have been developed under the Village Agriculture Volunteer Development Project.

● Entrepreneurship: Helping farmers become basic agricultural businessmen. Some 1,003 farmer entrepreneurs have been developed under the New Farmer Development Project.

● Agri-Biz-Idol: Helping farmers become leading agricultural entrepreneurs. Some 180 farmers have been developed so far.

● High-potential exporter: Agricultural entrepreneurs are given the opportunity to cash in on the export market.

The Department of Agricultural Extension has carried out 43 projects and plans to develop 170,788 farmers by 2025. The department has been collaborating with other government agencies, private sector and educational institutions, such as the Agricultural Research Development Agency, Panyapiwat Institute of Management, Kasetsart University, Chiang Mai University and Khon Kaen University.

The department is also developing and processing of nine agricultural products that are in demand both locally and internationally. It is also setting up guidelines for the development of production processes and products that meet market demand by using the BCG model as a development mechanism. The process starts with first identifying the product, such as:

● Actual product: A basic agricultural product produced using a new, safe process

● Smart product: An agricultural product that undergoes a production process that meets several standards such as GI, GAP, organic farming and GMP

● Premium product

● Premium gift.

●Digital technology is used in the production of premium products. The production system also allows for higher standards such as HACCP, ISO22000, Codex and CCP, which lift the products to premium level.

Smart farmers: The driving force for Thailand’s agricultural sector

Published : June 30, 2021