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New master plan on all land usage

Dec 19. 2012
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By Nakarin Srilert
The Nation

National map to guide agriculture zones, help cut crop subsidies, and lift farmers' incomes

The government plans to draw up a nationwide “Master Map” to consolidate the plethora of available maps and guide proposed plantation zoning. The move aims to eventually reduce agricultural subsidies and lift farmers’ incomes.

The Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency will be brought in to create a single map through the use of satellite data, with information on conservation areas, plantation areas and privately owned land – with details from the Lands Department – collected by various agencies.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra chaired a workshop yesterday on agricultural zoning, during which participants studied the proposal completed by the Office of the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB).

The move forms part of the government’s goal of increasing the size of the agricultural sector, and concurrently raising farmers’ incomes.

As things stand, 32 government units use their own maps with nine different scales, the PM said. She told participants that the wide variety of maps, which often led to incorrect data and misguided policy-making, should be standardised.

The Master Map, to be completed by all governments units, would enable the country to maximise land use. It would also be integrated with other plans for industrial promotion, marketing and logistics, which would help reduce production costs as a whole, she said.

“It’s not that we will limit farmers’ choices, but this will provide alternatives in light of climate change,” the PM said.

Her government has been heavily criticised over its agricultural subsidies, particularly the rice-pledging scheme.

The World Bank economist yesterday projected the cost of the scheme at Bt376 billion for the 2011/2012 harvest season, with losses estimated at Bt115 billion. The cost for the current harvest season is projected to be Bt432 billion, with losses estimated at Bt132 billion.

Agricultural zoning will focus on six main economic crops, including rice, feed-grade maize and tapioca. The combined plantation areas for the crops cover 107 million rai.

According to Nirutti Khunwat, an adviser to the science minister, economic crops are currently grown sparsely around the country.

Some areas are flood-prone and unsuitable for crops. In other areas soil quality is poor or the land is poorly irrigated. These require government money to support farmers, he said, adding that zoning should help solve these problems.

The other objective is to raise farmers’ incomes and reduce government subsidies, once officials put in place a proper planning system for output in line with demand. Research and development would then support the forecasting of supply and demand, Nirutti said.

“Farmers will have a choice in growing the right crops. Some flood-prone areas should not be used for rice farming as they regularly face inundation. These areas should rather be reserved for freshwater fish,” Nirutti said.

The NESDB proposed the zoning solution after finding that farmers’ output is lower than expected because a large proportion of plantation areas are located in unsuitable parts of the country.

In its proposal, a number of state agencies should carry out related tasks. The Agriculture Ministry should be tasked with basic restructuring, such as land reform, irrigation-area reform and water-resource development.

The Science Ministry should support technology and innovation as well as research and development, in order to raise output and reduce production costs, while the Industry Ministry should draw up incentives to attract food-sector operators to the areas where raw materials are abundant. This would help reduce transport costs.

The Finance Ministry’s role would be to set tax incentives to promote investment.

The NESDB’s study showed that last year, 73 per cent of maize output and 68 per cent of tapioca was undertaken in unsuitable areas.

While rice was grown on 84.5 million rai, only 2.48 million rai was deemed the best land for the crop. This is mostly in Central provinces, such as Saraburi, Sing Buri, Chai Nat, Lop Buri, plus Phatthalung and Nakhon Si Thammarat.

The next Master Map meeting will take place within a month, when agricultural zoning guidelines should be clearer. A number of workshops will then be hosted, before committees are set up to carry out the zoning action plans.

The NESDB was also assigned to draft business models for particular zones, coming up with rough economic returns from the zoning.

The model should contain economic activities and the associated social impacts for particular areas.

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