By The Nation
RICE FARMERS plan to scale up their protests against the government by closing all main roads in the country tomorrow.
With their days-long blockade of roads in Ratchaburi having little impact, rice farmers in the western province were initially looking to the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Co-operatives (BAAC) for help. But the group later announced they would close all main roads across the country to force the caretaker government to resolve their crisis.
The farmers are in financial trouble after the government repeatedly delayed payments in recent weeks for rice submitted to the pledging scheme. The
farmers are supposed to receive payments soon, in fact, after presenting certificates from the scheme to the BAAC. But without funds coming from the government, the BAAC has said it is unable to pay them.
Rawee Rungruang, who led many farmers blocking the Rama II Road yesterday, said: “Now, please count our certificates from the scheme as equivalent to land title deeds so that we can get loans to cover our daily expenses and invest in farming materials for the next crop season.”
He suggested that the BAAC should then collect repayment, including interest, from the government later on.
Ministries to be targeted
Rawee said late yesterday that farmers from all four regions had agreed to block all main roads tomorrow so no car could pass. They would also send members to join the farmers’ protest in Bangkok and possibly close the Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Finance to demand the rice money they are owed.
Rawee’s group has closed Rama II Road around the Wang Manao intersection in Ratchaburi’s Pak Tho district since February 1.
The rice-pledging scheme was introduced as one of Pheu Thai Party’s populist policies several years ago.
But instead of benefiting farmers, it has left 1.4 million rice-growing families in dire trouble because it has lapsed in a financial mess – with the government unable to sell rice bought at well over market prices, or secure billions more needed to pay for the latest crop.
Upset with the government, a number of farmers in Central provinces are preparing to travel to Bangkok and demand payment in front of the Commerce Ministry tomorrow (Feb6).
“If the government doesn’t give us a satisfactory answer, we will block roads,” Songphon Poonsawas, a leader of farmers in Angthong, said.
Northern Farmers Network chairman Kittisak Rattanawaraha said many farmers in the North wanted to head to the capital to pressure the government but did not have money to pay for the trip.
In Buri Ram, farmers are also struggling to find odd jobs, as they need to cover living expenses till the government can pay for rice it has bought under the scheme.