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Officials get orders to wean farmers off rice

Oct 21. 2018
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By The Nation

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AMBITIOUS NEW SCHEME AIMS TO HAVE THEM SWITCH TO CORN FARMING

AGRICULTURE Minister Grisada Boonrach has ordered officials to proceed with a corn-growing promotion scheme under the government’s San Palang Pracharat public-private partnership initiative.

Moving ahead now would help achieve Grisada’s goal of having rice farmers switch from off-season rice this year to instead growing corn for animal feed on 2 million rai of land in 33 target provinces. 

He aims to reduce workplace risk to rice farmers and solve the issue of sagging agricultural product prices due to an oversupply that could drive many to call for government aid.

For this scheme to succeed, Grisada said farmers must have information about buying and selling prices and related conditions, as well as the demand for and supply of crops before starting the farming.

He said the government must also provide risk-reduction measures such as finding markets and buyers for farmers, with fair price offers ahead of the harvest; guarantee a minimum income to farmers or a fair purchasing price by the private sector; provide crop insurance; and provide support in term of information and capital/production factors.

The government has prepared four incentive measures. The first is a soft loan via the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC) to fund production and soil preparation at Bt2,000 per rai (for up to 15 rai per head), available at an interest of only 0.01 per cent per year. The second has the government enabling the private sector to buy the produce at or above a minimum price set by the Commerce Ministry. The third is an insurance scheme for which a farmer would pay Bt65 per rai in order to get Bt1,500 compensation per rai if a disaster ruins the crops. Finally, it has issued a policy requiring the BAAC to give low-interest loans (at 1 per cent per year) to agricultural institutes to gather and buy the corn.

Grisada said the provincial governors and district chiefs in target areas were collaborating with officials in planning operations to woo farmers to grow corn. Each province also has its own “war room” centre to see the scheme through.

Officials will be dispatched to target areas to inform the farmers about the scheme and its benefits, he said. Other teams of officials will coordinate with private companies in the area and centrally in order to set up purchase points for the produce, and to draw up related criteria and conditions for purchases and for futures contracts to ensure fairness and transparency for farmers, he said.

The Agriculture Ministry permanent secretary and related directors-general were also assigned to follow the progress of the scheme, said Grisada. 

However, Dr Chokechai Aekatasanawan – director of the Kasetsart University’s National Research Centre of Millet and Corn - has advised rice farmers to be very cautious when switching to corn plantations. 

“There is a risk of the whole corn plantation being ruined by drought or floods if they are not careful,” he said. “Rice farmers are usually able to curb damage to paddy to an extent when natural disasters strike, because they have had long experience growing rice. Things will be different when they handle corn – a crop they are not so familiar with.”

Chokechai also emphasised that the Agriculture Ministry should help select good corn strains for farmers. 

According to him, provinces with suitable conditions for corn plantations are Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, Chiang Mai, Phrae, Nan, Lampang, Uttaradit, Sukhothai, Phitsanulok, and Phetchabun. 

“Lower provinces risk being flooded. In the Northeast, there is a risk of the weather getting too hot for corn to yield crops,” he said. 

Some corn farmers also lamented that their yields have had high humidity and hence do not fetch good prices.

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