By PARITTA WANGKIAT
Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) researchers have urged the government to abolish the rice-pledging scheme and use other options to improve Thai farmers’ incomes.
The rice-pledging model will not solve farmers’ poverty problems, Viroj Na Ranong, director of health economics and agriculture in the TDRI’s sectoral economics programme told a seminar titled “Rethink the future for Thai rice”held by the think-tank yesterday.
Mr Viroj said many farmers had given up farming but the government was trying to encourage them to remain in the sector by promising to increase crop prices.
The value of agricultural products dropped from 11.3% of GDP in 2008 to 7.7% in 2011, he said.
Under the Yingluck Shinawatra government’s ricepledging scheme, farmers can pledge their paddy to the scheme at 15,000 baht per tonne, or about 40% above the market price.
A recent TDRI study indicated about 500,000 rice farmers are wealthy, while 1.3 million farming households are poor.
The study also found that most wealthy farmers earn their income mainly from growing rice, while only 16% of poor paddy farmers earn their living purely from the land.
This means the rice-pledging scheme benefits the rich more than the poor,Mr Viroj said.
“Farming is not the only choice of career for the poor,” he said.”They will have a better life if the government supports the farmers’ sideline jobs.”
He said the rice-pledging scheme had also restricted farmers’ ability to adapt to the global market.
They only follow the government’s guidelines, the researcher said.
Nipon Poapongsakorn, acting director of the TDRI’s sectoral economic programme, said the scheme did not improve labour productivity.
The scheme forces farmers to increase their yields through growing off-season crops and extensive use of farm chemicals, which results in poor quality rice, he said.
“If we don’t revoke the ricepledging scheme, there will not be a future,” Mr Nipon said.”The government must seek other measures to help farmers.”
He cited the US government’s policy, which pays farmers 70-85% of the difference between target and market prices instead of buying up the yields, as an alternative to the rice-pledging model.He noted the US subsidy comes from the government’s annual budget, rather than the Thai government ‘s rice-pledging subsidy which is funded by loans.
Mr Nipon suggested that funds to help farmers should come from the government’s annual budget approved by a parliamentary meeting.
However, Department of Internal Trade director-general Wiboonlasana Ruamraksa, told the seminar the ricepledging scheme had improved farmers’quality of life since it was launched.
She said the scheme’s goal is to enhance farmers’ lives to reach the level of farmers in developed countries.