>> Panellists called for the agriculture sector to be organised independent of political interests at a recent debate on agricultural reform at Kasetsart University.
Speaking at the forum, Pornsil Patcharintanakul, the vice-chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, suggested a law should be passed to prevent politicians from interfering with the allowance of subsidies.
Nipon Poapongsakorn, from the Thailand Development Research Institute, said he agreed with Mr Pornsil, and that amounts designated to the sector must also be carefully monitored.
He added that the amount and use of the subsidies should be validated by members of parliament. Both panellists agreed that a detailed budget outline, complete with a list of receivers, must be made available.
“We have to establish a standard procedure for subsidy projects, during which farmers would discuss their needs with policy planners before submitting a plan to the population through a parliamentary vote,” Mr Nipon said.
Mr Pornsil said that while subsidies are often necessary to assist smallholders, past schemes were harmful to the agriculture sector because they lacked continuity.
“To fully develop, Thai agriculture needs a long-term strategy,” he said, calling for lasting policies to be established by the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives.
According to Mr Pornsil, the formation of plans that look five years ahead would help achieve durable changes in the sector.
Successive governments have sponsored one type of crop after another as part of populist measures, said Prayong Dorklamyai, president of the Northern Development Foundation.
The governments’ variety of sponsorships had more to do with politicians’ interests than farmers’ needs, he added.
Mr Prayong argued, however, that the state was sometimes needed and must continue to play its role in protecting farmers when market prices are too low and intervention was required.
Panellists agreed that a separate budget for research and innovation be allocated and not be used or distributed to farmers.
Without the technological and logistical development of Thai agriculture, the sector could face serious difficulties competing in foreign markets, Mr Pornsil warned.
Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar produce equal quality crops at a lower price, while Thailand’s investment costs are too high, according to the vice-chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce.
“Development is the only way out,” he claimed, citing needs to improve water management techniques and post-harvest procedures to reduce waste.
First published: Bangkok Post, November 30, 2014