With the drought expected to worsen next year, the government has pitched the idea of renting rice farmers land and paying them to grow other crops.
Mr Somkid (right) visits an exhibition to mark Thailand Innovation Day yesterday. He floated a new scheme to pay rice farmers to plant other crops. TAWATCHAI KEMGUMNERD
Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak yesterday said the idea was better than direct cash handouts to rice farmers, as this scheme would enable them to learn how to grow other crops, making the agriculture sector more sustainable in the long term.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government offered 1,000 baht a rai last year in cash handouts for a maximum of 15 rai per household to rice farmers.
The 40-billion-baht cash handout to farmers was part of the government’s stimulus package to boost domestic consumption. It was also a short-term measure to cushion rice farmers against sagging market prices.
Other measures to help farmers include soft loans to those who have their own barns and asking agricultural cooperatives to withhold a portion of the supply from the market to increase prices.
Mr Somkid said the government was also committed to going ahead with the agricultural zoning scheme, saying it will persuade more rice farmers to grow other crops.
The Government Savings Bank and the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC) will function as the core agencies to implement the project, while the Commerce Ministry will be required to seek a market for agricultural products and to support community businesses.
The ministry is establishing central markets nationwide for agricultural products, while the Tourism Authority of Thailand has pledged to partner with PTT Plc to provide space at petrol stations to sell agriculture and community products.
More details about the rental rate have not been disclosed.
In March, Gen Prayut’s government approved a five-year agricultural plan worth 35 billion baht in a bid to restructure the farm sector.
The plan, which runs until 2019, is aimed at striking a balance between supply and demand for farm products including rice, rubber, tapioca, maize and livestock as well as for the agricultural logistics system.
Some 20 billion baht will come from the BAAC and the rest from the government’s fiscal budget.
The new strategy covers 10 projects including restructuring rice, livestock and fisheries production, tackling farmers’ debts and amending laws such as the Land Reform Act, the Agricultural Cooperatives Act and the Irrigation Act.
It also calls for improving farmer registration, a plan to manage agricultural production in special economic zones, a project to restructure oil palm production and marketing, a scheme to enhance the capability of rice ventures at farm institutes and a project to develop a rice seed centre.
For this year, the government is set to inject an estimated 1.8 billion baht from the central budget into the new strategic plan, former agriculture minister Pitipong Phuengboon Na Ayudhaya said.
One of the projects is to downsize rubber plantations by 1-2 million rai in five years, encouraging rubber planters to grow another crop such as oil palm, and promoting the use of rubber in road construction.
For rice reform, the new strategy calls for raising production efficiency and product quality by encouraging farmers to grow more varieties to serve niche markets, reduce off-season production and grow more sugar cane.
The plan is also aimed at promoting the preservation and production of buffalo and indigenous chickens, increasing efficiency in milk production, boosting the productivity of tapioca and maize and improving oil palm production.