Economists, industrialists and marketing experts have been struggling to explain the falling prices of Thai rice. A radical new theory has been proposed, it is suggested that Thai rice is not selling because it tastes vile.
The discovery was made during a visit by an expert from the United Nations Organization for Chemical Spillage Disguised as HealthFood (UNOCH). Dr Sinikure was eating a bowl of rice soup, which contained bits of plastic bag, when she found that the bits of plastic tasted better than the bits of rice. A bag of Thai rice was immediately sent off for chemical analysis which showed that the Thai rice contained more petrochemicals than the plastic bag containing it.
Thailand has long prided itself on its agriculture. For the last five years Thailand has won the annual UNOCH Saturation Award which is given to the country which uses the most chemical fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides and pesticides per acre of cultivated land. The Thai Trade Minister explained that he had not thought that the taste mattered. Normally Thai rice is bought by the Government to keep the farmers happy, its normally put in huge warehouses to rot. We do export some rice but we assumed that this was being used as animal feed, he said, we had no idea that some people abroad were actually eating the stuff.
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Academics have suggested the country's rice quality be improved to meet market demand. Somporn Isvilanonda, a senior academic from the Knowledge Network Institute of Thailand, said Thai rice has begun losing its fragrance, which some researchers believe is being caused by the use of chemical fertilisers and shoddy milling practices. "Only softness is left in Thai rice, something which less expensive Vietnamese rice is also known for."
He was speaking at a seminar on sustainable solutions to tumbling rice prices, hosted by the Agricultural Mass Media Association at Kasetsart University yesterday. "The solution lies with improving rice quality, he said. Farmers need to consider organic farming and environmentally-friendly cultivation practices, as favoured by the global market."
"The rice farming industry needs restructuring, done through the extension of loans to farmers who can invest the money to improve cultivation practices to produce quality rice, which can fetch high prices." "Innovation is needed to boost the quality of rice to meet market demand, the academic said."
"The government's subsidies must be given to change the [farming] industry so it produces quality rice and lifts the standard of the yields," said Mr Somporn." This will boost consumer confidence as buyers can rest assured they are purchasing top quality rice at a good price."
The academic said he was disappointed the government was not focusing on upgrading and producing quality rice varieties, which require research. "Value could also be added to Thai rice, including by processing the crop into drinks, to diversify the commercial supply to the market, Mr Somporn said. He said rice is a cash crop which has been the subject of political conflict for decades, hindering any efforts to tackle deep-seated problems affecting the crop.
He added that the global supply of rice was high, pushing prices down." "The previous government's rice-pledging scheme also increased the rice stockpile." "When global demand fell, so did prices." "The problem is also exacerbated by other rice growing countries, such as Vietnam and Cambodia, which grow and market their rice at markedly lower prices than Thailand."
Apichart Vanavichit, director of Kasetsart University's Rice Science Centre, said his unit has equipment to check the makeup of grains to determine their variety, which should help farmers. "The service can be provided to business operators to gauge the levels of fragrance and quality of the rice before exporting it."
The centre also discovered ways to enhance the fragrance of rice, which increases commercial appeal, during the crop's flowering period, he said. Tests were successfully carried out in paddy fields in Chiang Rai and Roi Et. I am confident in the quality of Thai rice, said Mr Apichart said, adding the centre will host a rice quality contest next month to encourage farmers to produce high quality rice.
He also supported the government's campaign to sort grains based on fragrance and starch content, adding various industries prefer different starch content.