A Government megafarm scheme, which will cut production costs and raise productivity (i.e. use more chemicals), has been started. Participating farmers will be given low interest loans to buy chemicals and modern harvesting equipment (instead of hiring harvesting contractors who have already bought the harvesting equipment). Farmers who mortgaged their land decades ago, who are paying off a mortgage on their house and a loan on their pick-up truck, are sure to welcome the additional debt burden.
The scheme is a splendid example of out with the old and in with the new. On Monday Apiradi Tantraporn, the current Minister of Commerce, signed an order demanding that Boonsong Teriyapirom, the former Minister of Commerce, and five others pay 20 billion baht in compensation for the failed rice pledging scheme (which took place under the preceding Yingluk Government). Later that day, Apiradi sign a memorandum initiating the rice megafarm scheme.
The megafarm scheme has been described as a “great leap forward” reminiscent of Stalin's collectivization of farms. Naturally, bankers and chemical companies are ecstatic, but other sectors have also welcomed the news. A spokesman for Thai Hospital Holdings Co. Ltd. told us that many hospitals were now planning to increase the size of their Oncology Departments. More chemicals on the rice means more Carcinogens in the food chain and more patients in the cancer ward, he explained.
But it is exporters who are most excited. The international Gastronome has always found that Thai rice tasted, well, a bit too much like rice. The new rice will be a gourmets delight. A smooth base line taste of nitrogen (from ammonia fertilizers) overlaid by the mellow flavour of Glyphosate (from herbicides) a tart hint of Methyl benzimidazole carbamate (from fungicides) and a strong aftertaste of Organophosphate (from pesticides).
The story from the Bangkok Post:
The government is moving ahead with a megafarm scheme under which the government pledges to procure machinery and agricultural equipment for farmers who cut production costs and raise productivity. The Commerce Ministry yesterday signed a memorandum of understanding with the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry and the Interior Ministry to proceed with the development plan and collective support with an aim to develop 426 rice megafarms spanning 800,000 rai this year. A list of participatory farmers will be compiled, with modern equipment deployed during the farming, including harvesting machinery. Participating farmers can borrow up to 5 million baht with a 0.01% interest rate from the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC), while the Commerce Ministry is responsible for marketing and sales of the rice, finding interested buyers, mostly millers and local agricultural cooperatives. In late August the cabinet approved 3.25 billion baht worth of lending packages via the BAAC for megafarm projects from 2017-19. As of Sept 7, there were 386 rice megafarms being implemented, spanning 500,000 rai. A total of 57,775 farmers from 66 provinces are participating. Agriculture Minister Chatchai Sarikulya said the government aims to expand the scheme to cover 1,000 rice megafarms next year. The government is reviewing incentives to lure more farmers to take part, he said. Charoen Laothammatas, president of the Thai Rice Exporters Association, supports the scheme as it cuts farmers' production costs and raises their productivity and competitiveness. Rice prices are unlikely to rise much in the short term thanks to higher rice supply, he said. Thai export prices are now quoted at US$375 a tonne for white rice 5%, or $30-40 a tonne higher than Vietnamese grains, while Thai Hom Mali fragrant rice prices remain strong at $680-700 a tonne. Mr Charoen urged the government to speed up sales of rice state stocks as soon as possible to help lift rice prices because it would lessen speculation. The government still controls some 8.4 million tonnes of rice from pledging schemes during 2011-14. The National Rice Policy Committee decided last week to delay a plan to dispose of its stocks to curb any adverse impact on rice prices as new supply from the annual main crop is preparing to enter the market. Thailand is forecast to produce 23 million tonnes of paddy in the main harvest, with new supply gradually hitting the market from late September.