Soaring rice prices sow hope – and trouble – for indebted farmers

Soaring rice prices sow hope - and trouble - for indebted farmers
Soaring rice prices sow hope - and trouble - for indebted farmers
In an interview with Reuters on August 30, 2023, Sripai Kaeo-eam, a farmer in Chai Nat state who is having trouble paying back her loans, is seen standing in front of her corn field. ( All images: Reuters )

CHAI NAT: Sripai Kaeo-eam hastily cleared her fields and planted a new harvest in late August after finishing her most recent wheat harvest, disobeying the government’s advice to stop further grain sowing this year in order to conserve water.

The 58-year-old farmer in northern Chai Nat province said, pointing to her natural rice plants that were only a few feet high,” This crop is our hope.” The worldwide spike in rice costs, which is close to its highest level in about 15 years after India— the world’s largest exporter of the water-intensive rice — cut exports, is driving Ms. Sripai, who is attempting to pay off debts totaling more than 200,000 baht. Farmers in Thailand’s economic hinterland, which ranks as the second-largest rice exporter in the world, should be prepared to profit.

Instead, previously unreported state estimates showed a 14.5 % decrease in the amount of property used for grain production in August compared to the same quarter last year. Since 2020, the number has decreased every month. According to discussions with two experts and a review of state data, the nation’s centuries-old rice cultivation structure is under significant stress due to climate change, untenable farm debts, and an absence of innovation.

Debt-ridden producers are being squeezed by these pressure on the industry, which Reuters has detailed for the first time, despite receiving grants totaling tens of billions over the past decade.

According to the professionals, the handouts were intended to increase agricultural study spending, which negatively impacted performance. According to government data, numerous land people are financially strapped after borrowing to pay for their crops, with debt today spanning decades.

According to agricultural expert Somporn Isvilanonda, a decrease in cultivated land may reduce grain production, increasing food inflation after droughts in another important rice-producing nations and affecting billions of consumers who depend on the grain for their daily diet.

According to Krungsri Research, Thailand exported 7.7 million kilograms of polished grain to nations in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa in 2022.

According to Mr. Somporn, a senior fellow at the state-affiliated Knowledge Network Institute of Thailand( KNIT ),” the cultivated area is lower because of lack of rain and irrigated ocean.”

According to federal projections, the water scarcity is likely to get worse into 2024 as the dry El Nino climate phenomenon intensifies.

On August 29, 2023, a farmer in Chainat county counts his money after selling his rice to the mill.

Millions of farmers face not only their latest harvest but also a small window of opportunity to avoid living in debt-stricken poverty. According to Ms. Sripai, a fine crop could bring in prices that are off to double or triple that of most ages.

She explained that she was dreaming right then because India had stopped exporting.

The corn department of the government did not respond to inquiries from Reuters. & nbsp,

The heart of the land is rice. According to Krungsri, over five million homes are involved in the production of rice on just under half of the country’s land.

According to Mr. Somporn, successive governments have invested 1.2 trillion ringgit in value and income interventions for rice farmers over the past ten years.

However, he claimed that the government did not do enough to increase performance. Landowners” cannot take the opportunity to make grain ,” despite the current high prices. He continued by saying that the water shortage would cause output to decline by about 30 % over the following two growing seasons.

rainfall and loan

Hundreds of farmers and landowners protested in front of a state-run agricultural banks in Chai Nat, where they had waited the previous night to fulfill officials, in the sweltering morning of August.

At the lengthy meeting, 60-year-old Danai Saengthabthim tried to persuade representatives never to seize his property for failing to pay off debts that had accumulated over two generations.

He is currently pinning his hope for assistance on the novel alliance government. He claimed that the loan has simply continued to rise over period.

According to the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives, land confiscations from producers who accidentally default are not part of its policy.

Ms. Sripai and other local farmers visited Bangkok frequently to entrance the agriculture ministry even before the new government took business.

According to Ms. Sripai, who pays a rate of 6.875 % on her loan,” All the farmers in our group have debts.” & nbsp,” We incurred the debt in the face of droughts, flooding, and pests.”

On August 30, 2023, farmers congregate in front of a nearby Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives to persuade officials never to seize the lands in Chai Nat state for defaulting on debts.

One of Asia’s highest house loan rates is that of Thailand. According to federal statistics, 66.7 % of all agricultural families were in debt in 2021, mostly as a result of farming-related activities. In his first scheme speech before parliament last month, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin stated that the government would work to raise farm incomes.

He added that there would also be a ban on some farm loans and that water management resources and innovations may be combined to enhance yields and find new markets for agricultural products. ” Farmers are at risk as a result of the extreme weather patterns brought on by the El Nino phenomenon ,” & nbsp

According to the Office of National Water Resources, this year’s rainfall was 18 % below average, and only 54 % of the total capacity of important reservoirs has been reached.

Experts predict a collapse in average grain yield and wider fluctuations in production as the effects of climate change will assuredly exacerbate the situation.

” Ensnared in our success.”

According to Nipon Poapongsakorn, an agrarian specialist at the Thailand Development Research Institute, the basis for the corn industry was laid in the late 19th century under the rule of King Chulalongkornam, who promoted free trade and agricultural and terrain changes.

Farmers were able to move to high-yielding varieties starting in the 1960s thanks to decades of investment in research and equipment, solidifying the nation’s status as the largest grain exporter at the time, according to KNIT Somporn.

He advised growing higher yielding varieties in irrigated places. Before former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra implemented a system in 2011 that paid grain farmers above market rates for their crop, governments mostly avoided market interventions, according to both experts.

According to Mr. Nipon, that action marked the beginning of a decade of freebies that stymied rice field output by leaving average produces per ra( 0. 4 acres ) lower than those of Bangladesh and Nepal. Due to her involvement in the program that cost the state billions of dollars, Yingluck was given an tribunal prison sentence for negligence. She has recently denied wrongdoing and ignored a representative’s request for comment.

On August 31, 2023, farmers in Chai Nat county harvest wheat in a field.

According to Mr. Nipon’s information, Thai producers produced 485 kilograms of grain per ray in 2018 compared to 752 pounds and 560 kg in Bangladesh and Nepal, both.

” We got trapped in our success ,” he said, emphasizing the decrease in rice research funding from 300 million baht a decade ago to the 120 million this year. ” Our supply is extremely low, and our grain selection is extremely old.”

Farmers may simply officially grow varieties that have government approval, and if they were to grow variants from other countries that might not be appropriate for cultivation in Thailand, they might have trouble finding buyers, according to Mr. Somporn.

According to the experts, nations like India and Vietnam have recently made sizable investments in research, surpassing the country in terms of efficiency and growing in the export market.

The earnings of the typical Thai farmer has decreased. According to government data, wheat growers made good gross profits from their first harvest in just three times over the past ten years.

The difficulties have increased in the decades since Ms. Sripai followed her home into the grain fields, but the current prices present a unique opportunity.

She sat in front of the dilapidated wooden tower where she lives and said,” We’re hoping we is clear our debt.” ” We’re crossing our fingers ,” she said.