THE NATION December 7, 2015 1:00 am
MANY rice farmers are facing the old problems of indebtedness and loss of farm owner-|ship despite short-term gains from the former government's rice-pledging scheme, accord-ing to research by a non-government organisation.
Pongtip Samranjit, executive director of Local Action Links, a non-profit think tank researching government policies and farmers' problems, said farmers' quality of life has plunged following the end of the rice-pledging scheme.
Increased indebtedness has led to the loss of farm ownership. Pongtip cited statistics collected by the organisation over the past 10 years that the number of farmers who hold less than six rai have increased, while those having to rent farmland have also risen in the past few years.
Pongtip said past and present government rice price intervention programmes, including the last rice-pledging scheme, offered farmers quick benefits as money would directly go to their pockets. But these were temporary, and never tackled the roots of farmers' problems, namely accumulated debts and loss of farmland.
Besides land and equipment, farmers need to invest in pesticide and chemical fertiliser to keep their crop safe from pest attacks.
During the rice-pledging scheme, farmers enjoyed a high guarantee price of up to Bt15,000 per tonne, but their costs also rose, leaving them a smaller margin of profit.
"The rice price now stands at around Bt7,000 per tonne while farmers' costs are up to Bt5,000 to Bt6,000 per rai (one rai generally yields around one tonne of rice). So, how can they survive?"
"In other words, they are being left to face the same old problems of indebtedness and they have to help themselves survive," she said.
Pongtip said the current government had apparently taken the right approach to tackle farmers' deep-rooted problems by cutting farming costs, but she has not seen any concrete actions yet.
Son Sukcharaen, a 66-year-old farmer from Khao Poon village in Ratchaburi's Photharam district, recalled the time when he narrowly obtained money from rice sold under the pledging scheme for the second and last time last year.
He had to go to the district police to file a complaint about the delay in payment and it was the military government that cleared the money for farmers like him.
Son immediately used the funds to clear his debts and withdraw an amount to invest in another crop. But this time, he no longer has any price guarantee, and has to bet on the market, with the price currently offered at Bt7,000 per tonne.
Son said he could not do anything except try to reduce costs as much as possible. But as he has to rent 20 rai of land and to pay off debts, he rushed to invest more in fertiliser. He hoped his rice yield would be higher so he can earn more.
"What I can do now is to keep doing it because if I don't do it, somebody else will take over the rented farmland and leave me with nothing to do or to eat. Can farmers without education, like me, have a choice?" Son asked.