Thailand has had the goal of being the kitchen for the world, and it has wanted to produce goods and food to feed the world. But when the expensive food crisis occurred throughout the world, Thais had to line up to buy expensive rice, no different from the citizens of other countries that are unable to produce enough rice and have to buy rice from Thailand.
If the expensive food crisis had not occurred this time, we probably would not know that even though Thailand is a food exporter that feeds the world, people inside our own country are still in an insecure situation and lack food to consume. This is especially true for the urban poor and middle class with low incomes and insecure economic status, who are easily affected when the quantity of food drops and the price of food items become more expensive.
This event reflects two truths. First, even though Thailand has a large quantity of rice that it exports around the world, the poor in Thailand are in a situation of being easily affected by the issue of food security and especially rice, which is a staple. If the price of rice and other commodities becomes even more expensive than now, Thailand might fall into a situation in which the poor from a wide variety of occupations will stand up and protest, because they will no longer be able to afford to buy expensive rice for their families to consume.
Second, the food crisis this time shows us that Thailand itself has never established a system or measures for national food security. When the crisis occurred, we, as a food producing country, should have had sufficient food reserves to distribute to the poor within the country. But it has not been like this. Instead, we have found ourselves in the situation of not being able to defend ourselves and having to let the free market mechanism do its work and adversely impact the poor within the country, whereby the government has yet to find a method for helping the poor affected by the free market mechanism.
In reference to the events that have occurred over the last several months, it is strange for Thais, that Thailand is a genuine rice exporter, not a rice importer, yet the poor in Thailand have to consume expensive rice. If we imported rice from the world market, in which only a small amount is traded, then we could understand. But in fact, Thailand is full of rice with excess supply and yet we are selling rice domestically at high prices, making the poor within our country suffer. It is unreasonable that we tie the welfare of the poor within the country to the world market mechanism. As we know that the rice we consume every day comes from the rice fields within our own country and is not imported from world markets.
If neo-liberalism were really good, it should allow Thai rice farmers who sell rice on the world to receive better distributed income, and we Thais, as rice producers, should receive basic welfare, and should be able to eat good quality rice at prices lower than elsewhere.
But now, it is as if the invisible hand of the neo-liberalism is making the Thai government unable to control anything, so that it has to let the price of domestic rice rise according to the market mechanism while, at the same time, having to find money to support the poor so that they can buy domestic rice at prices that are rising, too.
The most recent impact from the crisis of expensive food is that the oil millionaires from the Middle East are anxious about food security in their own countries, including evaluating future profits from investment in food and agricultural companies.
If these oil millionaires are able to buy up land in Thailand, which is a major rice exporter, as well as land in rice exporting countries on other continents, too, they will be able to gain absolute control over the rice production volume at a global level, as well as the rice price mechanism on the global market, and speculate them, just as they are doing it in the oil price case.
The crisis of expensive rice today might therefore lead to another land crisis in Thailand. When agricultural goods are expensive, the price of land might become subject to another round of speculation. Peasants would be pressured, both directly and indirectly, to sell their land to foreign investors who want to invest in large-scale agribusiness in our country.
This is an important signal that shows that we must have measures to defend food sovereignty and our agricultural sector. The Thai government should place importance on defending and protecting agricultural land within the country. It should lay out a clear plan to prevent agricultural land from being taken over by agribusiness, industrial estates, mega-project,golf courses, housing developments, big cities, or even the tourist industry.
We should have assistance measures to enable farmers to keep their own land for production, whether in the area of production costs, which are too high, fair price guarantees, or support for production systems that preserve the environment. The government should also have measures to collect higher taxes from capitalists who hoard land and do not use it for beneficial use. It should distribute land to genuinely landless peasants who will use it for production, as well as make rules forbidding foreign capitalists from owning land in Thailand, or even forbidding domestic capitalists from owning more land than allowed by the state.
Having these clear measures would prevent domestic land that used to be cultivated for food from falling into the hands of others, or being converted for uses other than food production. Furthermore, such measures would distribute vacant and unused land back to those who would use it for producing food to feed people within the country.
Protecting food sovereignty is an important issue, comparable to protecting the security of the people. We hopes that the current food crisis will serve as a good warning to the government to come back and seriously look after and have measures to protect the agricultural sector and Thai farmers before the food sovereignty of our country comes under the control of both domestic and international capitalist agribusinesses.