Thailand is being urged to restructure its agricultural sector, as the country’s primary farm products can no longer compete in the world market.
Experts say reforms should include controlling the supply of each commodity, creating cultivation zones for each crop, and adding value to farm output.
Zoning restrictions can help to control supplies and improve yield quality to meet demand in niche markets, resulting in higher value and more income to growers of such crops as organic Hom Mali rice and organic vegetables.
Arkhom Termpittayapaisith, secretary-general of the National Economic and Social Development Board, said adding value to farm products would foster sector sustainability.
Prices of local crops such as rice, rubber and sugar now depend on global markets and supply, prompting the government to intervene whenever prices plummet.
This year, agricultural prices dropped by 9.3% year-on-year in the second quarter alone on the slowdown in the world market, hurting local farm incomes.
Thailand now ranks second globally in exports of sugar.
Since most of this commodity is shipped as a primary product, the industry should find ways to increase value such as developing high-quality sugar tailored to particular markets.
Mr Arkhom said Thailand risks losing its status as a major rice exporter as more Asian countries become self-reliant in terms of the crop.
Vietnam has rapidly developed its agricultural sector and can beat Thailand’s rice prices.
Cambodia has become self-sufficient in rice, while Indonesia is trying to increase yields to reduce imports. Now an oversupply of rice looms in the future.
Community businesses are one alternative for farmers to supplement their income and add value to their products.
Mr Arkhom said animal husbandry should be a priority, as domestic consumption of milk and eggs remains at low levels in Thailand to the detriment of the overall health of the population.
Somporn Isvilanond, an academic researcher with the Knowledge Network Institute of Thailand’s Policy Research Institute, suggests the government focus more on the futures market, of which price interventions distort development.
They also affect the structure of cultivation, as farmers tend to grow certain crops in accordance with government schemes and forgo others, resulting in high prices for the latter, he said.
Intervention schemes also tend to encourage waste of essential production materials, resulting in lower profits and demand for even higher intervention prices.
Mr Somporn suggests the government to pay more attention to crop diversification in irrigated areas such as greater orchard and orchid varieties.
Better management of land and water resources is needed for the sake of sustainability and food safety, he said.
Mr Somporn pointed to Vietnam as an example for its progress in agriculture, saying that country’s government promotes cost savings and quality improvements for higher yields.