Thai Farmers Drowning in Debt
By Minh Ly, Baria-Vungtau Newspaper, Vietnam
Thailand is proud of being the world’s leading rice exporter, but that
does not mean agriculture in Thailand is thriving. Most farmers are
heavily in debt and cannot find a way out.
Many Thai farmers borrow
from banks to buy fertilisers and pesticides to increase production.
Because crop prices remain low, the farmers cannot repay their loans. They
"I cannot stop using chemicals, although I want to
do it", said Boonsong, a worried farmer in the San Patong area of northern
Thailand. “They increase productivity and bring more income for us when
crops prices are high. But they also create a disaster-debt. I have to
keep spending more money on chemicals."
This farmer, who plants
rice and onions for export, said he tried to stop using chemicals for a
short time, but his productivity dropped, and consumers did not like his
He held his sore back as he talked. Strain showed on his
" How can I earn a lot of money to repay 100,000 baht for
fertilisers and pesticides? Boonsong said.
Despite working hard, he
added, he still can’t earn enough to repay his debts. His income depends
on what his produce fetches on the market, but the prices remain low.
Meanwhile, chemicals become more and more expensive.
explained how he must rotate debts, borrowing from local lenders to pay
off outstanding interest to the bank. " I had to use my house and my land
as a deposit to borrow money ", he said sorrowfully.
Now his only
hope is for crop prices to rise. How long must he wait?
story symbolises agriculture in Thailand. At present, 88 percent of
Thailand’s 25 million farmers may be in debt.
Solving rural debt
isn’t easy. Organic farming and self-sufficiency have been touted as one
way to liberate farmers. But such methods do little for Thailand’s food
Most organic fruits and vegetables do not meet export standards,
and exports are vitally important for Thailand.
" We face a big
difficulty with marketing," said Ban Doeun, president of an organic
farming group in Ban Baa Nord village in Chiang Mai province. " Organic
farming is good for human health, but the appearance of the food is not
attractive. As a result, many consumers dislike our product. Organic food
is also dearer."
Instead of switching to organic crops, Thai
farmers may find themselves forced to grow GM (genetically modified)
A growing global population will require the world’s farmers
to produce more food from the same amount of land. GM crop production,
which uses seed technology to make crops more efficient, is seen as one
way to do that. But some scientists say GM crops would harm the
environment by contributing to a lack of bio-diversity.
liberalisation brought about by the World Trade Organization also may add
pressure to grow GM crops. But farmers may be forced to buy expensive
seeds from big companies every year to grow GM crops, falling further into
A leading rice trader said farmers created their own
"If farmers could not pay the bank, whey did they borrow
so much?" said Vichai Sriprasert, president of Riceland International
Ltd., and a board member of Thailand Rice Exporters Association. "They
must find a way themselves to pay their debts."
that farmers had borrowed heavily, but saw no benefit from the money. They
invested vast sums but had to sell their crops at low prices.
critics blame government policy for Thailand’s rural debt
Vichai said the government should not interfere in the open
market by setting " unrealistic" minimum prices that food processors
could not pay.
The rice exporter also would prefer that no
pesticides be used, but said he feels most farmers will need them. Using
chemicals, however, continues to sink farmers more deeply into debt. And
once they are in debt, the banks are reluctant to lend them more money to
Thai farmers cannot find a way