Farmers told to steer clear of politics, embrace agriculture

Economy March 14, 2014 00:00

By Itthi C Tan
The Nation
Roi E

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Mitr Phol chairman Isara Vongkusolkit has warned farmers against joining political factions that threaten to split Thai society and bring ruin to the country.

“We rely on 37,000 farming families cultivating 2 million rai for our sugar,” Isara said in an interview with The Nation in Roi Et, where he addressed local farmers as well as those from Khon Kaen, Kalasin, Sing Buri, Chaiyaphum, Suphan Buri and Saraburi. 
Mitr Phol is the world’s fifth-largest sugar producer, with annual production of 13 million tonnes.
Isara blames the income disparity of farmers on misguided government policies and unscrupulous politicians who dupe them into championing their causes.
“We want farmers to be financially able, free of debt, and given better opportunities so they can move ahead and not be manipulated by vested interests.”
For years, handouts and price-pledging schemes have been used to curry favour and encouraged unrealistic expectations that have now culminated in today’s ugly political climate.
“Our fortunes are tied to the farmers’, as we depend on them for almost all of our crops. If they suffer, we too will suffer,” he said. 
 “I have seen farming communities become deeply divided. It has harmed the farming community that makes up two-thirds of the population.”
Isara also criticised political leaders for failing to address the danger of urban migration, depleting rural areas of labour and enterprise.
“I talk to farming families to bring a balanced perspective,” he said. “I ask graduates why they want to leave the farms and work in the city for jobs that pay less than Bt10,000 a month.
“Working on farms can pay much more and the quality of life is better in the provinces,” he said. His Majesty the King’s agricultural campaigns show efficient use can bring good returns.
“By cutting wasteful spending, cultivating ponds and growing vegetables, farmers can save when they spend less on buying food in markets and expensive fertilisers.”
Such schemes work better than price-pledging schemes and provide a buffer to farming families in bad years when crop prices fall. “They can, at least, feed themselves.” Expecting high crop prices every year is simply not realistic.
Mitr Phol has sugar businesses in China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Australia as well.