Bt16 bn debt package to aid 3.8m farmers 

Economy August 01, 2018 01:00

By   THE NATION

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SOME 3.8 million struggling farmers have been granted a respite on mounting debts, with the Cabinet approving a Bt16 billion programme that provides for a suspension of repayments.



Meeting yesterday, the Cabinet also approved a budget of Bt85.34 billion to construct a double-track railway connecting Denchai, Chiang Rai and Chang Kong in a showpiece project to boost the economy in the North.

Finance Minister Apisak Tantivorawong yesterday said that, regarding the debt assistance, the Cabinet had given the green light to a three-year debt moratorium for small farmers, among other measures aimed at easing their burden.

The project starts today and will end on July 31,2021, he said after the Cabinet meeting.

The government will provide financial support for 3.81 million farmers who are clients of the state-owned Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC). The government will offer an interest rate subsidy via the BAAC, which will manage the project.

All farmers covered by the programme will gain a 3-per cent reduction in interest rates on loans worth Bt300,000 for one year.

The farmers can apply for the debt moratorium on the principal of the loans for the three years, but they still need to make interest payments during that period.

The total cost of the debt-assistance package is estimated at Bt16 billion and the government will allocate the first batch of funding worth Bt2.7 billion for the current fiscal year, with a further Bt13 billion to be allocated in fiscal 2019.

Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Krisda Boonrat said that rice farmers who participate in a project to encourage the growing of alternative crops supported by the government would be eligible for the debt suspension. 

The government believes a switch into the new crops would raise the incomes of farmers. 

Separately, Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said after the Cabinet meeting that the Bt85.34 billion approved for the Denchai-Chiang Rai-Chiang Kong link would enable work to proceed on the 323.1 kilometre double-track rail line. It is expected to take four years to build, with companies invited to bid this year for a share of the works.

The minister said the government would compensate those property owners whose land will be expropriated for the project, with Bt10.7 billion set aside for this and a further Bt1.8 billion for hiring consultants

Regarding the bidding for contracts under the project, Arkhom said the works would be divided into three parts: a 104-kilometre section from Denchai district in Phrae to Ngao district in Lumpang at Bt26.7 billion; a 135-kilometre section from Ngao to Chiang Rai at Bt28.73 billion; and the 84-kilometre section from Chiang Rai to Chiang Kong at Bt17.48 billion. “This route will boost border trade growth by up to 40 per cent,” Arkhom said.

 In another development, the Cabinet approved a strategy for the management of the country’s ore resources over the next 20 years.

Government spokesman Maj-Genl Sansern Kaewkamnerd said that the Cabinet agreed with 20-year strategy covering 2018 to 2036 and the master plan for the management of these resources from 2018 to 2022, as proposed by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.

The strategy plan covers four areas. First, the government aims to increase the country’s stability and competitiveness in relation its ore resources. Second, the strategy will ensure a balance between economic interest, people’s health and preserving the environment in how the nation’s mineral wealth is exploited.

The third area concerns transparency in ore management and license procedures. To achieve this, adequate information about ores and related activities must be available for the public to scrutinise. Lastly, the strategy aims to promote participation among interest groups about the management of the ores and their development.

For the five-year master plan, the government aims to group ore sites, with some coming under economic usage and others for limited use or conservation purposes. 

The development policy for ores must address the sustainability of natural resources and people’s health. The master plan also aims to develop a new mechanism for ore exaction concessions, taxes, regulations and supervision and performance review of the involved agencies. The plans will also promote participation among key stakeholders, the government, the private sectors and people at all levels in order to manage the resources sustainably. 

Sansern said the 20-year ore strategy is in line with the 20-year national strategy initiated by the junta-backed government.