Fuel crop output must increase: UN

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation is sending strong signals that Thailand must grow more fuel crops if the government wants to maintain food security and achieve the goals in its alternativeenergy development plan.

Hiroyuki Konuma, assistant directorgeneral of the FAO and its regional representative for the AsiaPacific, yesterday said under its alternativeenergy development plan, the Kingdom planned to increase ethanol and biodiesel supply sixfold to 5 billion litres by 2022.

That will require the country to raise tapioca output about 27 per cent, from 31.5 million tonnes this year to 40 million tonnes in 2022. This can be achieved by expanding the plantation area or increasing production yields.

Palmoil output must also nearly double, from 1.8 million tonnes per annum to more than 3.4 million tonnes, Konuma said.

He said production must be increased if the plan is to be achieved without affecting food demand. However, if the plantation area is expanded, the government must take into account possible impacts on food crops and forest encroachment.

Konuma was one of the experts joining yesterday's brainstorming session at the Siam City Hotel during the "Thailand Policy Consultation" under the Bioenergy and Food Security project.

The FAO and the Office of the National Economic and Social Development Board hosted the session.

Konuma urged the government to turn all of northeastern Thailand into a target area for additional tapioca plantation. This will raise local incomes and help balance food and fuel crops at the macro and micro levels.

Department of Alternative Energy Development and Efficiency director Prasert Sinsukprasert agreed. He said without higher tapioca output, food security would be affected if the alternativeenergy plan proceeded as planned.

Due to the government's promotion of tapiocabased ethanol, Thailand's tapioca exports will fall to nearly zero in 2022, from about 20 million tonnes this year.

Prasert is confident that thanks to quality breeds, irrigation systems and the vast plantation areas in the Northeast, Thailand will be able to produce sufficient tapioca to meet ethanol demand without putting food security or export activity at risk.

With the new breeds, yields could be raised from 3.5 tonnes a rai to 5 tonnes.

Prasert said it was easier to increase the plantation area for tapioca than for sugar cane, because most of the cane was supplied to mills to be processed into sugar.

The ratio of ethanol made from sugar and from tapioca is 50:50 this year. In 2022, the tapiocabased ethanol ratio will be an estimated 80 per cent.

Meanwhile, Prasert said palmoil plantation would rise in line with demand. If the price is attractive, farmers will be encouraged to both increase their yields and expand their plantation areas.

"Yet for sustainability, the government needs to maintain confidence among oilpalm farmers and palmoil manufacturers. Longterm policies are needed," he added.

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