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Agricultural zoning plan should benefit farmers

Experts discussed the pros and cons of the plan announced by the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry last year to designate zoning areas for the farming of six economic crops, the aim of the plan being to improve the productivity and incomes of farmers nationwide.

The six economic crops designated under the zoning-area plan are rice, maize, oil palm, cassava, sugar cane and rubber.

According to the ministry, some 12.215 million rai (1.95 million hectares) of land is most suitable for the planting of these crops. If farmers follow its instructions and plant their crops within the designated areas, they will be able to boost their productivity, and hence their incomes, according to experts.

However, in the opinion of senior agricultural expert Kanok Katikan, an adviser to the agriculture and cooperatives minister, the designation of agricultural areas must be based on the environment and the nature of the crops in question.

In fact, zoning for economic crops is not a new mechanism to improve and manage agricultural production in Thailand, he told a seminar on "Is the Zoning for Economic Crops Plan Suitable for Thailand?" held by Kasetsart University's Research and Development Institute.

The country has been implementing zoning for agricultural products since 1977 for crops such as sugar cane, he said, adding that during that period there was no clear policy or management system for handling the amount produced under the designated areas, or the lower-priced output.

"There has been no system or policy continuity to implement agricultural zoning [effectively] during the past 30 [plus] years," he said.

Meanwhile, Land Development Department director-general Apichart Jongsakul told the seminar that the government should carefully consider the supply and demand of agricultural products from the designated areas.

"The government must make sure that farmers can sell their products at a good price when they follow the policy to grow their crops within designated zones," he said. For example, before the government implemented the rice-pledging scheme, the total annual amount of paddy production was 28 million tonnes. After the scheme was introduced, however, the annual amount of unmilled rice began to rise, reaching 34 million tonnes last year, he said.

Moreover, back in 2008, the prices of agricultural products drastically dropped, badly affecting farmers and causing the government of the time to launch a subsidy programme to assist them, Apichart added.

Rice Department deputy director-general Paitoon Urairong said the plan to designate zoning would improve agricultural productivity - especially for paddy - as long as it helped farmers to get a much better picture of real consumer demand for their crops.

"It would be good for farmers to know which type of rice is the most wanted for the market, and which kind of land is most suitable for growing rice," he said.

The Kingdom has about 70 million rai under rice cultivation, but only 17.35 million rai is considered most suitable for planting and growing the key crop, said the official.

As to farmers who raise their crops on inappropriate land, Paitoon said the government should encourage them to change to other crops more suited to their land.

The government should also support them during the transitional period, he said, adding: "The policy should not damage the trading system."


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