Farmers' debts soared over past 15 years: study

national June 23, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

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Debts causing loss of land ownership, serious problems : forum hears

HIGHER FARMING costs, lack of land ownership and long-term indebtedness have all prompted farmers to work longer, to lose career identity for future generations, and to further reduce their land ownership, a civic group working on farmers’ issues told a recent Bangkok seminar.
To solve these problems, farmers need to reduce costs through various measures. They include the use of organic fertilisers, the growing of wide varieties of farm produce and the setting up of a fund to acquire farmland for those lacking it. All this could be achieved through soft, long-term loans, the seminar was told.
On shouldering the costs, Local Action Links manager Phongthip Samranjit said 45-85 per cent of farmers in certain provinces were landless and rented farmlands at the per-rai cost of Bt1,500 to Bt2,500. The high price of seeds, fertilisers and insecticides made up 30-45 per cent of farming costs. 
Citing an Office of Agricultural Economics report, Phongthip said 19.6 per cent of farmers across the country were landless. Of these, 36 to 40 per cent were based in the Central region, the main rice-producing source. Increased hardship in farmers’ lives has turned their children away, prompting them to seek employment in the industrial sector, she added.
The OAE report in 2012 also found that agricultural households had a huge total debt of Bt456.3 billion, compared to the Bt204.1 they owed in 1999 – which she described as a drastic increase. A recent Local Action Links study found that a farmer’s family in Ayutthaya owes an average debt of Bt401,679, and a family based in Phetchaburi owes Bt371,091.
On solutions to the problems, a Phetchaburi-based member of the Council of Networks of Farmers of Thailand, said turning to using organic fertilisers and non-toxic insecticides could help reduce farming cost.
He said government-supported guarantees of rice prices were important to farmers, especially when farming was not possible because of heavy flooding or extreme drought, when farmers earned the lowest guaranteed prices.
Setting up a government fund which enabled farmers to work through a long-term lease was also helpful. This farmland must not be transferable but could be inherited by children of eligible farmers. 
A Suphan Buri farmer, Bunchoo Maneewong, 56, said she lost a 10-rai farm through a Bt600,000 loan she acquired from a bank in 1996. She sold the first five rai for Bt500,000 after she was unable to repay debt installments. Faced with a lawsuit in 2002, she found out 
 that nearly Bt400,000 was deducted as interest, which increased from 7.5 to 18 per cent because of non-payment.
Bunchoo said she later sold the remaining five rai, and has rented it for farming, while still shouldering higher costs and a more expensive rent rate.

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