PM says drought caused by deforestation in north
PRIME Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha urged farmers yesterday to minimise the second rice crop in order to save water, while saying massive deforestation was the fundamental cause of drought.
The lack of rainfall, especially in the North where most of the country’s reservoirs are situated, was the result of denuded forests, he said, adding that the government would also promote greater use of water from artesian wells to fight this year’s drought.
Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Pitipong Phungbun na Ayutthaya said the drought was most severe in the central region as current rainfall was mostly concentrated in the South, where there were fewer reservoirs to collect water.
At least 26 million rai (4.2m hectares) of forested land, especially forests in the mountainous North, had been denuded, according to the prime minister, who said that forests were needed for the generation of rainfall.
In response to this year’s drought, Prayut also asked farmers to delay their first rice crop.
“The current water reserve is enough for 3.4 million rai, which means that the remaining 3-4 million rai of farmland in the central region will face a water shortage. We are finding ways to help those farmers right now,” he said.
Some farmers had also ignored the government’s advice not to grow rice paddy off-season as a second crop, according to the premier, who added that moves were underway to create artificial rain in areas with reservoirs in order to increase the supply.
The Agriculture Ministry is in talks with governors of 22 provinces in the central region to explain the situation to farmers. Pitipong said he would meet governors of all provinces in the Chao Phraya basin to discuss possible urgent measures to deal with the drought.
The general public was also urged to save water, as a 10-per-cent cut in consumption would be significant in helping fight the drought so that power generation is not affected, the PM said.
The premier also urged farmers to switch to crops that need less water.
“Some farmers understood what we told them, while many did not or tried not to understand,” said Prayut. “Now, the major dams are quite dry and we don’t have enough water for growing rice in the second crop. Then what is next? It’s really up to the rain, but the rain doesn’t fall.”
A senior official at the Royal Forestry Department, who asked not to be named, told The Nation that the prime minister was concerned about massive deforestation in watershed areas and had given a directive to Natural Resources and Environment Minister to instruct forestry and related agencies to develop a new strategy to tackle deforestation in such areas.
Meanwhile, Pimonwan Mahujchariyawong, deputy managing director of Kasikorn Research Centre, said the drought in the central region would further contribute to the decline of farmers’ purchasing power, which had already been hit by low rice prices since the beginning of the year. The price of rice has dropped from over Bt10,000 to around Bt7,800 per tonne, she said.
Pimonwan said low crop prices had decreased the farm sector’s gross product by around 10 per cent in the first quarter, and this was likely to remain unchanged in the current quarter.
“A slowdown in farmers’ purchasing power will contribute to a slowdown in the sale of automobiles and products related to farm production and machinery,” she said.
The government should concentrate on increasing farmers’ productivity and prices for agricultural products, she suggested.