February 12, 2014 00:00 By Pongphon Sarnsamak The Nation
BANKS HAVE BEEN urged to immediately provide financial assistance to the farmers suffering from delayed payments under the government's rice-pledging scheme.
Farmers should be allowed to use their pledged-rice certificates as collateral for loans, Witoon Liancharmroon, a director of BioThai Foundation, said yesterday.
“It’s not the time to talk about right or wrong legal procedures or to blame each other. It’s time to help farmers who are over-stressed from the heavy financial burden to the point of becoming suicide risks,” he said.
The Agricultural Council and its allies would discuss measures with the Thai Bankers Association and financial institutions to help farmers, he added.
The council and its partners have come up with three options to resolve problems in the short, medium and long terms.
In the short term, all banks and financial institutions should team up and seek ways to ease farmers’ liquidity crunches, including special loans. The government should be their guarantor and pay the interest charges.
“This would mitigate their problem,” he said. The government should also seek a proper channel to sell and release rice in its stocks, such as selling to people with low incomes and to companies producing alcohol or animal feed, and donating rice to international humanitarian organisations.
For the medium term, in a bid to reduce production costs, farmers should change their rice-growing methods. Instead of using chemical substances, they should plant rice using organic approaches. This could reduce costs from Bt6,000 per rai of paddy to Bt2,000. Growers should also move toward mixed farming, as then they could sell diversified agricultural products and depend on themselves.
For the long term, the government should set up a Land Bank to help landless farmers. The government could also allocate Bt100 billion per year for farmers to lease and purchase land. This could help some one million landless farmers within four to five years and permanently reduce costs by 25 per cent, especially for planters in the Central region, he said.
The government should also construct irrigation systems for small-scale farmers. It can allocate at least three-quarters of the Bt350-billion water and flood management scheme to this project. Only 23 per cent of 60 million rai of rice paddies nationwide are now irrigated.
Instead of continuing the rice-pledging scheme, the government should support sustainable agricultural practices, he added.