Phichit-based farmers are planning to take their rice back from the government's rice-pledging scheme today because it has delayed the payment for far too long.
“We want our harvest back now. It can be sold for money elsewhere,” Prakasit Jamjumrus said yesterday as he led a group of protesters to block a key road in the province. Farmers in several other provinces are also planning to stage roadblocks in their hometowns and join the anti-government rallies in Bangkok if payments are delayed further.
Prasit Booncheuy, president of the Thai Rice Farmers Association, said yesterday that farmers who had pledged their rice under the scheme want to be paid by January 25.
“If the government fails to meet this deadline, the farmers will close down roads in their provinces and will also join the People’s Democratic Reform Committee [PDRC] rallies in Bangkok,” he said.
Prasit was speaking after attending a discussion with representatives of farmers from Kanchanaburi, Ratchaburi, Phetchaburi, Nakhon Pathom, Samut Sakhon, Samut Songkhram and Prachuap Khiri Khan.
Kessara Daengdee, a 43-year-old farmer from Phitsanulok, said she had received a certificate to claim Bt350,000 under the rice-pledging scheme since October last year. “But the money has still not arrived,” she said.
As of press time, about 3,000 farmers had blocked most lanes of traffic on Highway 117 at the Pho Sai Ngarm intersection in Phichit’s Bung Narang district. Farmers from nearby provinces, namely Nakhon Sawan, Kamphaeng Phet, Sukhothai and Phitsanulok, also joined the protest.
Siwaroj Jitniyom, who chairs Kanchanaburi’s Tambon Nong Sarai Farmer Group, said the delayed payment had seriously affected farmers’ lives. “Without this money, they have to turn to loan sharks to cover their daily expenses,” he said, adding that his group had raised the issue with the governor of Kanchanaburi earlier and had been promised the payment by January 15. “But that deadline has passed and no money came to the farmers,” he said.
In Buri Ram, a group of rice farmers joined PDRC supporters who were protesting in front of the provincial hall, saying they were angry about the delay in payment for their pledged rice.
Prasit said caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her Cabinet should be held responsible for this.
In a related development, caretaker Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong said at a press conference that the government had proceeded with the scheme for two years now, buying rice for four seasons and paying out a total of Bt680 billion.
He insisted that every baht spent on the scheme had gone into farmers’ hands through the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC). The government has also released rice from its stockpiles and earned Bt200 billion from its sale. “The government will continue selling rice,” Kittiratt said, adding that it would also secure funding, be it from the state budget, BAAC’s liquidity or loans, to pay the farmers.