THE RICE industry must negotiate several risk factors that are pressuring farmers to speed up the development of rice breeds to strengthen the sector in the face of intense competition, especially from other Asian countries, the government says.
Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister General Chatchai Sarikalya said the industry was at a turning-point moment in terms of growing firmly and sustainably.
Speaking at a rice conference in Bangkok, he said the industry was facing rapid changes and tougher competition, especially as a result of the economic integration of Asian and non-Asian countries as well as the diversity of consumer tastes.
He added that value-added innovation and climate changes were also factors that would help push for solidity and opportunity for the sector.
Chatchai said a SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunity and threat) analysis of the industry found that it was still strong, as the country had a variety of rice breeds. He said this created flexibility for the country to improve breeds in line with changed farming areas and to serve market needs.
However, he warned that the country might have difficulty maintaining quality and keeping costs competitive. “If one or the other happens, there might be a crisis.”
He noted that competitors Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Laos had climates and geographies similar to Thailand.
They also produced rice that exceeded domestic demand, resulting in them exporting to the world, even to Thailand. From 1997 to 2011, Thailand exported 220,000 tonnes of rice a year on average, showing the skill of Thai rice farmers, he said.
He added that Thai rice had been considered of high quality for a long time, which had led to the development of other good products.
The general cited as an example parboiled rice, which he said was a sought-after product in numerous countries, including those in the Middle East and Africa, with Thailand exporting 3 million tonnes of parboiled rice a year worth Bt50 billion.
Chatchai said that an area the rice industry needed to improve was production – ensuring that it operated with efficient consistency by focusing on a policy to help boost production instead of a pricing policy.
“The strategic development of Thai rice will have to take the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats into the account for the entire production chain from the farm to the table,” he said.