How Rice is Causing a Crisis in Thailand
Image Credit: Flickr (♥siebe ©)

How Rice is Causing a Crisis in Thailand


As the elected senator of northeastern Nakhom Phanom province, Dr. Vitthaya Inala is in a difficult position.

The majority of his roughly 750,000 constituents, many of them poor paddy farmers, are in full support of a year-old government scheme that promises them 15,000 baht ($488) per ton of white rice, he says, far more than they earned in the past.

“If this is a success, and poor farmers get the benefits, it will be very good for the Thai people,” says Dr. Vitthaya. Except the government’s rice-pledging policy is already proving to be a monumental failure, he adds.

Last week, the Senate Committee on Economics, Commerce and Industry, of which Dr. Vitthaya is vice-chairman, filed a damning report blaming the scheme over rampant corruption and a rising mountain of debt as big as the piles of unsold rice fill warehouses across Thailand. A populist policy that was part of the platform propelling the relative unknown Yingluck Shinawatra to power last May, the scheme now threatens to severely damage the government. Some say it could even bring the Prime Minister’s coalition down.

The chairman of the central bank has already criticized the scheme – so too have academics, economists and even the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the latter of whom warned of the policy’s effects on international rice prices – and at the end of this month Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s Pheu Thai party faces a two-day grilling from the opposition and the Senate all asking the same question: How did it go so wrong?

In theory, the policy makes perfect sense. If you pay farmers above the market rate for paddy they will earn more, Thai rice – already known for its quality – will rise in price and in turn force up prices on world markets.

But at 15,000 baht a ton, and 20,000 baht for high-quality Hom Mali jasmine, critics argue that Thai rice has simply become too expensive. As the government has struggled to sell rice to foreign governments at cost price, an increasing stockpile has accumulated costing the taxpayer a spiraling bill.

A recent Senate report said public debt, which was 42.4% of GDP at the end of April, would rise by an average of 4% per year if the scheme continues, and the Prime Minister  has already admitted as much. Having spent 300 billion baht on its rice-pledging scheme this year, the government has earmarked an additional 405 billion baht  for 2013, a combined roughly U.S. $33 billion.

Meanwhile, the rice needed to fund this policy remains holed up in storage slowly going bad, according to rice millers. With Thailand in the middle of its second harvest, the government is under pressure to either sell off as much as possible or risk running out of warehouse space. An estimated 14 million tons of rice are currently in storage across Thailand, a new record, and more than the country can sell in a year, even by the government own ambitious goal to export 8.5 million tons of rice in 2013.

Last month, Thai press reports said the Ministry of Commerce had made a deal “in principle” to store rice in an aircraft hangar at Bangkok’s Dong Muang Airport in a bid to find somewhere to put the incoming harvest.

“We are looking for warehouses anywhere,” says Amraporn Suntivong, vice president of the government’s Public Warehouse Association. “We are inviting warehouse owners to come forward.”

When the Democrat Party quizzes the government on the scheme at the end of this month, it is widely expected to point to mounting evidence that warehouse owners are benefiting from the scheme with storage rents having risen sharply in recent months.

David, Thailand
July 21, 2013 at 11:57

I'm British. Does that mean I have no right to comment on the actions of any other government? It's your kind of mentality that helps keep Thailand firmly in the league of Third World countries.

March 3, 2013 at 04:14

Now that we know that Thai rice has some of the lowest levels of inorganic arsenic, maybe someone in Thailand can figure out how to market that and export to the US where consumers pay more for healthier products. 

January 28, 2013 at 22:41

Why are you guys ( butting heads ) ? None of you have a Thai name and probably don't have a vested interest and could give a crap less what the price of rice is and on top of that it is probably none of your damned business what the Thai government does !!.

November 28, 2012 at 13:36

Your view is wrong.

Andrew Spooner
November 21, 2012 at 17:10

You wrote "Is it too late to build a nice big climate controlled high tech rice storage warehouse and get my piece of the government pie?"
I think I am right in saying the biggest river of money flowing from government coffers to private companies in world history is that paid by US taxpayers for military hardware to privately owned arms manufacturers.
My advice? If you really want to get rich at taxpayers' expense make weapons in the USA. 

Andrew Spooner
November 16, 2012 at 17:29

David Chasm
There is no debate to be had with someone who is so incoherent that they attempt to equate criticisms of a misguided article about Thailand's rice growing subsidy programme with those responsible for the slaughter of 2million people.
November 16, 2012 at 12:59

The point is that you can't tweak an agricultural policy that is completely broken. Your apparent offense at the KR thing is as superficial as your arguments.
And, of course, to respond to some of these points would actually require engaging on the issue in a reasoned fashion. I notice you haven't actually attempted to debate a single point I have raised as yet, instead producing the kind of excuse commonly seen in playgrounds when someone doesn't want to play anymore: "I'm going to take my ball home."

Andrew Spooner
November 16, 2012 at 02:04

David Chasm
I was going to read your longer comment but you lost me completely with your rather misjudged and tasteless attempt to equate my input to the Khmer Rouge. 

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