Cash-strapped farmers in Thailand forced to watch crops wither away

Cash-strapped farmers in Thailand forced to watch crops wither away
PHOTO: The Nation/ANN

As the Chao Phraya River Basin runs out of water for farmland, rice farmers are running out of cash.

Without water, farmers can do nothing but leave their plants to wither. Without crops, they have no source of certain income.

As a result, many farmers have turned to loan sharks to get money to fill their family members' hungry stomachs. This means the longer the drought crisis, the deeper they will plunge into debt.

Based on the grim weather forecasts, there is a risk the drought may drag on for years.

That would obviously be financially crippling for countless farmers as they would have defaulted on several loans.

Ubon Thepthong, director of the Lop Buri Provincial Cooperative Office, revealed that more farmers could not pay back their debt to the agricultural cooperative and they had to borrow money from the loan sharks who charged very high interest rates.

According to the records of the Ban Mi Agricultural Cooperative, the Lop Buri district is one of the hardest hit drought areas in the province, with 328 cooperative members unable to pay their debt at last count.

"Unpaid debt was as high as Bt29.8 million (S$1.2 million) in July," the cooperative disclosed.

Songpon Poonsawat, chairman of the Ang Thong Council of Farmers, said between 60 to 70 per cent of farmers in the province were forced to get a short-term loans from the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives, while loans typically ranged from Bt50,000 to Bt100,000 as about Bt5,000 was needed per one rai of crop production.

Songpon revealed that the production rate in Ang Thong had dropped by about 70 per cent.

However, efforts are being made to relieve the farmers' financial burden.

Ubon said the Cooperative Promotion Department had ordered the Provincial Cooperative Offices to talk with the local agricultural cooperatives about implementing debt restructuring or lengthen the debt-repayment period.

The decision on whether to adopt these measures was up to each cooperative board, he said.

In another move to help farmers, the BAAC has offered to extend the debt-repayment period by a year and increase the credit line for short- and long-term loans.

The economic impact from the drought has affected not only farmers, but also businesses linked to agriculture and local economies in drought areas.

Thatsanee Pengsuwan, the owner of the Thakhao Khuean Phonthep rice mill, said the mill's income had dropped even though the rice price had increased due to low rice production.

"Now our mill is facing a rice shortage. We have to wait until we store enough rice to mill and the daily production of our mill has been reduced from 300 tonnes per day to only 100 tonnes," Thatsanee said.

"It's not only us who have been affected by the rice shortage. We have had to reduce the workforce in our mill, causing some employees to temporarily have no income.

"The local economy is also affected, as the farmers, who are major consumers, have no purchasing ability anymore because they have no income."

She also revealed that some young farmers had left home to find jobs elsewhere but the elder farmers had to endure the hardship.

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