As fields dry up, Thai famers face the threat of financial ruin

As fields dry up, Thai famers face the threat of financial ruin
PHOTO: The Nation/ANN

To rice farmers, ongoing drought is an imminent financial crisis. Their paddy fields remain parched this year as authorities warn locals against sowing seeds or planting seedlings on their farmland.

Now, my rented fields are empty. I hope the government will provide some help to ease my woes," said Suree Kansomngam, a farmer in the province's Nong Suea district.

She said without any yield from the field, her family would definitely have difficulty covering its daily expenses, let alone repaying debts to the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives.

She said in addition to the drought, the problem also lay in falling rice prices.

"We have to sell our crops from the last farming season at a very low price. I can sell the rice for only Bt6,000 (S$240) per two cubic metres - while the cost for growing one rai of rice paddy is already up to Bt5,000," Suree lamented.

She added that now authorities have told rice farmers in the Chao Phraya River Basin to postpone growing rice.

Suree is not alone in her plight. So many rice farmers in the area are sharing the same fate.

Even those who have grown rice ahead of the authorities' warning are struggling in their own way. They have now had to pray that their paddy fields will get adequate water until they are ready for harvest. Their yield is also facing hungry rats.

Anan Bunsongsri who has 30 rai of rice paddy in Khlong Luang district said around half the rice in his fields, which were the crop from dry season and not yet ready to harvest, were eaten by the hordes of rats.

"Up to 30 cubic metres of rice have already damaged. This is the highest damaged crop as far as I can remember. I trap many rats everyday but they are still coming," Anan said. "I think it is because there is not much grown rice paddy left in the area, so they all come to find food in my fields."

He demanded authorities take more action to help the farmers because not only were their crops damaged by the drought and pests, the selling price of rice was low too.

"I have invested Bt70,000 in this crop. I don't know how much I'll gain after harvesting the rice in the next two weeks," he said.

Parts of Pathum Thani and Ayutthaya are being hit by the drought as well as many regions of the country. The water level in Raphiphat Canal and many other branch canals dried up to only few centimetres late on Friday.

This year's drought situation was more severe than the previous years. Arun Pholti has had to postpone the rainy season rice plantation until late July because of water shortage even though his paddy fields were at the head of a local irrigation canal.

"Normally, I plant the rainy season crop around the beginning of June but this year I still can't grow a new crop even if I've already harvested last year's crop," said Arun.

The drought has led to not only a water shortage but rat infestation here too - another major factor that could destroy the rice yield.

According to Arun, many farmers have had to abandon their fields and find a new job in the city because of the crop destruction and financial problems.

"I am luckier than many other farmers because my land is very near the irrigation canal, so my paddy field access to the water before many farmers downstream. I also run a small restaurant, so I have other sources of income. I have heard that some farmers down there have had to sell their land and move away," he said.

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