Farmers' deaths linked to Thai govt rice-pledging scheme

Some Thai rice farmers have threatened to switch sides and join protesters trying to topple the government if they do not get paid for their crop.

"How do I hang myself without pain?" This was a question Roi Et rice farmer Thongma Kaisuan often asked his friends when they talked about the long-overdue payments under the government's rice-pledging scheme.

Except none of his friends took him seriously.

Then, early on January 26, Thongma, 60, was seen walking out of his home with a long rope in his hands. A few hours later he was found hanging from a tree.

His friends then started talking about how Thongma had looked distressed since November, when he pledged 7 tonnes of his crop to the controversial scheme. He only received Bt50,000 (S$1,900) for the rice and had been waiting for another Bt100,000 that never came.

His neighbours said the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC), which handles the scheme and pays participating farmers, had described Thongma as a premium customer, meaning he always paid towards his Bt400,000 debt on time.

He had apparently taken the 10-year loan to buy a used van for his son-in-law's school-bus business.

"Thongma was a family man, diligent, cheerful and always kind," his relatives said. The farmer had even built a two-storey house worth about Bt1 million relying on his savings. The family owned a 10-rai (1.6-hectare) farm in Muang district and also raised five head of cattle.

Relatives said they believed he killed himself because he was unable to cover his mortgage with the BAAC. He did not leave a suicide note.

This controversial scheme appears to have been linked to another death. Muang Phanthuchart, a village chief in Si Sa Ket's Khukhan district, also hanged himself recently.

He had apparently told a close friend that he did not want to leave, but left a suicide note apologising to his family and the villagers about the long-overdue payment under the rice-subsidy programme.

Childhood friend Swart Butrwong said Muang was facing problems from all sides. He was distressed over the 7 tonnes of rice he had pledged under the scheme, and also had to keep comforting other villagers about their outstanding payments.

In addition to all this, he had other worries - he was suffering from a chronic disease and had been the guarantor for another friend's loan, instalments for which were being paid later than scheduled, Swart said.

Muang, known as an outstanding, award-winning civil servant, began looking extremely worried one week after the New Year break. Yet his suicide was not expected.