Rice farmers now reliant on 'low' market prices

Already hit by overdue payments from the caretaker government under its pledging scheme, rice farmers from today will suffer yet further by getting lower income from selling their produce at market prices after the end of the project.

According to the Thai Rice Mills Association, the market price for 100-per-cent white rice (15-per-cent humid) is quoted at Bt7,200-Bt8,500 a tonne, compared with the former pledging price of Bt15,000.

The market price for 30-per-cent humid rice, meanwhile, is Bt11,600 a tonne.

The Internal Trade Department unofficially reported that more than 11 million tonnes of paddy had entered the government's pledging programme, which ended yesterday.

The government has issued pledging documents to about 1.91 million farmers, while only 546,780 have been paid in full under the project. As of Wednesday, a total 11.3 million tonnes of paddy had been pledged.

A rice-miller source said farmers would from today get even lower payment from selling their produce, as the market had acknowledged that the government needed to release more rice to generate income from the pledged produce.

"Farmers will be the ones who suffer the most from lower rice prices. Millers cannot help much, as the market trend has responded to the high government stockpiles, while the world market recognises that Thailand needs to sell rice urgently to get some return from the pledging project to fulfil its overdue payments," said the source.

He added that lower rice prices in the market had clearly shown that the pledging scheme - with its too-high subsidised prices - had not benefited farmers in the long run.

Chanudpakorn Vongseenin, president of the Public Warehouse Organisation, said the agency would try to tot up the amount of pledged rice this week, before reporting the results to the National Rice Policy Committee.

The total amount of pledged rice should not exceed 11 million tonnes of paddy, he said.

Somporn Isvilanonda, an economist at the Knowledge Network Institute of Thailand, said he believed farmers would suffer yet more if the next government's plan to support their next crops was unclear.

Moreover, the price of rice would continue to decrease as the government now holds more than 18 million tonnes in its stockpiles, he claimed.

Meanwhile, the Office of the Attorney General has accepted a plea by rice farmers for a petition to take the caretaker government before the Administrative Court for failing to meet its pledging-contract commitments.

The office will set up an area for farmers to register their names before filing the case before the court.

In a related development, the Lawyers Council of Thailand, which will help farmers file the overdue-payment case against caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and other ministers and government agencies involved with the pledging project, will next week file the case with the provincial court.

So far, about 24,000 farmers have registered their names to file a suit against the caretaker administration.