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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs        14  April 2011

Japanese rice in Thailand

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Chiang Rai, the northernmost province in Thailand, is growing Japanese rice because of its climate and locally developed strains of Japonica varieties that have similar qualities to those grown in Japan.

Farmers in Chiang Rai use a machine for transplanting 20-day-old rice seedlings. Japanese rice requires a punctual schedule for transplanting and fertilization that some Thai farmers find hard to follow. However, Japanese rice sells for 11 baht (US 35 cents) a kilogramme as opposed to eight baht (US 26 cents) for Thai white rice.

With an average temperature of 15 degrees Celsius in winter, the province and a few others in the North are suited for planting short-grain Japonica rice.

The strain is now grown on more than 20,000 rai in Chiang Rai alone, producing about 10,000 tonnes annually to serve rising demand as more Japanese flock to Thailand, said Piyapan Srikoom, a researcher at the Chiang Rai Rice Research Centre.

The Agriculture Department first successfully developed varieties based on assorted Japanese strains in the 1980s.

At that time, the number of Japanese investments in Thailand was rising quickly thanks to favourable investment policies and low wages.

Research into growing Japanese rice domestically started in 1964 at the rice centre in Phan district in Chiang Rai, but it wasn't until 1987 that the centre was able to develop strains with characteristics similar to sasanishiki and koshihikari, two popular Japanese rice varieties.

The strains are non-photoperiod sensitive and grow well during the second season when the climate is cooler.

"These strains can be grown in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Phayao, but are packed in Chiang Rai either by Thai companies or joint ventures with Japanese investors," said Mr Piyapan.

Jiraporn Rice Mill Co is the largest supplier in the province, with about 10,000 rai of contracted farms in several northern provinces.

The Japanese Chamber of Commerce in Bangkok reported 1,313 Japanese firms as chamber members as of April 2010. It estimates about 50,000 Japanese live in Thailand.

Kasikornbank reports the market for Japanese restaurants was valued at 8 billion baht last year and is expected to reach 10 billion next year, based on 10-15 percent expansion a year.

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