ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
Sustainable rice farming pays off
So far 639,750 rai, most growing Hom Mali rice, have been certified as GAP farms by accreditation bodies of the Agriculture Ministry from 2007 to 2009, said Ladda Viriyangkura, senior agriculturist with the Rice Department.
The size is tiny compared to the country's 57 million rai of rice paddies, but it is a first step for Thai farmers, as GAP could become a minimum standard for food production required by foreign buyers, she said.
GAP aims to promote sustainable growth in rice farming by encouraging better management and less fertiliser and pesticide usage for higher-quality grains.
The ministry promotes GAP to fisheries, crop and feed farmers to add value and create a market niche, as well as reducing production costs.
She said the use of non-chemical or bio-fertilisers and pesticides and the intensive care of farmers throughout the harvesting period helped cut the production cost of rice to an average of 2.70 baht a kilogramme from 4.30 baht for conventional farming.
Paddy production from GAP-certified farms is above the local average at about 600 to 650 kilogrammes per rai, and 300 to 350 kg for Hom Mali rice.
In addition, the method requires farmers to take great care with harvest sites, from planting to reaping paddy. This gives farmers sufficient time to deal with plant diseases or infestations in their early stages.
"Normally, farmers would run for jobs in big cities right after they planted seed in the field. They would return three months later to cut the paddy no matter the quality," Ms Ladda said. To encourage farmers to use GAP, the ministry provides free essentials such as rice seed and bio-fertilisers in addition to instruction and training courses.
Mongkol Sornphaeng, chief of the agriculture unit of Tambon Trakan in Ubon Ratchathani, said each farmer was entitled to enough free seed for 10 rai plus bio-fertilisers. Training courses will be held for participants twice a month or up to eight times over a cultivation period, approximately three months.
"Knowledge of how to make chemical-free essentials, to inspect farmland, to get rid off weeds, and plant disease treatment are included," said Mr Mongkol.
Ms Ladda said the ministry planned to increase GAP rice areas by at least 5,000 farm plots or about 75,000 rai each year. Growth is slow because of limited budget and staff.
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