Thai farmers urge military govt to launch new rice support scheme

A farmer rearranges a pile of rice after dumping them on the ground during a rally demanding the Yingluck administration resolve delays in payment from the rice pledging scheme, outside Thailand's Finance Ministry in Bangkok on March 13, 2014. R
A farmer rearranges a pile of rice after dumping them on the ground during a rally demanding the Yingluck administration resolve delays in payment from the rice pledging scheme, outside Thailand's Finance Ministry in Bangkok on March 13, 2014. Rice farmers in Thailand are asking the military government to come up with a new market intervention scheme to stem the decline in prices of the grain. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK (REUTERS) - Rice farmers in Thailand are asking the military government to come up with a new market intervention scheme to stem the decline in prices of the grain.

The previous price-support scheme floated by former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra ended in February after causing billions of dollars in losses to the government and leading to an estimated 90 billion baht (S$3.5 billion) in unpaid dues to farmers.

The Thai military, which seized power in May after months of political turmoil, is moving to pay the arrears. A senior finance ministry official said on Tuesday the ministry has secured a loan for 50 billion baht to pay farmers.

But farmers said more needed to be done for them. "We still need the government's price supporting scheme. It may not be the same as Yingluck's scheme, but it could be a new measure to help farmers when prices are falling," Prasit Boonchoey, head of the Thai Rice Farmers Association, told Reuters.

Domestic paddy prices have fallen more than 30 percent so far this year to around 6,000 baht per tonne. The decline this year gathered pace after the earlier rice scheme, which offered to pay farmers 15,000 baht per tonne, expired on Feb. 28.

The previous scheme, which paid farmers 50 percent above market rates, had pushed Thai export prices higher to uncompetitive levels and hurt exports, dethroning Thailand from the rank of the world's biggest rice exporter in 2012.

Kitti Boonrod, head of another farmers' group in the central region, said farmers wanted the junta to continue to pay prices that were slightly higher than market prices. "The intervention price doesn't have to be very high. We are happy if the government pays us around 10,000 baht per tonne, a bit higher than market prices, so that we would have a better profit," Kitti said.

Another group of farmers in the northern region said they want the government to pay them a direct compensation to offset falls in prices as well as other long-term measures to help cut production costs.

Commerce Permanent Secretary Srirat Rastapana said the ministry is working with the junta to find a way to support farmers. "But we have not yet finalised whether the measure should be the same as the previous one to pay farmers higher-than-market prices," she said.