Thailand's vital rice belt drying up

The current drought in Bang Pla Ma district, in Suphanburi province, is forcing impoverished Thai farmers deeper into debt and heaping fresh pain on an already weak economy.
The current drought in Bang Pla Ma district, in Suphanburi province, is forcing impoverished Thai farmers deeper into debt and heaping fresh pain on an already weak economy.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BANG PLA MA (Thailand) • Ms Ranong Rachasing would normally be in her fields at this time of the year, toiling in ankle-deep water to make her rice paddies bloom through knowledge honed by years of cultivating Thailand's most celebrated export.

Now the wizened 57-year-old's fields lie fallow, baking under a blazing summer sun.

"This year is worse than any other. There has been no rain, so there is no water. It is the most severe drought I've ever seen," she said while standing in a cracked field in Bang Pla Ma district, Suphanburi province, a two-hour drive north of Bangkok.

Thailand's vital rice belt is being battered by one of the worst droughts in living memory with the prospect of a dismal main harvest.

Water levels in some of the major reservoirs are at their lowest levels in 20 years, prompting the ruling junta to call on farmers in the Chao Praya river basin to delay sowing crops.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has also ordered officials to clear irrigation channels, dig more ground wells and employ cloud-seeding technology to create artificial rainfall. But the wet season has yet to arrive in earnest.

Most of Thailand's rice farmers are from the country's populous north.

Support for ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra remains strong in the region partially because his sister, former premier Yingluck, who was also removed by a coup led by General Prayut, heavily subsidised the rice industry.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 09, 2015, with the headline 'Thailand's vital rice belt drying up'. Print Edition | Subscribe