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Climate Change and effect on Rice Production in Thailand

Climate Change and effect on Rice Production in Thailand

Rice has long been Thailand’s traditional food crop and the country’s main export. Although it is declining in relative importance, it still occupies around 55% of the total arable land. More than 80% of the Thai population eats rice as their main meal, with an annual per capita consumption of 100.8 kg.

In a place like Thailand, where each year millions of farmers flock to the rice fields since it is the basis of the country’s diet, something similar happens.

Impact of climate change

Thailand is the world’s second-largest rice exporter and it took a couple of years to return to previous production levels. These are just two examples that show how delicate rice cultivation is in the face of climate change.

Changes in rainfall patterns, rising temperatures (and therefore heat stress), low humidity, and rising sea levels that increase soil salinity…all affect the production of rice. Bacterial blight disease, which is deadly in plants, will become more of a concern with climate change It is not a trivial problem because, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), almost half of the world population subsists on rice.

Agriculture in Thailand is one of the most important economic activities. Although it constitutes little more than 10 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), it is responsible for employing 25 million people, which corresponds to 42 per cent of the population. However, this reality has another side, and that is that 80 per cent of people living in poverty live in rural areas, therefore, they are dependent on agriculture to survive.

Peasants and small farmers are dependent on the land, so climatic conditions seriously affect their well-being. In this context, climate change plays a negative role in food production, since floods have increased but also droughts, likewise, the rise in sea level and heat waves have led to the destruction of extensive crops, including that rice, which is the basis of food in Asia.

Agricultural sector

In this way, adaptation becomes a priority to respond to the effects of climate change, this implies a greater degree of responsibility on the part of governments, but also greater coverage of knowledge transfer plans in order to adequately respond accordingly. collectively to climatic events. In this sense, the use of technology to anticipate disasters, but also to improve agricultural techniques, are part of what the concept of adaptation implies.

According to a 2020 study by the Bank of Thailand’s Puey Ungphakorn Institute for Economic Research, about 9.58 million people from farming households work outside the agricultural sector, most of them, or nearly seven million, are from the northeast.

Although the Thai government has started work on a global warming mitigation action plan and is providing information to raise awareness of climate change, many rice farmers have inadequate knowledge to efficiently manage their farms under the impacts of climate change.

Losses of rice yields

Pimonrat Bootjan, 59, a former farmer from the Sangkha district of the northeastern province of Surin is one of them. At night, he returns to a tiny rented room that he shares with his 20-year-old son, who suffers from alcoholism and the congenital disease epilepsy, which takes away his ability to work.

She divorced her husband, who was also addicted to alcohol, many years ago and became the breadwinner in the family. Another older son of hers is a blue-collar worker who visits her occasionally.

“The last time I grew rice, I ended up more than 10,000 baht (US$300) in debt after borrowing money to pay for fertilizers, pesticides and rented harvesting machines. That’s when I decided to call it quits,” she recalled.

“If the income from rice farming had been more stable and profitable, I would have continued to be a farmer and not a construction worker.”

“Suffering from the losses of rice yields and incomes, farmers are forced to migrate to work elsewhere. If farmers had a certain level of financial stability from rice-growing, they would not have to search for other sources of income.”

Drought

According to the Thai government, more than 30 of the country’s 70 provinces were affected by drought so far. It is the second year in a row that extreme temperatures have dried up entire regions. Exports of staple foods such as rice and sugar are estimated to fall by at least 1 million tonnes, with the price of rice hitting a two-year high on forecasted lower supplies.

For one of the largest exporters of this cereal in the world, these figures are worrying. More than 65% of the country’s water is used for agriculture, so both dry rivers and nearby empty reservoirs hit the sector hard.

Therefore, the dams and dry wells have caused tensions among small farmers in Suphan Buri, a major rice-producing region northwest of Bangkok.

Also in the normally fertile and agriculture-dependent provinces, such as Chiang Mai, Nan and Phayao, there are many examples of failed harvests and threatened livelihoods.

All this has caused great difficulties for many Thai farmers, but a small group has surprisingly overcome this situation. They are peasants who have turned their backs on industrial agriculture and monocultures and instead practice organic agriculture and take advantage of biodiversity as an opportunity.

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