OPINION: Thai agriculture needs reform from ground up

Thailand’s government badly wants the middle-income country to achieve advanced economy status. But it will fail unless it raises agricultural productivity and upskills rural workers for jobs in more productive sectors. This will demand hitherto unseen political commitment.

For decades, political leaders have paid lip service to raising farm productivity and indeed, the country became one of the world’s leading rice exporters in the late 20th century. But the agricultural sector remains highly inefficient. Yields for rice, its main crop, lag export rivals India and Vietnam as well as almost all other rice-producing countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, U.S. government data show.

Agriculture employs 31% of workers, a much higher proportion than in similar countries, according to a 2020 World Bank report. But it contributes just 8% of gross domestic product. So each agricultural worker provides a fifth of the contribution to GDP made by typical workers in other sectors. Without reform, the military-backed government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha will not realize its ambitious goal of raising farmers’ incomes to parity with other workers by 2037.

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Craig Keating