Agriculture in Thailand

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Thai farmer with a bundle of young rice plants
Agriculture in the rural areas of Bangkok.
Land cultivated by the Karen tribe in Northern Thailand: controlled burn in the foreground and agricultural terraces.

The agriculture in Thailand is highly competitive, diversified and specialised and its exports are very successful internationally. Rice is the country's most important crop; Thailand is a major exporter in the world rice market. Rice exports in 2014 amounted to 1.3% of GDP.[1] Agricultural production as a whole accounted for an estimated 9% of Thai GDP.[1]

Other agricultural commodities produced in significant amounts include fish and fishery products, tapioca, rubber, grain, and sugar. Exports of industrially processed foods such as canned tuna, pineapples, and frozen shrimp are on the rise.


Thai agriculture may be traced through historical, scientific, and social aspects which produced modern Thailand's unique approach to agriculture. Following the Neolithic Revolution, society in the area evolved from hunting and gathering, through phases of agro-cities, and into state-religious empires. Immigration of the Tai produced a distinct approach to sustainable agriculture compared with most other agricultural practices in the world.

From about 1000 CE, the Tai wet glutinous rice culture determined administrative structures in a pragmatic society that regularly produced a salable surplus. Continuing today, these systems consolidate the importance of rice agriculture to national security and economic well being. Chinese and European influence later benefited agribusiness and initiated the demand that would expand agriculture through population increase until accessible land was expended.

Recent developments in agriculture have meant that since the 1960s, unemployment has fallen from over 60% to under 10% in the early 2000s.[2] In the same period: food prices halved, hunger decreased (from 2.55 million households in 1988 to 418,000 in 2007) and child malnutrition have greatly reduced (from 17% in 1987 to 7% in 2006).[2] This has been achieved (a) through a mixture of a strong and positive state role in ensuring investment in infrastructure, education and access to credit and (b) successful private initiatives in the agribusiness sector.[2] This has supported Thailand's transition to an industrialised economy.[2]

Agriculture in transition[edit]

Agriculture was able to expand during the 1960s and 1970s as it had access to new land and unemployed labour.[2] Between 1962 and 1983, the agricultural sector grew by 4.1% a year on average and in 1980 it employed over 70% of the working population.[2] Yet, the state perceived developments in the agricultural sector as necessary for industrialisation and exports were taxed in order to keep domestic prices low and raise revenue for state investment in other areas of the economy.[2]

As other sectors developed, labourers went in search of work in other sectors of the economy and agriculture was forced to become less labour-intensive and more industrialised.[2] Facilitated by state laws forcing banks to provide cheap credit to the agricultural sector and by providing its own credit through the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC).[2] The state further invested in education, irrigation, and rural roads.[2] The result was that agriculture continued to grow at 2.2% between 1983 and 2007, but also that agriculture now only provides half of rural jobs as farmers took advantage of the investment to diversify.[2]

As agriculture declined in relative financial importance in terms of income with rising industrialization and Westernisation of Thailand from the 1960s, but it continued to provide the benefits of employment and self-sufficiency, rural social support, and cultural custody. Technical and economic globalisation forces have continued to change agriculture to a food industry and thereby exposed smallholder farmers to such an extent the traditional environmental and human values have declined markedly in all but the poorer areas.

Agribusiness, both privately and government-owned, expanded from the 1960s and subsistence farmers were partly viewed as a past relic which agribusiness could modernise. However, intensive integrated production systems of subsistence farming continued to offer efficiencies that were not financial, including social benefits which have now caused agriculture to be treated as both a social and financial sector in planning, with increased recognition of environmental and cultural values. "Professional farmers" made up 19.5% of all farmers in 2004.[2]

Unique elements of Thai agriculture include irrigation technologies which spanned a millennium. It also had administrative structures which originated with agricultural water control. Thailand has global leadership in production and export of a number of agricultural commodities, and its agribusiness sector includes one of the world's largest multinational corporations. There still remains potential for further large increases in productivity from known technologies.

Thailand leads the world in producing and exporting rice, rubber, canned pineapple, and black tiger prawns. It leads the Asian region in exporting chicken meat and several other commodities, and feeding more the four times its own population. Thailand also seeks to expand its exports in livestock.

Thailand is unlikely to rapidly industrialise except in concert with the People's Republic of China, and will remain one of the world's major agricultural countries in social, environmental, and economic terms for the foreseeable future.

Effect of climate change on Thai agriculture[edit]

It is projected that temperatures will continue to rise at a steady rate in every region of Thailand within a range of 1.2-2° Celsius. Annual rainfall is projected to decrease in the central area, but increase in the northern and northeastern regions. Volume of rainfall is projected to be around 1,400 mm per annum over the next five years.[3]

Shaobing Peng of Huazhong Agriculture University in China believes climate change is now affecting the seasonal weather in Thailand. "Global mean surface air temperature has increased by 0.5 degree Celsius in the twentieth century and will continue to increase by 1.5 to 4.5 degrees Celsius this century," he said.[1]

Farmers of Thailand need to be aware of the impact that climate change will have on their crops. Heavy rain may damage the roots of cassava plants in the north, while a decrease in rain might damage cane sugar and rice in the central region. Temperature and quality changes of water might lead to a reduction in the viability of livestock due to heat stress, survival rates of newborn animals, and immune system impacts.[3]Climate change has and will continue to harm rice yields. A study by Okayama University in Japan found that grain yield declines when the average daily temperature exceeds 29° C (84° F), and grain quality continues to decline linearly as temperatures rise.[4]

To adapt to climate change, the Thai government has initiated plans to introduce drought-resistant seeds. But these seeds are not reusable and can be costly to poor farmers who are not receiving direct financial aid. Government-supplied seeds are also limited, forcing farmers to obtain their seeds from private suppliers. In 2015 60 million rai (960,000 hectares) of rice paddies remained unplanted due to shortages of water, causing many farmers to resort to secondary crops such as sugarcane, cucumber, long beans, and tilapia to make sufficient income.[1]

Use of toxic pesticides[edit]

In July 2012 consumer action groups demanded that four unlisted toxic pesticides (banned in developed countries) found on common vegetables at levels 100 times EU guidelines be banned. Chemical companies are requesting to add them to the Thai Dangerous Substances Act so they can continue to be used, including on exported mangoes to developed countries which have banned their use.[5] In 2014, Khon Kaen University concluded after a study that Thailand should ban 155 types of pesticides, with 14 listed as urgent: Carbofuran, Methyl Bromide, Dichlorvos, Lambda-cyhalothrin, Methidathion-methyl, Omethoate, Zeta Cypermethrin, Endosulfan sulfate, Aldicarb, Azinphos-methyl, Chlorpyrifos-ethyl, Methoxychlor, and Paraquat.[6]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d Lee, Brendon (2015-07-20). "Sci Dev Net; South East Asia & Pacific". Retrieved 21 July 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Henri Leturque, Henri Leturque; Wiggins, Steve (2011). Thailand’s progress in agriculture: Transition and sustained productivity growth. London: Overseas Development Institute. 
  3. ^ a b Supnithadnaporn, Anupit; Inthisang, Jirapa; Prasertsak, Praphan; Meerod, Watcharin. "Adaptation to Climate Change and Agricultural Sector in Thailand" (PDF). Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI). Asian Development Bank. Retrieved 2015-01-10. 
  4. ^ Kisner, Corinne (July 2008). "Climate Change in Thailand: Impacts and Adaptation Strategies". Climate Institute. Retrieved 29 Mar 2015. 
  5. ^
  6. ^

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