Thailand farmers open free community rice mill to cut expenses

CCTV News

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It’s harvest time in the rice fields of Thailand. But this year the crop is bringing not joy, but gloom. The price farmers are being paid is the lowest in 10 years.

CCTV’s Martin Lowe reports from Phitsanulok, Thailand.

Thailand farmers open free community rice mill to cut expenses

Thailand farmers open free community rice mill to cut expenses

This year’s rice crop in Thailand is brining gloom. The price farmers are being paid is the lowest in 10 years. But one group of farmers in central Thailand believes it has the answer. With a state grant, they've opened their own community mill.

Farmers sell their crop to private mills, which dry the rice and remove a husk from the grains. But it’s claimed some mills are offering less than it costs to grow. Thailand’s military government has sent soldiers to mills to ask why the price is so low.

Millers insist it’s because of a global surplus.

But one group of farmers in central Thailand believes it has the answer. With a state grant, they’ve opened their own community mill.

Rice is milled for free – with the mill selling the by-product. They say it’s the only way they can make their crop pay.

Currently, private mills are offering as little as $142 per tonne of rice. Some farmers say it costs at least $171 to produce. By milling the rice themselves they hope to earn $420. But that’s still less than half the 2008 peak of 1,080 dollars a tonne.

“Prices are low this year but by bringing their rice to the community mill, the farmers can earn more. They can also choose a wider range of customers to sell to,” said Wiruch Thongdonyod of the Bo Thong Community Mill.

Thailand’s prime minister Prayuth Chan-o-Cha has authorized the payment of a one and a half billion dollar subsidy, in the form of loans and top-up payments.

“Today it’s just about solving the problem. I understand that we have to act legally and not affect any market mechanism,” Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-O-Cha said.

He’s choosing his words carefully. As the former army chief, Prayuth took power after removing the previous government, in part claiming they paid too much to farmers.

The prime minister he displaced, Yingluck Shinawatra, says the new subsidy is little different from her own. She’s facing a one billion dollar compensation claim and possible prison over her scheme’s losses.

The people who dictate the price of rice here in Thailand are the millers, the buyers, the exporters and the market speculators. Those who usually don’t have a say … are the ones who grow it.

It’s one reason why Thailand is one of the world’s top-two rice exporters, but its farmers remain in poverty. Farmers here, hope owning their own mill can be a first step in bringing change.