Thailand's worst drought wipes out estimated $840 mil. in agriculture

23, Apr. 2020

Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh from Pexels
Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh from Pexels

BANGKOK, NNA - Thailand agriculture especially rice crop has been devastated by its second worst drought in a decade with estimated losses of 26 billion baht ($804 million) or 0.2 percent of its GDP, mainly due to a drastic fall in off-season rice production.

Off-season rice yield in market year 2019/20 is expected to plunge by 40 percent from the previous year as the government had restricted irrigation supplies for rice production as reservoir levels fell low, said the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) of U.S. Department of Agriculture in its report released on February 23.

Most off-season rice is meant for export. Its reduced rice harvest accounts for around 10 percent of total rice production, said FAS whose report took into account inputs by the government and analysts.

About 32,000 hectares of field crops and fruit trees also suffered from poorer harvests due to the drought, particularly for off-season corn, which accounts for around 15 percent of total corn yield, according to FAS.

Productions of other vital crops such as cassava and sugarcane are also expected to drop by 7 to 21 percent this year, said Economic Intelligence Center (EIC) of Siam Commercial Bank.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives had reported that around 1.3 million rai (208,000 hectares) or 18 percent of total off-season arable land were severely hurt by the adverse weather from September 2019 to January this year.

The worst-hit was off-season rice crop planted in November 2019. About half of the affected farmers were given government financial aid amounting to 624 million baht.

Overall rice production is expected to face its hardest fall of 27 percent from the previous year after huge swathes of rice fields were scorched dry from last December through February this year in a drought also widely seen as one of the worst in 40 years.

The poorer harvest and the economic fallout from the global coronavirus pandemic are expected to slash Thailand’s rice export in 2020 by between 12.9 and 18.1 percent, according to Kasikorn Research Center.

Rice farming takes up almost half or 45.2 percent of the total arable land in the Southeast Asian country, according to EIC.

Aquaculture also struggled to stay afloat, especially for cage-culture fish farming along rivers, which accounted for about 10 percent of total freshwater fish farms. Farmers were forced to reduce breeding areas by 30 percent in the northern region as water levels fell, said FAS.

As reservoir and irrigation water supplies in Thailand dropped alarmingly low, the government approved a budget of 3.1 billion baht in January for immediate drought mitigation efforts nationwide to be carried over a few months.

Supply for household consumption is being increased by expanding underground water facilities. The allocation of irrigation water for 2019/20 off-season crop cultivation has been increased by 5 percent from the initial allocation of 17.7 billion cubic meters.

Meanwhile, the government has limited irrigation water for rice cultivation to ensure that there would be enough water for household consumption and sustainable ecological management until June 2020.

Farmers have been encouraged to grow crops that do not need much water instead, such as corn, soy beans and green beans.