Social Minister urges end to off-season rice farms Pitipong says water shortage critical

Social Minister urges end to off-season rice farms Pitipong says water shortage critical
News Writer: Satein TuamchanSunthorn Pongpao

The Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives has appealed to farmers in 27 provinces along the Chao Phraya and Mae Klong river basins to avoid off-season rice farming to conserve water for the cultivation season.

Minister Pitipong Phuengboon Na Ayudhaya made the appeal Sunday at a gathering of 1,000 Suphan Buri farmers at Wat Ban Klang in Si Prachan district who who came to voice concerns about water shortages.

Most farmers said they needed more water for irrigation for the current crop.

According to the minister, Bhumibhol, Sirikit, Kwai Noi and Pasak dams could supply only 6,500 million cubic metres of water to farms until Nov 1. Normally there would be at least 11,000 million cubic metres available, making this the most critical shortage in 15 years.

The shortage was caused by the release of water for farming in the dry season, Mr Pitipong said.

If farmers in the 27 provinces cooperate with authorities to avert off-season rice cultivation there would be enough water in the dams for cultivation during the next wet season on May 1.

"In Suphan Buri, farmers have started growing wet-season rice on about 17,000 rai of land and the Royal Irrigation Department (RID) has been assigned to supply water to these areas," Mr Pitipong said.

The ministry will iron out plans to support dry-season crop cultivation for farmers in line with the demands in each area, Mr Pitipong said.

The RID also has a plan to repair its irrigation system and waterways, which should create jobs for farmers.

Each ministry will work out plans to boost jobs for them, Mr Pitipong said, adding that details of the plan and budget will be forwarded to the cabinet for consideration within two weeks.

Boonprom Machuay, chairman of Supan Buri Farmers' Council, said rice growers have started cultivation over the past two months.

If there is not enough water for irrigation, crops would be at risk, he said.

Speaking about the government policy to provide cash injections of up to 15,000 baht for more than three million rice farmers nationwide, director-general of the Department of Agricultural Extension, Olarn Pitak, said authorities will give the money to growers registered with the department since May 1 and until the end of this month.

Farmers will be screened for eligibility before receiving the certificates which can be redeemed to obtain funds from the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives, he said.

Under the policy, rice farmers who own up to 15 rai will receive 1,000 baht a rai, while those with more than 15 rai will receive a lump sum of 15,000 baht. He insisted the money would reach rice growers, not land owners.

Thai Agriculturist Association president Wichien Phuanglamjiak said many farmers are expected to register for the scheme, aimed at kick-starting the economy. Though the money is paid to farmers, the government should also focus on boosting rice prices, which were now just 5,000-6,000 baht a tonne, he said. The government does not back price supports.

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