Thailand‘s agriculture sector is large, and Thailand is one of about 10 countries that is a net exporter of food. And for Thailand, that agriculture sector, is equally important.
Thailand’s government of Yingluck, have increased Thailand’s Farm Subsidy, resulting in what, Thai rice farmers have said, “Income up, debt down and purchasing power increased.”
- Globally, despite higher farm subsidy and greater market distorting in the Eurozone and USA, great criticism of Thailand’s farm subsidy were made. Many of those criticism, also offered Thailand an alternative way of lifting farmers income, such as increasing farm productivity.
While increasing farm productivity can indeed increase farmers income, increasing farm productivity, has a long track record on implementation to be a challenge to agricultural heavy countries, that takes a great deal of time and efforts.
- Thailand is no exception.
However, Thailand since 2008, have launched the “Smart Farm” concept, to boost Thailand’s agricultural sector productivity. Since then, more factors are in place in Thailand for a successful “Smart Farm” concept.
However, can Thailand put all the pieces together for a successful drive?
According to Wikipedia, forty-nine percent of Thailand’s labor force is employed in agriculture, however this is less than the 70% employed in 1980. And Thai Agriculture has been experiencing a transition from labour intensive and transitional methods into a more industrialised and competitive sector. Between 1962 and 1983, the agricultural sector grew by 4.1% on average a year and continued to grow at 2.2% between 1983 and 2007.
According to Thailand’s long-term planner, National Economic and Social Development Board, agriculture is the country’s third most important contributor to GDP, after the services sector, which contributes about 52 per cent and the manufacturing sector, which contributes about 39 per cent. In its distant third place, agriculture contributes only 9 per cent of GDP but it has the second-largest number of people employed, at 39 per cent of the country’s total. The service sector has the largest number of employees, with 43 per cent and the manufacturing sector, about 18 per cent.
However, there is a big gap between the number of labourers and the total contribution of the agriculture sector. The challenge is how to use technologies and knowledge to improve productivity in this sector, in terms of quantity and quality.
In recognizing the importance of the sector, since 2008, Thailand’s science and technology development unit, NECTEC, has set up 3 flagships of which the main objectives is to drive NECTEC’s R&D works into application relevant to real sectors of Thai economy. The 3 flagships are: the “Digitalized Thailand”, the “Smart Health” and the “Smart Farm” concept.
NECTECs concept of Smart Farm is to apply IT and electronics technology to the conventional agriculture sector in order to amplify the productivity and quality of agricultural products that will ultimately raise the quality of living of farmers in rural areas. The Smart Farm Flagship concentrates on 4 main agricultural products which are rice, cassava, rubber and sugar cane.
To make these operations into “smart farms”, NECTEC has two main plans: providing research and development, especially the supply of basic field-level sensors capable of reading pH (soil acidity or alkalinity), humidity and temperature; and developing a database of agricultural knowledge, then providing farmers with access to it.
In the first three years, the project will aim to increase agricultural productivity by applying knowledge and technology at farm level, since these are the industry’s production units. Later, NECTEC will turn its focus to the agricultural supply chain and logistics. In supplying equipment to farmers, Nectec will work with its sister centres under the National Science and Technology Development Centre, including Biotec, MTEC, and Nanotec.
In implementation, for example, NECTEC signed a memorandum of understanding with the Agricultural Land Reform Office (Alro), which is responsible for about 1 million rai of rice-farming land, or about 10 per cent of Thailand’s total rice-production area. Under the agreement, smart-farm initiatives will be introduced to this area through a co-managed project called “Alro Cyber Brain”, where farmers were offered sensors to evaluate the status of the main plant nutrients, nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K), in their farm’s soil. They will then be able to send the result by mobile phone short message service to Alro’s server and a fertiliser will be formulated specifically for their farm.
2013 and Beyond:
However, 2008 was about 4 years ago, and the concept of “Smart Farm” requires a host of other factors. Those factors, not available 4 years ago, is now more widely available.
Just days ago, Thailand’s Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC) has come up with its “Smart Farm” project to encourage farmers to adopt new farming technologies to increase their output, in a program to boost Thailand’s agricultural productivity and improve farming efficiency with the objective of increasing farmer’s income to at least Bt180,000 a year.
Thailand only months ago, set up its first Space Technology Center for Geo Informatic, which could greatly help in farming efficiency. For example, by using remote sensing satellite technology and mathematical algorithms, can allow farmers to understand how to use water in their fields most productively. Latest technology in “Pixel Intelligence Mapping” can give the ability to capture and read the carbon dioxide output, water evaporation and temperature of the leaves from a satellite as it passes overhead. The data can be interpreted and accessed by the farmer, who can consider the ‘water spend’ for areas as small as individual fields, to the whole sweep of a river basin or irrigation system.
Thailand is moving close to widespread availability of smart phone, where data, such as “Pixel Intelligence Mapping” will be available in the field direct to smart phones. With smart phone, cost of the data to farming communities would be low and ensure the data is accurate and easily available. The result is, scientific information, such as that, combining with the farmers’ local knowledge to increase crop yields and improve water usage, could increase efficiency.
Thailand’s farm machinery makers, are contributing to the “Smart Farm” concept. For example, Kubota, a major farm equipment manufacturer in Thailand, have launched a “Smart Farmer” project, to help boost the usage of farm machinery and also proper usage of that machinery in Thailand.
The Thai government, recognizing the popularity of organic food and the rising cost of modern chemical based farming, have been pushing Thai farmers to switch to non chemical based farming, or at least, substitute some farming chemicals, to organic compound, such as organic fertilizers and naturally available pest control substances.
Thailand, both private and public sector is investing a great deal in research and development of new seeding for higher yielding crops. For example, with global warming, resulting in more diverse weather pattern, Thailand is introducing flood resistance rice seeding for impacted areas to use. furthermore, for example, Thailand is developing seeding for crops that have ability to withstand pest and decreases.
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