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Why are Rice Farmers Protesting in Thailand?

Protesting farmers in front of the Ministry of Commerce in Bangkok. Photo by Karnt Thassanaphak, Copyright@Demotix (2/6/2014)

Protesting farmers in front of the Ministry of Commerce in Bangkok. Photo by Karnt Thassanaphak, Copyright@Demotix (2/6/2014)

Hundreds of rice farmers have been protesting in the past several days in Bangkok after the Thailand government has repeatedly failed to provide payments under the rice pledging program. Delayed payments have already reached 130 billion Baht affecting more than a million farmers.

Introduced in 2011 after the election victory of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the program involved the government buying the rice output of local farmers at high a price before reselling the rice to the global market. The program was meant to improve the savings of farmers.

For five decades, Thailand was the world’s largest rice exporter but it has been overtaken by India and Vietnam in recent years. Critics blame the rice pledging program for the huge financial losses in the rice sector.

The rice protest has intensified the country’s political crisis as anti-government protests continue to gather thousands in the streets of Bangkok.

Majority of farmer-protesters are not affiliated with the People's Democratic Reform Committee which has been the lead organizer of the anti-government protests. In fact, many farmers are from the village strongholds of the ruling party.

The opposition has expressed support to the protesting farmers and has initiated a donation campaign to help sustain the protest in the city. The opposition is also blaming corruption under the Yingluck government for the present suffering of rice farmers.

For its part, the government said it was unable to pay farmers because of the protests which caused the dissolution of the parliament. It urged protesters not to block or occupy government banks.

It assured farmers that the government is finding a mechanism on how to deliver the payments. It also rejected criticism that the rice subsidy program has become a disastrous populist policy:

Ultimate goal of the rice pledging scheme is not the Government’s popularity, but simply the upgrade of income security for the better lives of farmers, and for the better future of our posterity since rice farming means growing the better future on our own land without any impact to the country’s monetary and fiscal disciplines.

But Bangkok Pundit believes a new subsidy program should be implemented by the government:

…some other form of subsidy which doesn’t involve the government being in the business of selling rice is a better option. A direct subsidy of something similar would be a much easier scheme to implement and manage. You can set a budget and you wouldn’t have to go through the problems the government is facing now with trying to issue bonds and who to borrow the money from.

Below are some photos and reaction on Twitter. In this photo, farmers mounted a street blockade near Bangkok, the country's capital.

Bangkok protesters showed solidarity to the farmers by gathering cash donations:

@PravitR thinks the Prime Minister should immediately apologize to farmers:

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