Interview: Chatchai Sarikulya

How is the agricultural sector responding to the challenges posed by changing workforce demographics, and what part can technology play?

CHATCHAI SARIKULYA: The Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives (MOAC) is addressing these important challenges through a number of measures, including working to improve farm efficiency and adding value to agricultural products, as well as promoting appropriate land use for agricultural activities. These moves will help make agriculture more economically viable, more productive and more relevant to a modern workforce.

At the forefront of these initiatives is improving pre-harvest procedures to reduce costs, as well as supporting farmer groups joining together to pool their land and other production resources to farm large fields, thus optimising the use of inputs and machinery. Appropriate land use is being promoted through agricultural zoning using agri-maps as a tool.

Farmers who follow the recommended agricultural procedures are provided assistance through inputs and low-interest loans. Furthermore, improving post-harvest procedures serves to maintain product quality and minimise losses throughout the value chain. This can be achieved through government support to produce design and packaging to meet market demands and help add value to goods. To this end, the promotion of farm and product certification and accreditation will build customer confidence and enable farmers to produce and market higher-value goods.

What specific benefits is the sector aiming to attain through international cooperation?

CHATCHAI: Thailand has memoranda of understanding (MoUs) with over 60 countries to help in a variety of matters, from transferring research and knowledge to cooperating on international issues and facilitating trade. We seek to improve Thailand’s agricultural production, expand its markets and gain knowledge and technology to raise the capacity of Thai farmers.

For example, a recent agreement between MOAC and South Korea’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, is intended to foster cooperation to help develop the sector and its institutions in both countries, support and facilitate the sales of agricultural products, and cooperate in research on irrigation and the management of land and water resources.

Other countries can gain a number of benefits from MoUs with Thailand, depending on their level of development and the types of agriculture they specialise in. Thailand’s agricultural research is among the best in a number of areas, and we can aid others in their research through, for example, the case studies we carried out during the land-reform programme and land consolidation efforts. Many countries are able to learn from our experiences in integrated farming, organic farming, highland agriculture and expertise in rubber, silk, rice, fresh-water fisheries and a wide variety of other crops and products.

What role could agro-tourism play in the sector’s development in the future?

CHATCHAI: Promoting local activities that are part of the unique cultural identity of Thailand’s rural areas helps to attract tourists and also creates a network of tourist sites outside traditional areas. Four pilot agro-tourism destinations were launched in 2015 through a collaboration between the MOAC and other local ministries and agencies.

Many lessons have been learned that will enhance agro-tourism. First, a proper foundation is required, which means selecting farmers and other residents, farm activities and locations that are well prepared to receive tourists. Second, it is important to promote areas that have other tourist attractions nearby. Lastly, all stakeholders must be on-board with the initiatives. Creating a network between government, local officials, private enterprises, local residents and farms will improve agro-tourism and stimulate local economies.