The Promotion of Organic Rice Production in Thailand

The Promotion of Organic Rice Production in Thailand

Published: 2023.05.16
Accepted: 2023.05.16
104
Director
Bureau of Rice Policy and Strategy, Bureau of Rice Policy and Strategy, Rice Department, Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, Bangkok, Thailand
Legal Officer Practitioner Level
Division of Rice and Rice Product Inspection and Certification, Rice Department, Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, Bangkok, Thailand
Expert
Rice Policy and Strategy, Bureau of Rice Policy and Strategy, Rice Department, Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, Bangkok, Thailand

ABSTRACT

The Promotion of Organic Rice Production project in Thailand was done from 2017 to 2021 by the Rice Department (RD). The objectives of the project are: 1) to promote organic rice production by the farmers’ group under “Organic Thailand” standard of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives; and 2) upscale the organic rice production area. Target of the promotion area was 1,000,000 rais (160,000 hectares), and at least 80% of those qualified for both criteria of suitable area and farmers’ group properties to meet the organic rice standard. The processes of the implementation for management to produce organic rice product were based on the principle for organic rice production of the RD and TAS 9000 PART 1 and PART 4, under the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives organic standard. Qualified farmers to participate in such project had to apply and participate as a group with a minimum of 5 farmers and 100 rai (16 hectares) of rice production area. The farmer and rice production area qualifications for project participation are considered and approved by the provincial level committee. There are 3 steps for transformation from conventional rice production to organic rice system, the preparation phase (T1), the transition phase (T2) and the organic rice phase (T3). After five years of project implementation, there were two obvious results. The first was the total application area of 187,532.10 hectares with 125,913 farmers, and among which qualified for the criteria of T1 were 152,158.13 hectares with 106,745 farmers. The second was after T2, and T3 were carried out, and inspection and certification by the RD, the total of 135,410.36 hectares with 94,867 farmers were qualified for the criteria of organic rice standard. It is equal to 89% of T1 which applied and qualified for the criteria. Nevertheless, the obstacles of transformation from conventional to organic rice production under this project include both internal and external factors. The internal factors are internal control system of the farmers’ group, the ability of the farmer to follow organic rice management criteria, resignation of the farmer from the project which affected the minimum member and total area of the group. The external factors are flooding, and water, soil and product chemical contaminations. In addition, after putting their effort for 3 years of transformation from conventional rice to the organic rice production system, it is found that the market link is a significant point to change the high standard rice product to high value for better income of the farmer.

Keywords: organic rice, promotion, production, standard, farmer

INTRODUCTION

Rice production in Thailand

The Organic Rice Production in Thailand had been done since the beginning of rice growing in this area. Based on the archaeological evidence, rice production in Thailand has been done for a long time. There was an evidence of rice husks stuck 5,500 years old in a pottery found in 1966 by the archaeological survey of the Fine Arts Department, University of Hawaii excavated at Non Nok Tha, Ban Khok Sub-district, Phu Wiang District, Khon Kaen Province (U-Dee, 1988). It was the rice (Oryza sativa L.) husk that was grown in this region at that time. Therefore, rice has been cultivated in this region for a long time to support as a staple food for everyday life in this area.  Traditional cultivation without chemical and machinery application had been practiced to produce food for more than 5,400 years. The beginning of rice production system in this region was based on natural and organic inputs. There was no agrichemical and machinery use. Conventional of the ancient agricultural system is organic production.  

Chemical application for agricultural production

Chemical application in agriculture to produce food to support world population needs occurred in the past 4,500 years ago. Sumerians used insecticides in the form of sulfur compounds. Additionally, the Chinese used mercury and arsenic compounds to control the body lice from about 3,200 years ago (John Unsworth, 2010). Chemical fertilizers in the 1960s were the beginning of the "Green Revolution," where the same surface of land using intensive irrigation and mineral fertilizers such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium has greatly increased food production (Carvalho, 2006). The use of chemical fertilizers in Thailand started to increase exponentially in the 1970s; between 1961 and 2004, fertilizer use increased more than 100 times, a spectacular increase from 18,000 tons in 1961 to 2 million tons in 2004. Since pesticides were first imported into Thailand under the “Green Revolution Policy” as part of the 1st National Economic and Social Development Plan in 1966, the total amount of imported pesticides has dramatically increased year by year. Most pesticides used in the country are imported (Department of Pollution Control 2005), and the quantities of imported agricultural pesticides have increased 3 times from 1994 to 2005, reaching more than 80,000 tons in 2004. Rice production system uses high proportion of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides and herbicides. In 2021, the rice area and the number of farm households in wet season rice production is 10 million hectares and 4.7 million households, respectively. Based on the total rice area, 76% of which is dependent on the amount and pattern of precipitation and another 24% is under irrigated system which demand higher chemical application as compared to rainfed system (Buddhaboon, 2022). Rice production under rainfed system is more suitable for organic rice production than irrigated system. The current industrial agriculture system promotes the reliance on agrochemicals, both synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, while neglecting to consider their negative effects on the economy of local communities, human health and the environment. The long-term use of high levels of agrochemicals to boost yields has made it difficult to sustain the same rate of yield growth, and yields approach the economic optimum levels. (Tirado, et al., 2008). Organic agriculture production is an alternative way for sustainability throughout the supply chain.

Organic rice production in Thailand

After a period of chemical agriculture application, the organic agriculture in Thailand has been practiced since the 1980s by the farmers and local organizations. The organic agriculture policy was launched in the national agenda in 2005 (Hnin, 2017). Organic foods of Thailand started to be exported since 1981 supported by the Department of Agriculture, Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives. Private rice traders collaborating with farmers group produce and export organic rice to the European Union (EU) (Department of Agriculture, 2018). The National Organic Agriculture Development Plan was launched during 2017-2021 under four strategic themes including: 1) promoting research, knowledge dissemination and innovation in organic agriculture; 2) developing organic agriculture production and services; 3) developing market and services as well as certification system for organic agricultural products; and 4) promoting organic agriculture extensively (National Committee on Organic Agriculture Development, 2017 and Pongsrihadulchai, 2019). Private sector and organizations for development of the private sector established organic rice production projects in 1991. The government sector has supported research and development for private inspection and certification (Varinruk, 2017). Because rice as a product is for both domestic and international markets, organic rice production should meet international standards. Therefore, the promotion of organic rice production is one of the projects under Thailand government and the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives by considering the environment, farmers’ health, and also consumers. Recently, Thailand’s organic agricultural land ranks 60th in the world, 6th in Asia and 4th in South East Asia. Land cultivated for organic produce extends in line with the growth of market, increased by 20.72% from 2013, of which 78% was for the overseas market. The potential markets are the European Union, the United States and the Asian markets, respectively while the main export products are processed food, rice, fresh fruits and vegetables, and cosmetics and skin care at 66%, 31%, 3% and 0.18%, respectively. Opportunities arise in the overseas markets especially in the European Union (specifically, Sweden, Denmark and Germany), the United States and the People's Republic of China due to continuously increasing demand and purchasing power. In America, the Thai producers will see opportunities in rice, fresh fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices and sugar. As for the Chinese market, tropical fruits, sugar and raw materials are constantly needed (Kenan Institute Asia, 2017).

Promotion of organic rice production in Thailand 

Organic rice production is one of the significant projects of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives (MOAC) which is implemented under the name “The Organic Rice Production Promotion” during 2017 to 2021. The objectives of the projects are to: 1) promote groups of rice farmers producing organic rice under the Organic Rice Standard; and 2) expand the organic rice production area. Target areas are 300,000 rais (48,000 hectares) in 2017, 300,000 rais (48,000 hectares) in 2018 and 400,000 rais (64,000 hectares) in 2019, with a total of 1,000,000 rai (160,000 hectares) within 3 years. The target of organic rice production was that farmers’ groups are certified by at least 80% of the applicants by 2021. In order to implement the project, incentives include input support to the farmers during the 3-year transformation period. Other support includes linkage creation between organic rice production groups and local traders and millers for sharing benefits of higher value than ordinary rice production system. This activity is supported by the Chief of Operating Officer (COO) in provincial level and Operation Team (OT) in the district level.

PRINCIPLE FOR ORGANIC RICE PRODUCTION (RICE DEPARTMENT, 2016 AND TAS 9000 PART 1 AND PART 4)

Organic rice production is the agricultural production system that focuses on sustainability of natural resources and soil fertility restoration, balance of using and reservation of natural resources. Organic rice production is the same as business as usual of rice production but no chemical application in all management steps of production.

Who defines this and for what purpose? ACFS:  Is this Thailand organic rice standard? Yes

Definition  

Organic rice production is an organic rice production system, processing and/or packaging, under organic agriculture volume 1: production, processing, labeling, and selling organic products (TAS 9000 PART 1) and organic agriculture commodity volume 4: organic rice (TAS 9000 PART 4).

Organic rice production system is certification of organic rice production system processing and/or packaging under organic agriculture volume 1: production, processing, labeling, and selling organic products (TAS 9000 PART 1) and organic agriculture commodity volume 4: organic rice (TAS 9000 PART 4).

Organic rice is a product and processed product obtained from an organic rice production system (National Bureau of Agricultural Commodity and Food Standards, 2010a and National Bureau of Agricultural Commodity and Food Standards, 2010b).

There are 12 steps in organic rice production under the promotion of organic rice production project in order to be implemented and practicable in the target area under TAS 9000 PART 4 to meet the Organic Thailand Standard as follows:

1. Site selection for organic rice production

The area is big enough or small pieces of land adjacent to each other. Soil fertility is quite high by the nature, compost of essential nutrients for rice. There is water storage area for supplying to rice when necessary. It has not been the chemical application area for long time or the area of high chemical contamination. And it is apart from the chemical application area.

2. Rice variety selection

Rice variety should be suitable for selected area in both growth and yield even with limit of soil fertility, and pests and diseases tolerance. Grain quality is to meet the consumer demand. Khoa Dawk Mali 105 and RD 15 are the most favorable for organic rice production in Northeast and North regions of Thailand. Rice variety selection is dependent on the objective of the farmer and the market.

3. Rice seed preparation

Organic rice seeds with standard and good management are used for organic rice production. The seeds have a high germination rate (more than 80%). There is no chemical for seed treatment and they are disease, pest and weed free. If it is necessary for chemical seed treatment for seed born diseases, 1 gram of copper sulfate with 1 liter of water solution is used for seed soaking for 20 hours before planting.

4. Soil preparation

The objective of soil preparation is to prepare the suitable soil physical properties for planting and growth of the crops, and to control weeds, pests, diseases and also animals at the beginning of the cropping season. However, soil preparation is dependent on the history of the area, soil property, soil texture, crop, and planting method. Basically, three steps including the first plough, second plough and harrowing are the conventional land preparation steps in rice production. Land leveling is another option for a sloping area. It might be done by conventional method during harrowing after ploughing or applying the high technology “Laser land leveling” (LLL) which is suitable for irrigated rice production area for increasing water use efficiency.

5. Planting method

Planting method is classified into 3 methods, including transplanting, pre-germinated broad casting and dry seeded broadcasting or dropping. Transplanting is the most suitable method used for organic rice production due to easy detection of  pests, diseases and weed control. It has higher grain quality as compared to other planting methods.

6. Soil fertility management

Any agrochemical application is not allowed for organic rice production. Therefore, selection of high soil fertility area is the priority to maintain high production under the organic production system. Farmer is the key point of soil fertility management. Stability of yield and sustainability of organic production system is also needed with the most internal inputs. Recycling of biomass and by-products of the system is prioritized to maintain and increase soil fertility. Recommendation of soil fertility management are:

1) Soil management to maintain soil fertility:

  • Rice straw and other biomass burning is not practiced in organic rice production area.
  • Biomass is not  taken out from the farm. Organic biomass from the nearby area should be input to the production area.
  • Soil organic matters and soil nutrients should be increased by inter-cropping, crop rotation or cropping system management. Legume crop species are recommended for this system to increase soil fertility and cut off pests and diseases cycle in the organic rice production system. Mungbean, Cowpea, Jack bean, Sesbania, Sun Hemp for examples, are recommended to improve soil fertility during the dry season. These legume crops have a short growth duration and need less water supply as compared to rice.
  • Annual soil analysis should be made for checking soil fertility. Neutral soil pH is the most efficient way for nutrient uptake. Marl, lime, or ash is necessary to be applied if chemical reaction of the soil appears to be acidic.

2) Organic fertilizer application:

Organic fertilizer is produced from biomass. It is low in nutrient content as compared to chemical fertilizer. Therefore, high application rate is needed. If it is not possible due to limitation of amount of biomass at certain of time, an applicable rate of application is preferable. Recommended organic fertilizers are the following:

  • Manure, is a by-product from animal husbandry, for example cow, cattle, buffalo, chicken, pig, duck, etc. It might be internal or external input. The manure has to be organic.
  • Compost, prepared from internal biomass of the farm, is recommended to use microorganism application for efficient decomposition.
  • Green manure, select suitable green manure crop for the area and the time for growth duration to incorporate into the soil.
  • Bio-extract, it is fermented from bio-material with water and molasse. Various biomass from available animals and plants within farm or nearby could be used as inputs.
  • Azolla, it is recommended to apply in rice fields during growing season for additional nitrogen fertilizer. 

7. Cropping system

Organic rice production in rainfed area could be produced one crop per year. Legume species are recommended to be grown after rice production. Time and management for cropping system are dependent on area, the environment and available input.

8. Weed control management

Mechanical methods are recommended for weed control. Land preparation, water management, hand weeding and small machines could be used for weed control.

9. Pests, diseases, and animals damage control

Principles for pests, diseases, and animals damage control are:

  1. Resistant rice variety application;
  2. Suitable management, land preparation, planting time, planting method, plant density, soil nutrient management, water management, and crop rotation;
  3. Natural or bio-control by balancing of predators, parasites, and insect pests;
  4. Bio-extract control, for examples, neem, galangal, citronella extract, spraying for insect pest control, if necessary; and
  5. Light trap.

10. Water management

Appropriate water supply is managed for various planting methods and growth duration. Transplanting, pre-germinated seed broadcasting, and dry seed broadcasting are different in their water supply for land preparation and crop growth. A water depth of 5-10 centimeters is applied for transplanting method. Broadcasting method needs soil moisture for some time to support in the beginning of germination and seedling stages. After that, water management is similar to transplanting plot. Alternated wetting and drying is also applicable to increase water use efficiency. It is not only water-saving but also a mitigation of methane emission for environmental purposes. And water could be drained for 7-10 days before harvesting.

11. Harvest, threshing, and moisture reducing from rice grains

Recommended harvesting date is 28-30 days after flowering. Grains in the lower part of the panicles are hard and grain color is changed to be straw color. Harvesting method is dependent on the farmer, combine harvester, or labor. Rice grains from combine harvester are dried until 14% of grain moisture content is achieved before storage. Sickle is used for rice harvesting by labor. It is dried under sun light for 2 to 3 days after harvesting, Threshing is done by both labor or threshing machine. It could be stored immediately after threshing.

12. Storage

Storage is made after drying and the moisture content in the rice grains is not higher than 14%. Organic rice grains must be separately stored from conventional rice production under chemical application. Barn, sack, appropriate containers can be used for storage as long as they are clean and chemical free.

THE PROMOTION OF ORGANIC RICE PRODUCTION PROJECT

The promotion of organic rice project was launched from 2017 to 2021 for organic rice production and linkage to the market.  The objectives of the project are: 1) to promote the farmers’ groups to produce organic rice under the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives standard; and 2) to upscale organic rice area under the organic standard by increasing organic rice production area to a total of 1,000,000 rais (160,000 hectares) with a total of 66,670 farmers (Table 1).

The process of the promotion of organic rice production project started with public relations via official advertising, and social media. The farmers applied to join the project at the local Rice Department organizations (Rice Research Center or Rice Seed Center) and district or provincial Agricultural Extension Offices. The organic rice committee which was appointed by the provincial governor considered and proposed to the Chief of Operations to approve to join the project. Farmers registered as a group for project participation by the Rice Department. Farmers’ groups had been supported with knowledge of organic rice standard training, organic rice seeds, inspection and certification under the Organic Thailand rice standard. The Rice Department supported the supervision, recommendation and the consultation to the farmers for organic rice production management throughout the project period. The product of organic rice was linked to the market by the integration of farmers’ groups, the local rice traders, the millers and the local government officers. Finally, the project was evaluated by the Official of Agriculture Economic (Figure 1).         

Establish an organic rice committee at provincial level and its application

The head of Agriculture and Cooperative office proposes that the provincial governor appoints the organic rice committee of the province to implement the project from 2017 to 2021. Committee members consist of the chief of district agricultural extension officer, and agricultural extension officers at the district and sub-district levels.  The project detail was advertised and groups of farmers applied to participate and cooperate in running the project. The tentative condition of the farmers’ groups for participating in the project was inquired and proposed to the Chief of Operation Officer (CoO) led by the Director of provincial agricultural extension officer (Figure 1).

Qualifications for project participation   

  • Apply as a farmers’ group, at least 5 members who are appropriate for organic rice production management;
  • Total area for organic rice production at least 100 rais (16 hectares), located at the same community or nearby;
  • The area is not organic rice production at time of application, for expansion and increase of both area and number of the farmers in organic rice;
  • Suitable of water use for organic rice production, (rainfed, pond, canal or ground water);
  • Land certificate ownership or agreement document (renting) for using land from the owner;
  • The details of organic rice management, location, size of area, rice variety, or organic rice standard use to be obtained;
  • Approved to join the project by the CoO;
  • In case of a member of the group is also a member of consolidated farming (big farm) project, the right is remained but supporting for production factor of the project must not be overlapping; and
  • In case of farmer cancelation to participate in the project after obtaining the bounty, that farmer could not reapply to participate in this project.

Transformation from conventional rice to organic rice production

First year of the preparation phase (T1)

  • Organic rice production area must be cleared from chemical residues or contaminants;  
  • Source of water must be cleaned of chemicals;
  • Soil and fertilizer management must follow recommendations of the Rice Department, Land Development Department, and Department of Agriculture, Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives;
  • Management for product quality before harvesting for example, seed sources, pest control system, should be under the recommendations of the Rice Department;
  • Protection or prevention from contamination of hazard chemicals both from water and air to the area; and
  • Data recording for example, location, source of seeds, variety, sources of water, cutting off type plants, insect pests and diseases survey and management, harvest and threshing, drying packaging and storage;

Second year the transformation phase (T2)

  • Organic rice farmers’ group must pass the inspection process of Rice Department for this transition period.

Third-year of the organic rice phase (T3)

  •  Organic rice farmers’ group must pass the inspection process of Rice Department to obtain certificate “Organic Thailand;” and
  • Inspection of organic rice production of farmers’ group is under the standard of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives (TAS 9000 PART 1 and PART 4) in the second and the third year consecutively.   

The Promotion of Organic Rice Production project started in 2017. Farmers applied to participate in the project for preparation phase (T1) in 2017, 2018 and 2019. A total of 125,913 farmers applied and participated in the project with an area of 187,532 hectares which is higher than the target of the project of 66,670 farmers and an area of 160,000 hectares. This was for consideration under the criteria of the first year of preparation phase mentioned above. After the first year of preparation phase, most of the farmer participants are able to manage and meet the criteria of T1. The total of 152,158 hectares were selected and continued to transforming phase. Nineteen percent (19%) of applied area could not meet the criteria of T1, the preparation phase. This is the objective of the T1 phase to select the suitable area for organic rice production in the next phase (Table 2).

The second year after application to participate in the project is transformation phase.  The area was inspected by the Rice Department under the principle for organic rice production standard, and TAS 9000 Part4: 2010, Organic Agriculture Part 4: Organic Rice. From a total of 146,969.82 hectares of application area, 140,150.70 hectares equal to 95% of applied area was able to meet the T2 criteria. Only 5 % could not meet the T2 criteria (Table 2).

The third year of participation of the project, management for organic rice production is still the same as the T2 practice for better skills and being more familiar with the system. Among the total of 140,446.10 hectares of the T3 application area, there are 135,410.26 hectares able to meet the T3 criteria which are equal to 96% of the applied area. And it is only 4 % that could not meet the T3 criteria (Table 2).

The reasons of unmet selection criteria are as follows:

  1. There is no internal control system;
  2. Farm management could not meet the TAS 9000 Part 4, for organic rice production;
  3. Farmers’ group cancelation for inspection due to inability to follow organic rice criteria and need to be corrected for the nonconformity case;
  4. Planting area is flooded;
  5. Water or rice grain sample analysis could not pass the minimum level;
  6. Farmer resigned from the project;
  7. Failed to meet the internal control system; and
  8. The total of the area in the group is less than 100 rai (16 hectares) because some farmers resign from the group.

This result indicated that the preparation phase is the most critical for selecting the suitable area for organic rice management. Location of the area, soil property, water supply, the surrounding environment, and also the mindset of the farmers are significant criteria to meet the ultimate aim of the organic production system. After suitable area is selected, the production management under the Organic Thailand criteria can be applied smoothly. It is confirmed by the percentage of those who were unable to meet the criteria of T1, T2, and T3 which are 19%, 5%, and 4%, respectively. Therefore, the total certified organic rice area after 5 years of the project is 135,410.26 hectares, equal to 85 % of the target of 160,000 hectares, which is managed by the total of 94,884 farmers. Based on self-evaluation and empirical data in the local area of the project implementation team, there is still bottle neck between production and market sides. The Research and Development on Organic Rice Production Technology reported that there were only 26,930 hectares of organic rice production in 2015 (Varinruk, 2018).  Therefore, the total of organic rice production after this project was more than 400,000 metric tons. There was no official report of organic rice demand. It was only a small proportion (less than 25%) of the organic rice product which was linked to the market by both government organization, farmer’ groups and private enterprises. Both the domestic and the international organic rice markets need to be expanded.

CONCLUSION

The Promotion of Organic Rice Production project focuses on: 1) promotion of the farmer groups to produce organic rice, and 2) upscale of the organic rice production area. The target of promotion area is 1,000,000 rais (160,000 hectares). The process for management to produce organic rice product is based on the principle used in organic rice production of the RD and TAS 9000 PART 4. Farmers must apply as a group with at least 5 farmers per group and 100 rai (16 hectares) of rice production area. The qualification for project participation is considered and approved by the provincial level committee. Three stages for transformation from conventional rice to organic rice production system are the preparation phase (T1), the transformation phase (T2) and the organic rice phase (T3). The T1 started with farmers’ application, qualified by both farmers’ groups and the area properties. The T2 is implementation of the principle for organic rice production of the RD and TAS 9000 PART 4. Finally, the T3 is continuous organic rice production management same as the T2. Finally, the organic rice production area of the project is inspected and certified by the RD. The results of the project implementation are: 1) the total area of 152,158.13 hectares with 125,913 farmers applied to participate in the project; and 2) after T2, and T3 management, inspection, and certification, the total of 135,410.36 hectares with 98,391 farmers met the criteria of organic rice standard, which is equal to 89% of the applied and qualified area. The obstacles of transformation from conventional to organic rice production under the project are both internal and external factors. The internal factors are internal control system, ability of the farmers to follow organic rice management criteria, resignation of the farmers from the project affected by the requirements of minimum number of members and total area of the group. The external factors are flooding, and water, soil and product chemical contaminations. In addition, after putting the effort for 3 years of transformation from the conventional to organic rice production system, it is found that the market link is a significant point for transformation of high standard rice product to improve farmers’ income.

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