Thailand - Agriculture
With some 20.4 million hectares (50.4 million acres) of farm land, of which about 10 million hectares (24.7 million acres) are under rice cultivation, Thailand continues to rely heavily on agriculture, although the country has suffered from declining export prices in recent years. Rice is the major crop grown; Thailand is the world's biggest rice exporter. Total rice production amounted to 17.5 million tons in 2001/02. The government has embarked on large-scale irrigation projects and introduced higher-yielding varieties of rice in an effort to increase production. In 2001, agricultural products accounted for 11.7% of exports and Thailand's agricultural trade surplus was nearly $4.5 billion (10th in the world).
Rubber, also a major export, is grown on the peninsula and, to a lesser extent, on the southeast coast. Total production in 1999 was 2,198,000 tons, the highest in the world and accounting for 34% of all production that year. Demand for natural rubber is growing along with the international concern about AIDS. Sugarcane production reached 52.8 million tons, while output of cassava (tapioca), traditionally important in Thailand, totaled 16.5 million tons. Thailand provides about 95% of the world's cassava exports. Much of the harvest is processed into chips and pellets and exported to the EU for fodder. Higher EU tariffs, however, have caused the Thai government to promote dairy, fruit, rubber, and cashew farming instead. Corn production, which has increased significantly in recent decades, reached 4.6 million tons in 1999. One third of annual corn production is consumed annually as fodder, with the remainder being exported to Europe and Japan. Kenaf, tobacco, cotton, and kapok are cultivated mainly for domestic use, but quantities of jute, cocoa, peanuts, soybeans, and medical plants are exported. Canned pineapple and fresh flowers, especially orchids, are important exports. The Thai government's official policy of encouraging mountain villagers to grow coffee, apples, strawberries, kidney beans, and other temperate crops instead of the lucrative opium poppy and marijuana has had some success; another aim of the project is to discourage deforestation through slash-and-burn cultivation. In 1987, King Bhumibol Adulyedej received a Magsaysay Award for International Understanding for his 20 years of effort in this area.
In the mid-1970s, farmers began to organize to express their discontent over the disparity between farm and nonfarm incomes. To improve farm conditions, the government legitimized squatters' rights to nearly 500,000 hectares (1,236,000 acres) of land classified as forest reserve and established credit and crop insurance programs for farmers. The government Marketing Organization for Farmers, founded in 1975, allows farmers to buy fertilizers, machinery, and equipment at the lowest possible prices and assists in crop marketing. It is also government policy to channel revenues from agricultural export taxes to a welfare fund called the Farmers Assistance Fund.