|Written by Lyn Resurreccion / Science Editor|
|SUNDAY, 15 NOVEMBER 2009 21:28|
BANGKOK—Good government policy and research. These are the main ingredients that make Thailand the world’s current top rice exporter, a Thai rice executive said.
“We have the prime minister, even our king, promoting rice. It is very important. Every government [official] is interested in rice,” Chairit Damrongkiat, deputy director general of the Rice Department under the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, told the BusinessMirror at the sidelines of a media seminar in Bangkok conducted by Syngenta and attended by 22 journalists from Asia.
He said the king himself presides at the annual royal rice ceremony.
Damrongkiat noted that Thai farmers learn a lot on rice technology because they have experts who have doing researches in the past years.
“Now we have a lot of good variety of rice, so we can select the best one. Our department has released about 75 varieties but we still have a lot of local varieties, more than 4,000, which we use for niche market, for consumer and for nutrition,” Damrongkiat said.
He said his country has about 200 rice experts.
The world’s top rice exporter, Thailand exported 10 million tons (MT) of rice in 2008, or 33.8 percent of the world’s total of 29.6 MT. It is followed by Vietnam (4.6 MT, or 11.5 percent), other countries (4.5 MT, or 15.5 percent), India (3.3 MT, or 11.2 percent), the US (3.2 MT, or 10.8 percent), Pakistan (3 MT, or 10.1 percent) and China (0.9 MT, or 3 percent), he said in his presentation in the media seminar.
Saying, “Thailand is feeding the world,” Damrongkiat said it has been exporting to more than 150 countries in the past 28 years.
The world’s production of rice in 2008 is 445.6 MT. Of this, China was the top producer with 134.3 MT or 30.1 percent, followed by India, 99.1 MT (22.2 percent); other countries 93.08 MT (20.9 percent); Indonesia, 38.2 MT (8.6 percent); Bangladesh, 31 MT (7 percent); Vietnam, 24.4 MT (5.5 percent) and Thailand, 23.2 MT (5.2 percent).
On the other hand, the Philippines has become the world’s top rice importer. Damrongkiat said Thailand exports to the Philippines an estimated 1.8 million tons of rice annually.
Manila last year bought a record 2.54 million tons (2.3 million metric tons [MMT]) of rice to plug a 10-percent domestic production gap, the Associated Press said. The rice crisis spiked the price of rice worldwide, and reached P40 a kilo in the Philippines.
The Philippines’ situation is made worse by the damage caused by Typhoon Ondoy and three other typhoons that damaged 13 percent of the targeted national rice production in the fourth quarter of the year. The country is importing 850,000 MMT to beef up its stock in the first half of 2010.
What is ironic is that many of Thailand’s rice experts studied from the rice research centers in the Philippines, such as the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), University of the Philippines in Los Baños or the Central Luzon State University (CLSU), he said.
Damrongkiat himself received his masteral degree from CLSU, he told the BusinessMirror.
Meanwhile, as Thailand attains its leading rice-exporting status in the world, the IRRI is launching its 50th anniversary celebration of its work on rice science on November 17 in its headquarters in Los Baños, Laguna. The event will be graced by Thai Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, the IRRI said.
The IRRI will also hold a four-day conference, starting today at the Manila Hotel, of international rice scientists to explore the rice genetic capacity to feed the world, IRRI said.
The importance that Thais give to rice could be traced to the nation’s culture and rituals, Damrongkiat said in his presentation. Thailand has a royal plowing ceremony where the king and other members of the royal family participate. They also perform a praying ritual to Mae Phosop, the rice goddess.
Damrongkiat said Thailand’s rice industry is a major contributor to his country’s economy. It is a stable food source or provides food security, a major source of foreign-exchange earning and a major source of employment for 17 million people out of Thailand’s total population of 61.5 million.
Agriculture accounted for 11.58 percent of the country’s gross domestic product in 2008; of this share of agriculture, 17.5 percent came from rice, he said.
Rice is planted in Thailand’s 10.2 million hectares of land, or 50 percent of the total 21-million hectare agricultural area.
Thailand’s firm policy on ensuring rice production was institutionalized in 1953 with the establishment of the Rice Department, Damrongkiat said. It was merged with the Agriculture Department to become the Department of Agriculture in 1972, but was reestablished under the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives in March 2006.
The rice policy and management is handled by the Board of National Rice Policy, headed by the prime minister, which organization is mirrored down to the provincial level with the Provincial Rice Policy, headed by the governor, Damrongkiat said.
The Rice Department takes care of 27 Rice Research Centers and 23 Rice Seed Centers spread all over the country, he said.
The Rice Department, Damrongkiat added, executes the rice strategy; conducts research to develop new rice varieties, production and postharvest technology; preserve rice genetic diversity; promotes good agricultural practice for rice production; produces and distributes high-quality rice seed to farmers; undertakes value-creation research and rice products development; promotes and disseminates production technology, including the conservation of local wisdom; and disseminates information on rice to farmers and rice traders.
Damrongkiat told the BusinessMirror that his agency transfers new technology from the laboratory to the farmers through the 1,000 extension centers in villages. One center has five farmers who are rice experts.
“We have extension agents in the villages. From them we pass on the technology to the rice community center not only for yield and good variety of seed but for farming techniques, too,” he said.
He said there is a plan to increase the number of extension centers to 7,000 in all villages planting rice.
Considered as a “miracle plant,” Damrongkiat said rice provides food for 50 percent of the world’s population; it is a functional food because it has pharmaceutical, health and beauty properties; it can be used for snacks and beverages; a source of alternative green energy; and provides cultural perspective.
Of the many rice varieties Thailand produces, the most popular primary products are white and brown rice, vitamin coated, herb coated and flavor coated rice.
It also has secondary products, such those that are partly cooked and ready to eat; functional food such as frozen, probiotic rice milk, GABA rice and resistant starch for diet programs. Its byproduct innvovations are rice-bran ceramic, edible rice bran oil, antiseptic from rice, biofuel and fermentation from husk, and biodegradable products.