Saturday, July 11, 2015

Parched paddies strike Thai junta's economic weak spot

Jerome Taylor in Seed Daily via AFP: ...Thailand's vital rice belt is being battered by one of the worst droughts in living memory, forcing impoverished farmers deeper into debt and heaping fresh pain on an already weak economy -- seen as the junta's Achilles heel.

When they seized power in May 2014, Thailand's generals promised to restore order and prosperity after months of street protests paralysed the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra and brought the economy to a near standstill.

By severely curtailing civil liberties, former army chief turned Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha has largely managed to renew calm. But the generals have proven less adept at kickstarting what was once one of Southeast Asia's most vibrant economies.

Post-coup gains of a rebound in tourism and increased fiscal spending have been offset by disappointing exports, declining manufacturing and weak local demand. In May the country's economic planning agency further revised down its GDP growth forecast for the year to between 3.0-4.0 percent, one of the lowest rates in Asia and well below Prayut's hopes for at least 4.5 percent.

Now the kingdom faces the prospect of a dismal main harvest of rice -- traditionally one of the country's top exports.

Water levels in some of the main reservoirs are at their lowest levels in 20 years prompting the junta to call on farmers in the Chao Praya river basin to delay sowing crops. Prayut also ordered officials to clear irrigation channels, dig more ground wells and employ cloud seeding technology to create artificial rainfall. But the wet season has yet to arrive in earnest and water remains precariously elusive for many....

A rice plantation near Chiang Mai, Thailand, in wetter times, shot by Martin-Manuel Beaulne, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International3.0 Unported2.5 Generic2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license 

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