|Thailand is a Southeast Asian country located at the center of the Indochina Peninsula. It is the only country in the region that was never colonized by any Western power. Its capital is Bangkok. Thailand’s population in 2011 was about 69 million people. The country is divided into 76 provinces, which are gathered into five groups of provinces. Bangkok and Pattaya are two special governed districts, with Bangkok enjoying the status of a province. Each province is divided into districts, which are further divided into sub-districts. In 2006, there were 877 districts in addition to 50 districts of Bangkok. |
The country’s northern region is a mountainous area while the centre region is predominantly flat river valley. The Chao Phraya and the Mekong Rivers are considered as sustainable resource of rural Thailand. The Andaman Sea is regarded as valuable natural resource due to its popular, luxurious lush island resorts and tourism is one of the pillars of the country’s economy. Thailand’s climate is tropical, where there is a rainy, warm southwest monsoon from mid-May to September, as well as a dry, cool northeast monsoon from November to mid-March. The southern areas remain hot and humid throughout the year.
During the last three decades, the agriculture sector of Thailand has been transforming from a labor-intensive farming activity into a more commercial food industry. This transition is evident from the fact that only 49 percent of the country’s labor force are presently employed in agriculture, which in 1980, was about 70 percent. The contribution of agriculture to GDP has declined to 9.37 percent over the years while exports of non-agricultural goods and services like textiles, footwear, fishery products, jewellery, cars, computers and electrical appliances have gone up. It does not mean, however, that the importance of agriculture in exports has declined. Thailand is one of the major, if not the top, exporter of rice in the world. Commercially processed foods such as canned tuna, pineapples and frozen shrimp are also exported. Black tiger prawns are another popular export item.
The average farm size in Thailand is 3.6 hectares. Although most of the farms are privately owned yet tenants still exist in considerable numbers. There are large commercial farms as well operated by business companies. About one-fourth of the total cultivated area of 21 million hectares is irrigated. Main crops are rice, which covers about 54 percent of the cultivated area, rubber, cassava, sugarcane and palm oil. Livestock and poultry are also important parts of farming.
Contract farming has been practiced in Thailand for quite some time with mixed results. The commodities which have been produced under farming contracts between producers and private companies include sugarcane, tobacco, fruit, vegetables, poultry, potatoes, shrimp, cashew nuts, baby corn, asparagus, broilers, hogs, tomatoes, sweet corn, eggplants, and maize seed. Contract farming became popular under the government’s agri-business policy aimed at promoting and exporting high-value commodities and products. In certain successful cases of contract farming, extension officers played an active role.
Two success stories of technology transfer and commercialization in Thailand are worth mentioning: the first is about orchid production. Orchid tissue culture work started at the Chulalongkom University in 1967 (http://www.chula.ac.th/cuen/), which was subsequently extended to the Kasetsart University (http://www.ku.ac.th/english/) and the Chiang Mai University (http://www.cmu.ac.th/index_eng.php). In 1994, the estimated area under orchid cultivation had reached 23,000 hectares. In 1997, the total orchid export value in Thailand was over US$ 32 million. The second success story is about the expansion of baby corn production in Thailand. Today, baby corn is cultivated in all regions of the country. Even though the work on increasing yield continues, baby corn has proven to be a good alternative to rice as, with some amount of irrigation, it could be grown as many as four times in a year.
HISTORY OF EXTENSION AND THE ENABLING/DISABLING ENVIRONMENT
Public agricultural extension activities started in Thailand in 1908 when the then Ministry of Land and Agriculture organized its first agricultural exhibition in Tanyaburi. Later, in 1937, the government created the Department of Agriculture with 50 extension staff. Some of this staff was sent to rice planting areas in the central region to give advice on rice cultivation, while the other staff was deployed to the northeastern area to assist in the cultivation of mainly fiber crops like cotton, silk, jute, and rattan. Two additional groups of extension workers were recruited in 1939 and 1940. During the period 1940 to 1960, as many as 20 national-level agricultural agencies were established within the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives. However, only three of them, including the Departments of Rice and Agriculture, as well as the Office of Permanent Secretary, have agricultural extension divisions. Still extension advice coming from these three divisions created confusion among farmers regarding which recommendations were to be followed.
Having taken the decision to integrate scattered extension functions into a single agency, the government established a department of agricultural extension in 1967. Till 1977, main extension activities were establishing farmers’ institutions, demonstration plots, exhibitions, fairs and contests. One extension agent was responsible for covering about 4,000 farm families. From 1977 to 1986, the Training and Visit system (T&V) was adopted as the main extension approach under a World Bank-financed project. Under this project, one extension agent was required to cover 1,000 farm families. The project funds also provided physical facilities like vehicles and equipment, and promoted regular training of extension staff, as well as scheduled visits by extension agents to the farmers.
Starting 1987, adjustments were made to the T&V approach, specific farming areas were analyzed, and more emphasis was laid on the development of small-scale farmers, as well as on marketing aspects. Around 1993, extension workers started following a participatory extension approach and increasingly learned how to recognize the value of farmers' indigenous knowledge and capability. Modalities like contract farming, organization of promotion events and decreasing of unsecured market commodities were then followed.
In 1999, the government established sub-district level Service and Technology Transfer Centers (STTCs) nationwide with the aim to transfer agricultural knowledge and provide one-stop services of the Ministry to the farmers. Micro-enterprises of the community were promoted, local volunteers were brought onboard, and learning centers were established. Currently, farmers’ participation is encouraged both decision making and in the formulation and management of farm plans. Activities deemed successful are promoted throughout the sub-districts. The STTCs are managed and operated by community representatives. Recently, the STTCs are following a particular strategy for developing the capacities of communities through community-based projects. Each community has to identify its own capacity and assets and develop its own project with the assistance from the extension agents who now play the role of facilitators. Needs for further improvement have been felt in the areas of district teams’ skills in analysis for developing appropriate agricultural development plans; linkages between the STTCs and the local administration; and integration of expertise and resources. Lately, district level subject-matter specialists (SMSs), placed in “Mobile Units”, have been providing extension support directly to their farmers.
The main problems currently being faced by small-scale men and women farmers are low productivity; low farm price with high production cost; decreasing availability of family farm labor; land ownership issues; loss of farm land due to indebtedness; and the deterioration of natural resources. The government's policy of encouraging mountain farmers to grow coffee, apples, strawberries, kidney beans, and other temperate crops instead of the lucrative opium poppy and marijuana is praiseworthy, but has met limited success.