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One Thai commentator39 has observed that farmers suffer from four deaths: (a) death through natural causes; (b) death through general illnesses; (c) death and illnesses from pesticides; and (d) death from economic deprivation. These laments indicate that the development of farmers, who are the backbone of the agricultural sector and form the majority of the population, is far from satisfactory.

While agricultural outputs of rice and other produce such as tapioca used to be the country's biggest export earners, they are now being overtaken by industrial goods, particularly from the manufacturing sector, such as textiles. There was in 1990 a decline in most agricultural exports, the decreases in value for rice and tapioca being 38.7 and 7.4 per cent respectively, as seen in table 4.

Yet one should not forget that the importance of agriculture for the country cannot be computed in terms of cash crops and export earnings alone. Agricultural produce is the livelihood of the majority of Thais and provides their staple diet.

Government planning to help agriculture in the Sixth Plan is based upon four tenets:40 production for sale; diversification of production so as to minimize risk; linkage between production and marketing; and improvement of administration of agriculture. Government strategies tying agriculture with technology include the following:41

1. Enhance research and development on production techniques so as to produce new goods; examples include initiatives by the Ministry of Agriculture to promote herbal medicine, tobacco, macadamia nuts, mushrooms, fisheries, cashew nuts, and cocoa.

2. Promote the production process in farming communities by means of supplementary occupations, e.g. prawn farming, other crops besides rice (e.g. rubber), orchards, and crop diversification.

3. Provide incentives to farmers such as through budgetary concessions, e.g. by means of a revolving fund to help farmers, administered by the Bank of Agriculture and Cooperatives.

4. Improve the governmental role in transferring technology to help the production process; the concept of technology transfer is to help in decision-making through better education, taking into account the available natural resources and the market at large, and the provision of more productive cultivars.

5. Upgrade the system of production and marketing, e.g. with the establishment of provincial plans (now being experimented with in Ubon province).

Table 4. Exports of major agricultural commodities (in thousand of tons)


Jan. - Apr.

Product 1989 1988 % 1990 1989 +%
Rice 6,037 5,089 18.6 1,247 2,258 - 44.8
(44,803)a (34,676) (29.2) (9,268) (15,112) (-38.7)
Maize 1,126 1,214 - 7.3 357 423 - 15.6
(3,966) (3,828) (3.6) (1,284) (1,502) (- 14.5)
Tapioca products 9,797 8,121 20.6 3,078 3,746 - 17.8
(24,561) (21,844) (12.4) (8,165) (8,815) (-7.4)
Rubber 1,090 938 16.2 304 287 5.8
(25,596) (27,189) (-5.9) (6,209) (7.377) (- 15.8)
Sugar 2,975 1,855 60.4 771 772 2.5
(19,017) (9,664) (95.8) (5,914) (4,501) (31.4)

a. Figures in parentheses indicate value in millions of baht.
Source: Bangkok Post Mid-year Economic Review
(1990), p. 15.

In practice, certain aspects deserve closer examination:

Appropriate Technology

No one denies the need to have appropriate technology for agriculture; many of the techniques used by farmers are already appropriate. However, it is difficult to assess the true impact of innovative technology which claims to be appropriate. These are exemplified by technology for basic livelihood, including bamboo pumps, PVC pumps, and hydraulic rams for water production; windmills to produce electricity; mixing ashes with cement to provide construction material; use of palm oil and the residue of corn for soap production; solar energy; and walking tractors as a labour-saving device.42

While the use of such technology is increasing, one should not underestimate the impact of the rising costs of fertilizers and insecticide, as well as unstable agricultural prices and inflation, which militate against real upgrading of agricultural life.


Ask any farmer in Thailand and he/she will probably reply that water is the most important resource that is lacking. Irrigated land covers only 20 per cent of the cultivable area.43 The situation is more complicated owing to the dilemma concerning whether to build more dams for irrigation purposes. The growing environmentalist lobby has come out strongly against the construction of large dams, as will be seen later in this study. The options are to promote more small-scale irrigation facilities, such as reservoirs and village ponds.

Rice Cultivars

One of the most interesting impacts of technology is the improvement of rice production through new cultivars. A whole variety of rice has been developed in Thailand, at times through links with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines.44 Two main varieties have been explored; the photosensitive type, depending upon seasons for growth, and the non-photosensitive type, depending upon the period of days for cultivation. High-yielding seeds of the latter type include the "Kor Kor" series, which was developed through cross-fertilization with a species lent by IRRI.

Until recently, one of the most high-yielding cultivars was the home-bred Supanburi species, with its shorter stem which helps retain rice grain. However, it has not proved resistant to pests; it has been attacked by brown plant hoppers, and farmers have had to revert to the use of other cultivars.

As noted earlier, there is still the unsettled question of whether new rice cultivars should be patentable in Thailand. The present patent legislation does not permit this because of its rationale of rendering agricultural technology, whether through machinery or cultivars, more accessible to farmers.


According to a study by Mingsarn in northern Thailand, some 35 per cent of the sample of farmers interviewed used fertilizers, and spent nearly 2,000 baht annually on them.45 The expenditure on fertilizers is high, considering that some farmers earn only 5,000 baht or less per annum. According to the same study, 25 per cent of the interviewees had no knowledge of any of the four major fertilizers commonly sold in the region, suggesting a gap in access to key information in farmers' decision-making.46 Another study on agricultural technology observes that 53 per cent of the farmers interviewed in irrigated areas used fertilizers, while only 43 per cent of those in rain-fed areas used them.47 Interestingly, there is a close linkage between irrigated areas and use of fertilizers, implying that access to water provided by the state goes hand in hand with access to information on fertilizers and to the fertilizers themselves. The one technology fosters the other technology.

The second study also notes that particularly in rain-fed areas, except in central Thailand, there is misuse of fertilizers in proportion to the land area and season.48 Where there is usage, it is lower than that recommended by officials, and at times the wrong kind of fertilizer is used for the cultivated land. These elements point to the need for more education of farmers in their use of fertilizers.

An offshoot of the above is the concern expressed over use and abuse of chemical fertilizers; they are not only expensive by comparison with natural fertilizers but also create a vicious cycle of dependency: the more fertilizer you use, the more the land will demand and the more you will spend. There are also complaints that the fertilizers recommended by officials are not available in the local markets.

There are now calls for greater use of local fertilizers made of natural elements, such as compost, hay, and rice husk. For example, hay can help to regenerate nutrients in the topsoil if the soil is covered in the correct manner. However, natural fertilizers sometimes take a long time to produce, and farmers in a hurry are unlikely to wait. The compromise seems to be to accelerate the production of natural fertilizers while moderating the use of chemical fertilizers.


According to the Mingsarn study, 76.8 per cent of the farmers interviewed used insecticides while 65 per cent used herbicides.49 54.3 per cent have witnessed cases of insecticide toxicity in nearby areas, and 60 per cent have encountered pesticide resistance.50 In another study on agricultural technology, herbicides are identified as causing the number one problem, while insecticides follow as number two.51 Misuse of herbicides includes:

- incorrect use for type of weeds and period of time;
- wrong method in applying herbicides; and
- failure to explore other methods of dealing with undesired plants.

In relation to use of pesticides, it is interesting that such use is more widespread in irrigated areas than in rain-fed areas, indicating again that access to water technology also leads to access to other technology, including pesticides.52 An additional worry is the use of chemicals to kill rodents, particularly in irrigated areas. The abuses include: wrong method of utilization; incorrect time, and use for the wrong type of rodent.

The current concern is to move towards more appropriate use of chemical pesticides and to develop natural pesticides. Various local herbs, including takerai, saduo, mint, and tobacco, may be blended into natural insecticides. Equally important is the preservation of natural predators to curb the spread of undesired pests. One should not underestimate the value of the ordinary worm or the common toad in this respect!

Animals and Machinery

One of the most marked declines in the use of traditional technology relates to the use of water buffaloes for ploughing ricefields. In recent years, they have been killed increasingly for their meat. The shortage of buffaloes has even led to the import of buffaloes from neighbouring countries. The utility of the buffalo has been underestimated, especially if one is dealing with small plots of land which do not need high-powered technology.

Generally, labour-saving technology is much in demand and can help to raise the farmer's quality of life. These range from ordinary pumps to tractors. The four-wheeled tractor is not widespread and is costly to maintain; only 21 per cent of farmers are estimated to be using them.53 By contrast, the walking tractors are a more appropriate form of technology; some 63 per cent of farmers are using them.54 There is also increasing demand for post-harvest technology, including crop threshing and rice dehumidifiers. At present only 23 per cent of farmers have access to crop-threshing machinery.55

Interestingly, the Ministry of Technology has regulations to help reduce tariffs on machinery of this kind if it comes from abroad, as well as a revolving fund to help local research and development, as noted earlier. One should note that rice mills and silos tend to be in the hands of the few, thus pressuring rice farmers to sell their yield early to middlemen without being able to stockpile for the future. The prospect of community participation and cooperation in relation to such technology has yet to be maximized to increase farmers' bargaining power in the production and marketing processes.

On another front, Mingsarn observes that the traditional communal irrigation system, as well as its management and repair of related weirs and canals, is well established.56 However, water management at the field level leaves much to be desired, while the concept of drainage and water-saving devices is not sufficiently understood.

Land and Technology

Increasing landlessness and sale of land to investors mainly from urban areas suggests a changing picture at the rural level, whereby more local farmers are becoming tenants or own reduced areas for farming purposes. On the one hand, there is the rise of the absentee landlord with vast holdings, which are being turned over increasingly to industrial use in the central areas of Thailand.57 On the other hand, there is the increasing number of smallholdings and tenancies. Of particular concern is the role of technology in helping to alleviate the plight of the latter. Precisely because the scale of farmers' holdings is becoming smaller, the type of technology required should be cost-effective and should respond to the natural resource base.

Simple, inexpensive forms of machinery are required, while knowledge and know-how through appropriate training and dissemination of information should be maximized. This is already undertaken by various programmes of the Ministry of Agriculture and through the radio, but their reach is still limited. Equally important is managerial and marketing technology that will enable farmers to group together to manage and market their own produce without being too dependent upon unscrupulous middlemen. There is the additional aspect of how to increase their income through supplementary occupations and the role of industrialization in this respect. It is to this that the study now turns.


Thailand's leap into industrialization has been very much export-oriented and capital-intensive during the past decade. The industries which have contributed to the current 10 per cent GDP growth, particularly in the manufacturing sector, also tend to be concentrated in and around Bangkok. There is evidently a distortion in the spread of industrialization, in that rural areas are on the periphery of the process. This also shapes the human rights perspective and access to technology for industrialization.

The link between large-scale industries, technology, and human rights is opaque, precisely because, for the reasons already noted, it is impossible to quantify how much technology has been developed and transferred to large-scale industries in Thailand.58 First, the number of local patents registered with the Patents Office is small, indicating a paucity of local inventions (or if not a paucity, at least a secrecy which denies knowledge of them to the public). According to a recent World Bank study, although patent applications increased from 500 in 1982 to 1,500 in 1988, the share of Thai applications fell from 22 to 12 per cent as compared with foreign applications.59 Details can be found in table 5. Second, the database for technology transfer from abroad is uncertain owing to lack of a repository for technology contracts at the commercial or governmental level, while there is no law requiring mandatory screening of technology transfer.

Obviously, there have been positive impacts, such as the boom in industrialization itself and the rising GDP, particularly from the industrial sector. However, the negative impacts are also visible. For example, the transfer of many turnkey factories to Thailand from abroad has not been complemented by sufficient training of Thai counterparts to replicate those factories at the local level for production purposes. Moreover, the technology provided is not always suitable and may have serious environmental consequences. For instance, in 1961 there was a transfer technology from Germany in the form of the "otter-board trawl" to improve efficiency in catching fish in the Gulf of Thailand.60 It is mainly through this technique that fishery resources are now depleted, causing a crisis for fishermen and consumers.

At the other end of the scale, in policy-making circles, the problems of over-centralization and the need for decentralization are well known, but it is political and social will which is often lacking for the implementation of change. As was recognized in the Fifth National Economic and Social Development Plan (19821986):

The concentration of industrial activities is due to the availability of basic infrastructural facilities in Bangkok and the surrounding area, which is also the centre for commerce, transportation and communication, financial resources and trained manpower. It is also observed that industries which are located in provincial areas are agro-industries requiring local raw materials and are industries which primarily produce goods for local consumption.61

That Plan also initiated the project known as the Eastern Seaboard (ESB), comprising the industrial development of three provinces adjoining Bangkok as a means of decentralization.62 In practice, however, the area has been an extension of the Bangkok metropolis rather than a genuine decentralization of industries. There is currently concern that the social and environmental consequences of developing the ESB have not been fully appreciated, as it may lead to an outflow of manpower from other rural areas to satisfy ESB industrial needs, on the one hand, and on the other to industrial pollution, especially in nearby coastal areas.

Table 5. Number of patent applications, 1982-1988

Sector 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 Total
Thai 36 35 36 46 44 57 67 321
Foreign 124 191 227 237 205 303 451 1,738
Total 160 226 263 283 249 360 518 2,059
% Thai applications 22.5 15 5 13.7 16.3 17.7 15.8 12.9 15.6
% of sector in total 28.7 27.2 25.2 28.6 24.1 285 33.5 28.3
Thai 4 12 12 9 16 11 11 75
Foreign 207 322 393 415 429 511 590 2,867
Total 211 334 405 424 445 522 601 2,942
% Thai applications 1.9 3.6 3.0 2.1 3.6 2.1 1.8 2.5
% of sector in total 37.8 40.1 38.9 42.9 43.0 41.3 38.8 40.5
Industrial products
Thai 87 141 182 129 182 193 111 1,025
Foreign 100 131 192 153 159 190 318 1,243
Total 187 272 374 282 341 383 429 2,268
% Thai applications 46.5 51.8 48.7 45.7 53.4 50.4 25.9 45.2
% of sector in total 33.5 32.7 35.9 28.5 32.9 30.3 27 7 31.2
Total applications
Thai 127 188 230 184 242 261 189 1,421
Foreign 431 644 812 805 793 1,004 1,359 5,848
Total 558 832 1,042 989 1,035 1,265 1,548 7,269
% {had applications 22.8 22.6 22.1 18.6 23.4 20.6 12.2 19.5

Source Technology Strategy and Policy for Industrial Competitiveness: A Case Study of Thailand (World Bank, 1990), p. 61.

The Fifth Plan also initiated greater interest in small- and medium-scale industries -a sector more likely to benefit rural people and agriculture- by proposing the following measures:63

1. Improve and expand the promotion of small-scale industries in provincial areas.

2. Develop a credit extension system and related institutions for small-scale industries in outlying regions.

3. Improve research work, develop production technology, and improve management techniques. In addition, the Ministry of Commerce, Ministry of Industry, and Ministry of Science and Technology are to cooperate in the expansion of markets for small-scale industries.

4. Promote the production subcontracting system between small-scale and large-scale industries.

5. Speed up the identification of industrial zones according to size and category in various provinces.

The current Sixth Plan continues this call for more small- and medium-scale industrialization and links it with rural industrialization as a whole.64 In this respect, a recent book entitled Rural Industrialisation in Thailand makes this perceptive observation:

Since the majority of Thailand's rural industry comprises small scale industries, the technological requirements of these industries are not high. Unfortunately, there is no information available for rural industry. Nevertheless, the pattern of source of technology in rural areas is expected to be similar to small industry as a whole, i.e. mostly from own design. Direct purchase of foreign technology is found to be low even for large scale industry. Another interesting point is the very small portion in all sizes of industries which benefited from government assistance in terms of technology.65

One successful example of a rural industry which has been promoted recently is the gem-cutting industry, which employs some 400,000 people in the north of Thailand. This exemplifies a link between outlying areas and Bangkok which can lead to exports for the benefit of the country and local people. In reality, however, the development of rural industries along these lines has been constrained by various shortcomings closely linked with technology, i.e.;

- Insufficiency of basic infrastructure, e.g. roads and electricity which are dependent upon technology.

- Lack of certain forms of equipment for small-scale operations, e.g. Iabour-saving devices.

- Not enough knowledge to improve the efficiency of production and maintenance of the equipment used.

- Paucity of credit facilities to help the acquisition of technology at the rural levels.

- Insufficient diffusion of technical know-how, particularly because of a lack of subcontracting.66

As already noted, the Ministry of Technology now has a revolving fund which can benefit rural industries in acquiring and developing technology, but it is nascent in application and limited in scope. To understand the broader perspective of incentives such as credit facilities and access to technology, one should go beyond that ministry to assess the accessibility of other institutions. These include the following:

The Board of Investment

The mandate of the Board of Investment is provided for in the Investment Promotion Act 1977.67 It provides incentives ranging from reduction of tariffs on imported machinery to facilitation of entry of experts to help investment projects from abroad. Its criteria for assisting projects are based upon the following determinants:

- Significantly strengthens position, especially through production for export.
- Supports development of resources within the country.
- Substantially increases employment.
- Locates operations in the provinces.
- Conserves energy.
- Establishes or develops basic industries which form the bases for industrial development.
- Must be considered important and necessary by the government.

In practice, this body has granted incentives mainly to large-scale industries with several million baht capital investment. The beneficiaries would seem to be big business entrepreneurs rather than ordinary people, particularly in rural areas.

Small Industrial Finance Office

This Office is linked with the Ministry of Industry.68 It lends sums of up to 3 million baht to investors, the loan period being seven years. The loan can be used to purchase land and machinery, as well as to construct factories. The loans have had limited impact on rural industrialization owing to the paucity of funds available for loan. The Office is not a juristic person, implying that it has difficulties in borrowing from other institutions; for example, it has no access to the Industrial Finance Corporation of Thailand mentioned below. Those who have borrowed from SIFO tend to be medium-scale industries with expenditure of over 100,000 baht, rather than small-scale industries with expenditure under 100,000 baht.

Industrial Finance Corporation of Thailand

This entity has a revolving fund totalling 200 million baht to promote small-scale industrialization with loans of up to 5 million baht.69 Records show that the majority of those seeking loans ask for more than 500,000 baht. The grants are therefore medium-sized investment and industrialization rather than the small-scale industries that farmers and their families may wish to establish.

The Prime Minister's Office

This has a rural development fund of several hundred million baht, from which rural people may borrow to upgrade their livelihood, including industrialization. However, there is much paperwork, and the administrative process is supervised by the governor of each province. So far, the fund has been ineffective, and few people have resorted to it.

A number of other credit amenities which may facilitate industrialization and technology acquisition are visible, for example, via the Community Development Department, which helps rural women who wish to set up cottage industries. However, the overall picture suggests that despite the rhetoric stressing the need to help rural and small industries, access to credit facilities that may, in turn, permit access to technology has been limited. The funds that are available have been mainly accessible to large- and medium-scale industries. The hopes of small rural communities and farming families in relation to local industrialization that may help to supplement their income are very much dampened by inaccessibility to resources conducive to small-scale operations.

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