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Thai farmers cash in on global rice price hike

STORY: Thailand’s farmers are rushing to cash in on a global spike in the price of rice, after the world’s biggest rice shipper India curbed its exports.

In the central province of Chai Nat, about 124 miles north of Bangkok, farmers are clearing their fields of the last harvest to squeeze in another cycle of crops.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization rice price index saw a 9.8% increase in August.

That’s a gold rush for rice growers in Thailand, the second-largest exporter of the crop globally.

As farmer Sripai Kaeo-eam explains, work has been non-stop ever since India’s export ban.

"We've got to hustle to catch up with the current prices. This is our chance. Once we're done with the harvesting today, tomorrow we either have to sell off the rice straw or just burn it, so that we can pump water into our rice field to speed up our rice production as fast as possible."

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The extra crop planting goes against a government advisory that suggests no further sowing this year to conserve water.

There’s been 18% less rainfall recorded this year.

Sripai says, she’s never witnessed such a dry spell her whole life in Chai Nat.

And with rice growing heavily reliant on water, the 58-year-old admits, she’s worried there may not be enough for her paddies.

But Sripai, and many others, feel they have little choice, with the price hike offering a key to escape a life crushed by debt.

“We were faced with floods, droughts, and pest outbreak and rats - these are the factors that put us in debt...

Now that the price of rice is good, it gives us hope, hope that we can clear our debts, have money for other expenses and maybe even improve our quality of life.”

According to the latest available government data from 2021, nearly 67% of Thailand’s agricultural households were saddled with debt, primarily from farming-related activities.

Some have debts that span generations.

Agricultural expert Nipon Poapongsakorn blames policy failure for the problem, with government debt freezes that leave farmers compounding the burden with more debt down the line when the next season arrives.

Nipon also points to a lack of investment into rice research and infrastructure, saying it's led the country’s productivity to fall behind countries like India and Vietnam in recent years.

As a result, he says, the average Thai farmer’s income has dwindled.

Thailand’s new administration has pledged to boost the agricultural sector through innovation.

For now, Sripai and her fellow farmers can only place their hopes on the soaring prices of rice.