For small-scale rice farmers like Nee Mankhao on Soi Mabyailieb, the real problem is the “middleman,” the rice mills who she and other poor farmers around the country complain are swindling “the little guy.” The government promises farmers 15,000 baht per ton, but few sellers actually get that, as millers pocket the difference and kick back some of that to government officials and politicians.
Nee said she’s seen millers changing prices, using altered scales to cheat on how much they pay out, among other scams. Many times, she said, she simply takes extra time to find other buyers, often at lower rates.
Corruption is so rife and recognized, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra promised Oct. 13 to add more representatives and install security cameras at all rice-buying points to deter corruption.
With the government paying more to farmers than private-sector sellers, the free market for rice has all but collapsed in Thailand. And because the government has tried to recoup its costs by raising prices to overseas buyers, exports of rice have plummeted. The government said this month it has so much extra rice, it plans to covert an airplane hanger to store it all.
Soi Buakaow rice merchant Jaras Saengda said, for now, Pattaya appears unaffected by the rice-pledging system problems. While prices have increased for consumers, so many stores offer promotional pricing, there hasn’t been much impact. So, for now, he’s happy to maintain the system, even if rice continues to rise 4-5 baht per kilogram.
And, at least for the foreseeable future, the system isn’t going to change. The Constitutional Court on Oct. 10 refused to take up a lawsuit brought by academics and students from Thammasat University and the National Institute of Development Administration, led by Adis Israngkura na Ayutthaya, dean of Nida’s School of Development Economics.
The academics complained the government’s move to pay 50 percent more than world market prices gives farmers who “pledge” rice to the government no incentive to ever reclaim it. Effectively making the government a monopoly on rice brokering, the free market has been destroyed and the export market has collapsed, the said.
The court said it would not take the case because the group that filed suit is not directly involved in the rice trade.