A policy research expert from the Thailand Development Research Institute has said that government policy should be made on sound economic and scientific grounds, not based on social trends. However, the Bhumjaithai Party is adamant the ban must go ahead, citing the chemicals as a threat to the health of Thai people including farmers. Its junior minister at the Department of Agriculture, Mananya Thaiseth recently declared passionately that those on the 27 member committee that must make the decision cannot call themselves Thai if they vote to retain use of the substances and must, therefore, leave the country. Ms Mananya is a key driver of moves to force the issue this month. 

A decision by a 27 member government committee to be made on October 27th on whether to confirm a proposed ban on controversial chemical pesticides and fertilisers will have consequences for the Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha either way as farmers groups threaten legal action while the leader of the Bhumjaithai party has threatened resignation if the move is not endorsed. Meanwhile, a respected think tank in Bangkok has predicted that the ban will deprive Thailand of its self-sufficiency in food production and will have significant consequences for the farming industry and wider economy.

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The leader of the Bhumjaithai, Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul (centre) has promised to resign if the ban is not confirmed by the government committee on October 27th. The move has been spearheaded at the top by Bhumjaithai Deputy Minister for Agriculture Mananya Thaiseth (inset left) who has warned committee members that they should leave Thailand if they fail to implement the measure scheduled for December 1st to ban the use and sale of the chemical pesticides and fertilisers in Thailand. The decision, either way, will have repercussions for Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha (inset right) as farmer groups threaten legal action and warn of disastrous economic consequences from the move.

A respected and long-established expert on economic matters has warned the Thai government that there are serious implications if the proposed ban on chemical pesticides and fertilisers goes ahead on December 1st as planned by the government. He says that the move could put Thailand’s food security at risk by putting the kingdom in a situation where it is not able to grow enough crops to sustain domestic food consumption.

Academic says government policy should not be made according to ‘social trends’

Viroj Na Ranong is the Head of Research for the Thailand Development Research Institute, a non-profit body established thirty-five years ago which offers guidance and advice to policymakers in Thailand. He warned that government policy on the issue was beginning to stray away from scientific research. ‘The government has to implement measures based on research, not on social trends and politics,’ Mr Viroj said.

Even if fertiliser products are retained, agricultural production costs will rise

He also suggested that if the pesticides were to be banned and the continued use of the fertilisers allowed, the country would retain is the ability to be self-sufficient when it comes to food but that production costs across the board in farming will rise as more labour will need to be deployed.

Political tempers have been raised over the issue

The move comes as political tempers on the issue have become raised although all government ministers appear to agree that the ban must be enforced following a series of reports and studies produced by working groups. 

Those proposing the ban point to the hazardous nature of the pesticides which are popularly used by farmers worldwide but have become extremely controversial in recent years with debates raging in many countries notably France and countries within the EU bloc. These pesticides are Paraquat, Glyphosate and Chlorpyrifos.

Serious harmful effects of the substances on people and the soil highlighted by ban proponents

Supporters of a ban suggest that the pesticides are a danger to consumers of food and also to farmers themselves who work with the substances. They also point to the contamination of the soil from the continuous use of the products. The move to ban the pesticides and fertilisers is being driven by the Bhumjaithai party, a uniquely Thai grassroots movement which is also pushing for the extensive liberalisation of cannabis in Thailand. Bhumajai means Thai Pride Party.

Bumjathai’s Ms Mananya Thaiseth, the Deputy Minister for Agriculture is driving the measure

In the vanguard of the push is the Bhumjaithai Deputy Minister for Agriculture Mananya Thaiseth who last weekend warned the 27 members of the National Hazardous Substances Committee who meet on Sunday the 27th and have the final say on the ban of the substances that they should leave the county if they reject the move. ‘We must ask whether they are Thai people or not. As they are still in Thailand, they must respond to the voice of the people. If not, they are not Thais and should leave the country,’ she declared.

She confirmed that 4 members of the National Hazardous Substances Committee representing her ministry will vote to support the ban as will other government representatives.

Public Health Minister threatens resignation if the ban is not put in place as planned

Similarly, the Bhumjaithai leader and current Public Health Minister, Anutin Charnvirakul has said that he will resign if the ban does not go ahead as planned. On Saturday, the 12th October in Phatthalung province Mr Anutin underlined his party’s support for the ban and pointed to support from other cabinet ministers including significantly, Industry Minister Suriya Juangroongruangkit whose department as well as the Agriculture Department has representatives on the committee that will make the ultimate decision.

‘I will quit the office’

‘We put the health and safety of Thai farmers and people as a top priority and will make sure that these chemicals are banned in Thailand,’ Mr Anutin stated. He was also clear about his position if the ban did not go ahead. ‘Banning toxic substances and promoting the health of Thai people have always been the focus of the Bhumjaithai Party, and if I can’t get my people to agree with me, then I will quit the office.’

Prime Minister reportedly supports the ban

The Thai prime minister has been reported as also supportive of the ban and has received reports from various ministries on the adverse effects of the chemicals. He had set up a 4-way committee to advise on the ban.

The committee was chaired by Deputy Agriculture Mananya Thaiset. It comprised of representatives of farmers, importers of the chemicals, consumers and the government. The result was a unanimous decision to proceed with the move to ban the use of the products in Thailand.

Already new controls on the powerful pesticides

The current move comes as the pesticides were already due to be subject to increased control following an order dated from April which comes into effect on October 20th. This means that the substances require licencing to use based on trained handling of the products and detailed information as to their use on the land to be supplied by farmers to suppliers.

Farmers body threatens immediate legal action

The realisation that the ban on the chemical fertilisers and pesticides is imminent with what appears to be unanimous support at government level has sparked a reaction from Thai farmers and their representative associations.

This week, the Thai Agricultural Innovation Trade Association which represents farmers and those who use the products have warned that they will seek legal relief from Thailand’s Administrative Court if the ban goes ahead.

Letter to the committee exhorting them to look at the scientific facts before deciding

Manus Phuttarat of the body and the Chairman of the Palm Oil Farmers Federation confirmed the planned moves as he revealed that his organisation had sent a letter to the committee asking that they confine their decision making on the matter to scientific facts.

Government will have to pay a ฿10 billion bill for farmers with existing stocks

The executive director of the body, Voranica Nagavajara Bedinghaus, points out that the government will have to recompense farmers for extensive stocks of the substances which could lead a final bill of ฿10 billion. She, however, agrees that the substances are quite dangerous but said a ban was not the answer. ‘Of course, we agree the chemicals are dangerous, so farmers need to be educated on how to use them safely. However, we don’t think it is appropriate to implement an immediate ban.’

Thai farmers facing an impossibly difficult predicament – more labour and higher costs

She warned that the ban would leave farmers in an impossible position as replacement products are less effective and more expensive. The matter is highly consequential for farmers in the field.  She predicted that the cost of producing crops could be raised by a factor of 12 to 14. 

Sugar cane farmers warn of dire consequences, industry to lose ฿570 billion

On Saturday, the sugar cane farmers had equally dire predictions. The Chairman of the Sugarcane Farmers Association warned that the ban on the three pesticides would cause the overall industry to lose ฿570 billion per annum.

He said that there were 1.2 million farmers involved in his industry alone in Thailand’s central and northern provinces. The immediate cost to the farmers who cultivate 11 million rai of sugar cane would be ฿96 billion on a crop worth ฿300 billion. However, in the wider context of the sugar cane industry, the loss would expand to ฿570 billion.

Thailand is the second-largest sugar cane exporter in the world to Brazil, this will hurt the industry

Thailand is the second-largest sugar cane exporter in the world to Brazil and the removal of these pesticides, used in most countries around the world, will severely hurt the competitiveness of its farming sector where these substances are critical to controlling weeds and threats to the crop. Without them, the farmer must deploy more labour while paying for more expensive alternatives.

Another headache for the Thai Prime Minister

The crunch meeting on Sunday, October 27th will produce a decision which one way or another will present a new headache for the prime minister who has recently committed himself to the support of Thai farmers when he hailed them and their industry as the foundation of the Thai economy.

Further reading:

Opposition will not put the ฿3.3 trillion 2020 budget bill in danger but plans to scrutinise it

Cannabis may become a political issue as raid on Suphan Buri foundation exposes limits of new law

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