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Prospects for unrest in Thailand’s rice bowl

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Collapsing agricultural prices have forced the junta to offer loans to rice farmers. Rice subsidisation in Thailand has historically proven ill-fated; should this policy fail, what is the likelihood of rural unrest?

Thailand’s rice industry is in crisis, at a time of great uncertainty generated from King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s passing. The junta has resorted to providing loans to jasmine rice farmers. Jasmine rice accounts for approximately half of rice export incomes in Thailand – an important source of foreign currency reserves.

The market value of jasmine rice has fallen over a third since 2013, and is at a nine-year low.

Past rice subsidy schemes have proven ill-fated and attracted the ire of the junta. After they ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in May 2014, they immediately halted her flagship rice subsidy scheme which had allegedly squandered billions of dollars.

This article will not review that scheme; suffice to say, despite ultimately failing it had provided farmers with immediate economic security.

Regions which thrived under that scheme have been hit by economic strife. One such region is Isan, the northeast region where jasmine rice production is concentrated. 21 million people live here, one third of Thailand’s population.

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