Grains for Brains: Thai university accepts rice as tuition fees
A private university in Thailand started accepting rice as tuition fees as the country reels under a "grain glut" hurting farm income. Bangkok's Rangsit University students can pay a part or all of the next semester's costs with rice, said dean Worachat Churdchomjan. The program has been set-up with an aim to help farmers; the university would put a higher-than-market value on the grain.
19 students enroll for the rice-for-fees program
About 19 students have enrolled for the rice-for-fees program. One of them, Witsanu Sukmoonsiri, said, "My parents might have had to go to a loan shark otherwise. He plans to pay the 20,620 baht ($574) for the January-April semester with rice from his family's farm.
Over 16 million Thais rice farmers struggling to cover costs
Efforts to aid over 16 million Thais rice farmers struggling to cover costs due to oversupply at home and export markets are underway. Thailand's military unveiled over $2 billion support to ease agrarian hardship. Farmers have resorted to everything from Facebook to gas stations stalls for selling rice. Thailand's current rice stockpiles are about 8 million metric tons, roughly 20% of projected global trade.
Production in current season likely to climb
Thailand is Southeast Asia's second-largest economy exports about half of its annual rice output. Production in the current season through Sep'17 is likely to climb for the first time in five decades, adding to global oversupply. Thai jasmine rice averaged 8,294 baht a ton in Nov'16, the lowest since Feb'07 while unmilled white rice is at the weakest level since May'14.
Handing out rice as New Year gifts
Worachat stated, "The University has the policy to support farmers to reduce their expenses, as they are the backbone of the country." The sibling leaders of the governments, Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra, toppled in 2006 and 2014 coups said they're giving rice as New Year gifts, urging others to do the same. They accused the military government of not doing enough to help farmers.
Rice, a sensitive issue
Rice still remains a very sensitive issue in Thailand as they consider returning to democracy next year. Over the last decade, Thailand's northern farming heartlands had voted for those political leaders who the military generals ended up ousting.
Farmers could earn more by milling rice by themselves
In Thailand's Ubon Ratchathani, a 25-year-old farmer Suphatson Chanthamon is trying to sell rice at the country's largest and state-run company PTT Plc's oil and gas stations. Suphatson said: "At current prices, if we sell to rice mills, we wouldn't get money to cover production costs. But selling directly to buyers, we could have small profits. For sure, we won't be losing money."
Former Thai Minister and junta critic Watana Muangsook's statement
"You have to create purchasing power for the poor. You have to let the agricultural products be sold at a good price. Market intervention is needed. The junta is encouraging farmers to switch to other crops, as well as to delay sales to bolster prices."