From the fields to the mills. (Bangkok Post)

The government has deployed soldiers to “seek cooperation” from all rice mills nationwide to buy grain from farmers at “reasonable” prices in an effort to shore up prices.

It was not an attempt at threatening millers but rather seeking their cooperation not to drive down prices, according to the deputy spokesman of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).

They will meet all mill operators across the country and the officers involved should have some knowledge about rice affairs and be stationed in areas where they can ask to meet local millers.

Soldiers will gather information regarding problems in the rice pricing mechanism which may have led to the recent fall in prices, and listen to concerns raised by millers.

The armed forces will also buy grain from farmers through growers’ cooperatives to feed 100,000 military personnel as well as resell grain.

The purchase price is initially set at 13,000 baht per tonne, in line with the government’s recently introduced subsidy programme.

The prime minister earlier blamed rice mill operators and some local politicians for manipulating rice prices, causing the price slump.

The Thai Rice Millers Association president insisted on Wednesday that rice millers have not played a role in driving down rice prices or worked with anyone to do so, despite claims to the contrary.

Millers bought grain in line with the market mechanism and the prices were based on those quoted by exporters.

The association president went on to say that they and representatives from millers across the country will go before the media today to clarify the matter.

The cabinet approved the rice subsidy scheme at 13,000 baht per tonne for Hom Mali paddy to help farmers in the North and the North-East suffering from falling rice prices.

Of the 13,000 baht, 9,500 baht will be paid to farmers to store their paddy for a certain period of time, while the rest of the subsidy covers other costs, including quality maintenance and storage.

The programme took effect on Tuesday and it runs until Feb 28 next year.

The head of the Thai Agriculturist Association thanked the government for introducing the programme, which he said will certainly benefit the farmers.

It is widely held that the recent drop in rice prices was engineered by exporters, rice packaging operators, millers and traders.

They allegedly drove down the prices of unmilled rice so as to hoard it, believing the government would have to launch a new rice-pledging programme, which would later buy their rice.

A lecturer at Thammasat University’s Department of International Business, Logistics and Transport stated that the recent fall in rice prices was in line with an estimate predicting a huge supply around the world this year.

Along with the government’s massive rice stockpile, it led rice millers and traders to believe rice prices would fall in the future.

It is felt that the government should reveal its stock and the rice output likely to enter the market, so millers can generate suitable prices.

Selling rice at Thammasat University’s Puey Ungphakorn School of Development Studies.

The dean of Thammasat’s Puey Ungphakorn School of Development Studies, launched a programme on Wednesday to attract buyers to buy rice directly from farmers, after some farmers started selling directly via the internet.

It will offer space at the university for direct rice sales, lay out a rice pre-order system and register farmer networks so buyers can contact them directly online.

The Agriculture and Cooperatives minister said that the ministry will buy paddy from farmers via agricultural cooperatives and mill it for distribution to customers through 24 distribution centres and their 120 sub-centres.

In the meantime, the Office of the Vocational Education Commission has told its agencies to offer farmers assistance, including milling rice free of charge, drawing up designs for rice packaging and sharing knowledge on marketing.

The Department of Labour Protection and Welfare has also promised to contact provincial commercial offices to sell rice at business operation facilities.

(With thanks to the Bangkok Post)

By Juninho