Proposed agricultural reform in the Solomon Islands might benefit from advice from Thailand

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DEAR EDITOR, I read a news bulletin broadcast by Radio New Zealand last week which referred to Solomon Islands new permanent secretary for agriculture, Ms. Ethel Tebengi, and her views on how the Solomon Islands agricultural sector needed to be re-focused and re-strategised.

Ms Tebengi was quoted as having said as logging scaled down over the next few years, the nation’s economic base would remain weak and vulnerable, citing the past ‘ethnic tension’ and recent natural disasters.

She added that agriculture had the potential to fill the gaps, as long as the ministry was properly resourced.

Ms Tebengi also said it was good for Solomon Islands to export and earn revenue but Solomon Islanders also needed to feed themselves, create employment opportunities through commercial agricultural and to cut their dependency on imported foods.

I agree with what Ms Tebengi outlined for her ministry and the country but ponder how her envisaged plans will be achieved in the short and medium term.

When his late Majesty, King Bhumibol, acceded to the Thai Royal Throne in 1950, His Majesty must have faced the same conditions in Thailand as now foreseen by Ms Tebengi and throughout his entire reign he did much for the betterment of his people.

As early as 1998, the King had initiated 2,159 royal development projects aimed at improving the living conditions of his subjects, particularly those in the remote rural areas of Thailand dependent on subsistence farming for a livelihood.

Over the years, the King oversaw changes in rural development from the introduction of new crops to water conservation and swamp drainage.

Agricultural development was just one area of some eight development projects the King worked hard to see flourish and become the success story that it is today.

As I write, and quote the NATION dated 21 May 2018,

“Thailand’s Bt42.87-billion budget for agriculture has led to a money flow of about Bt113.52 billion in the economic system, according to the Office of Agricultural Economics (OAE).

“Vinaroj Supsongsuk, OAE director-general, said that the multiplier effect of the government spending on 15 key agriculture-related policies could drive the flow of money to 2.65 times the actual amount budgeted and generate additional farm income.

“Of these 15 policies a total of Bt42.87 billion is focused on five areas: upgrading agricultural standards for sustainability extending across water resource management, fishery standardisation, development of a rice seed centre, assistance on debts to agricultural cooperative members and on a farm development institute.

“Others key areas include promotion to add product value, use of agricultural machines to replace workers, the organic agricultural product bank, a promotion system for large-scale farming, a learning centre to boost production efficiency for agricultural products, development of smart farming, agricultural area management under proactive agricultural plans, promotion of new agricultural theory, developing agricultural product markets and development of good agricultural practices (GAP).

“Of the total money flow of Bt113.52 billion, about Bt79.65 billion comes from production of materials and related products in supply chains, as a result of equipment procurement in construction projects including water distribution systems and improvement of water sources for greenhouses.

“About Bt33.87 billion came from wages in projects for farmers, such as the fees for instructors and travel allowances. Those wages are spent on household consumption, thus contributing to the income of shops and businesses in communities.

“Another Bt9.36 billion is additional income for farmers from the Bt4.17-billion water resource management project.

“The agricultural sector has seen higher potential through fishery standardisation, which has allowed the country to export more Thai fishery products to the European Union (EU) and non-EU markets.

“As the programmes help reduce the production costs of farmers and food producers, increase promotion of products, or increase use of agricultural machines, sector incomes and profits are increased by 0.5-1.0 times.

“Learning centres help boost the efficiency of producing agricultural products, while the smart farmers programme helps farmers become more self-reliant through learning about efficient production planning and making choices based on Agri-Map zones.

“Activities or projects under the scheme aiming to raise capabilities of the agricultural sector and farmers are expected to raise future farm incomes through improved quality of products, value-added products, and increased knowledge of production and distribution channels for export.”

While all I have quoted about Thailand’s budgetary success from agricultural development and reform is on a much grander scale than that of the Solomon Islands, I do believe, as I have repeatedly expressed in writing, Thailand has much to offer the Solomon Islands by way of advice and example – and to my knowledge the Royal Thai Government has offered to help agricultural reform in the Solomon Islands, if requested.

I would encourage this approach.

Yours sincerely

Frank Short

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