CHIANG MAI Farmers in Thailand’s drought-stricken north have been told by the government they cannot plant any more rice, further fuelling anti-Bangkok sentiment in the Red Shirt-loyal region.Thailand is the world’s largest rice exporter, shipping more than 9 million tonnes offshore each year, but the worst drought in nearly 20 years has forced the government to decree that no rice is to be planted until it rains.Disaster areas have been declared in 53 of Thailand’s 75 provinces, affecting nearly 7 million people, and scores of dams are at critically low levels. Water has been diverted from the Mae Klong, a river in the country’s west, so that Bangkok does not run short of water.The irrigation department has said the far north is the worst-affected region, and no water can be released from dams there for crops, only for drinking.A project director with the department, Maitree Pitinanon, said rain was expected at some time during the current monsoon season, which runs until September, but when, and how much, was not known.Government officials throughout the country have instructed farmers to abandon crops or not to plant new ones. It is likely to be the middle of next month, at the earliest, before any water is available for farming.But beyond the implications for Thailand’s food supply and its export markets, the ban on planting rice is a further political division in the country, driving yet another wedge between the Bangkok elite and the rural poor.The north and north-east are the heartland of the anti-government Red Shirt movement, whose two-month sit-in in the centre of Bangkok was violently put down by government troops last month. At least 88 people were killed during 68 days of protests.Despite being routed, the Red Shirt movement still has a significant presence in the north and north-east, with persistent rumours it will reform, likely in a different guise, to resist, or even violently protest against, the government.Khum Toorasit, a rice farmer who works leased land on the outskirts of the northern city of Chiang Mai, has had to turn over his failing rice crop to cattle because there is no water to keep it going.Mr Khum said the decree for farmers to abandon rice crops and delay planting new ones was robbing people of their only income and fuelling resentment of the government.”If we can’t grow rice, we cannot earn any money, we have no rice to eat. What can we do? We can do nothing,” he said.Mr Khum said the drought had been building for months, and the government should have moved sooner to secure water supplies, help farmers with loans, and begin cloud-seeding programs.”We still have debts, but we cannot pay, so we have even more money to owe,” he said. ”If there is no help for farmers soon there will be an uprising against the government for sure.” The government said this week that it would begin cloud seeding in the north in the next few days.The Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, has ordered the Agriculture Ministry to devise drought mitigation strategies for next year.
南京夜网