The Future of Thai Agriculture

July 03, 2018

by Mr. Suphachai Chearavanont CEO of Charoen Pokphand Group, Chairman of the Executive Committee of True Corporation Plc.

The future of agriculture is essential to Thailand’s economic growth. Megatrends such as Biotech, Nanotech, Spacetech, Robotics and Digital are disrupting and transforming the agricultural world. It is time for the Thai agricultural system to change. 

Agriculture, like tourism and industrials, is a foundation of the Thai economy. Be that as it may, Thailand’s agricultural system is still stuck in the past. The existing agricultural model lacks the utilization of technology, management, funding, knowledge of diseases, epidemiology and commodities. The result, farmers are finding themselves under huge debt without the capability to gain any profit. Lacking adaptive knowledge management skillsets, Thailand’s agriculture continues to fall deeper into the middle-income trap. Therefore, changes in the nation’s agricultural system is crucial for Thailand to move forward. 

Thailand’s agricultural system is transforming toward the digital world. There are mainly 9 changes in agriculture that are anticipated to arise in the Thai agricultural system: (1) Satellite for Agriculture, (2) Zoning and Geo Strategy, (3) Water Management and IoT, (4) Seed and Soil, (5) Services & Smart Farming vs. Contract Farming, (6) Traceability and Blockchain, (7) Commodity to Process and Branded Food to Innovation in Health and Beauty, (8) Agro and Food R&D (9) Sustainability & Land Use. 

Satellite for Agriculture represents the cutting-edge technology that will bring about change to the Thai agriculture. Satellite engine programs like Google Maps allows for farmers to locate suitable areas for farming. They can identify minerals within the soil, on land and whether if the area can be utilized. Adopting satellite technology will contribute to better management and cultivation of land. 

Zoning and Geo Strategy will be another factor to bringing about change in agriculture. Zoning or land management means identifying cultivation areas in different parts of the country; by farming in accordance to market trends. For example, coconuts are a popular product for the Chinese market and will need increased farm land accordingly. 

Water is the heart of agriculture. However, numerous Thai agriculturalists are facing poverty due to the lack of water. Water management and IoT can help provide solutions to this problem. IoT can help calculate the amount of water in the area and help manage water issues. 

A successful agriculture requires high quality seeds and soil. The quality of seeds and the preparation of the soil is essential. If farmers fail to meet certain criteria in preparing their seeds and soil, they won’t be able to harvest as much as they anticipated. Unlike a new ‘Mega Farming’ method that requires mass cultivation areas, Thai agriculturalists can only farm on a smaller scale. Individual farming at a smaller scale can drive costs upward. Reducing those costs is another goal that needs to be set. 

Services & Smart Farming and Contract Farming is a new method for large area farming or mega farming. European countries use the ‘Co-Op’ method with success determined by the entrepreneurial spirit of the Co-Op leadership. In the United States of America, contract farming and mega farming are used since there are advanced technology and management. Agriculture in the USA is managed mainly by major companies and farmers whom work for them. This method can be operated efficiently because the USA’s vast land mass. Adopting the Co-Op method and contract farming can be challenging for Thailand. Since Thailand isn’t a large country, shifting farmers towards an industrial farming system can prove difficult. Social enterprise is the new model that should be more suitable to Thai farmers. It allows for farmers to become shareholders of a new business method called ‘Smart Farming or Service Farming’. This will enable farmers to operate their own business start-up. 

For agriculture, traceability of the product is a necessity in the 4.0 era. Traceability and Blockchain will be key factors in helping buyer and seller trace back products as problems arise when they can’t be traced back. Blockchain is a new innovation that collects data in a form of a chain. For example, Blockchain will allow for food products to be traced back to where they originated, provide transparency throughout the production process with all its stakeholders, and is in accordance with international standards to ensure safe and high-quality products that is environmentally-friendly and does not violate human rights. 

Commodity to Process and Branded Food to Innovation in Health and Beauty of agricultural products in Thailand passes the criteria in terms of quality, yet still lacks the ability to add value to its product. Improvement of this system will lift Thai agricultural products onto the global stage. Several universities along with private companies specialized in product branding are now working together to help add value and improve quality of Thai agricultural products. 

To stand out in agriculture, Thailand needs to give importance to Agro and Food R&D. Thailand needs to focus on its research and development and attract world-class biotechnology and food talent and scientists into country. They will ultimately help transform the nation’s agriculture to become immune to global shifts. In addition, Thailand needs to establish itself as the center for R&D in agriculture and food of the region. 

The world in the 4.0 era is driven by a new generation of people, talent and corporations giving importance to sustainability. Any organization seeking profit but without clear sustainability goals will ultimately fail. Therefore, when it comes to continued development of Thailand’s agricultural sector, sustainability needs to be its foundation, to ensure mutual benefit of all stakeholders and maintain balance amongst the economy, society and environment. 


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