‘More study needed’ on cows scheme

THAILAND - FTAs, market size, disease all seen as threats to project
calendar icon 15 January 2007
clock icon 3 minute read
Experts have questioned the government’s Bt20-billion “cows for one million families” project.

There are concerns about the lack of in-depth study about the scheme and the possible impact of free-trade agreements with India and Australia, which would allow more imported beef into Thailand.

Charan Chantalakhana, a professor of animal science at Kasetsart University, said the four-year project was a good idea to tackle poverty, but the government must not use it as a voting-seeking campaign.

The government should start with farmers experienced at raising cattle and get universities and local teachers to assist, he advised.

Sunthorn Nikomrat, president of the Beef Cattle Association of Thailand, urged the government to promote beef consumption because Thailand already had 7.8 million cattle and 1.2 million cattle-raising families. An extra one million cattle was significant, so the state enterprise must ensure a market for the increased products.

There were also fears about disease from cattle smuggled from India, especially in 21 provinces that had waived sterilisation regulations, he said.

Free-trade deals were also a threat to the association as Indian and Australian beef would be imported more freely into Thailand to compete with local produce.

Sunthorn said the project should be implemented carefully based on good planning and thorough studies. It should also be transparent and corruption-free, including calf purchases and distribution to farmers.

He said if the project succeeds, it would benefit the government because it would end just before the general election in 2008.

Former Livestock Development Department director-general Withoon Kamnerdpetch, said there were only children and elderly people left in rural areas and handing out calves to places without a thorough study may lead to the calves being left untended, dying, or being of little quality.

Urging the government to adjust its plan, Withoon said some areas already had cattle farmers to supply local abattoirs. But establishing a new group would be useful and may produce sideline businesses such as grass growing and making organic fertiliser, he noted.

Deputy Agriculture Minister Adisorn Piengket, who heads the scheme, said pilot projects had already been implemented in Kanchanaburi’s Lao Khwan district, Roi Et’s At Samat district, and Phrae’s Wiang Kosai district.

He said 500,000 cattle would be given to 250,000 families under the scheme this year. And the total would rise to one million in four years. Income would rise for farmers involved and “their poverty would be cured” in two years.

Adisorn said a survey would be undertaken to determine the viability of the project prior to implementation and farmers would not have to owe money to buy cattle.

“The state enterprise is the debtor here. The farmers just tend the cows to gain weight. Raising two cows for a year should earn them an extra Bt8,000 per year.”

Luck Wajananawat, deputy manager of the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives, will run the project. He said it would spend Bt5 billion in the first year, Bt7 billion in the second and Bt8 billion in the third.

The business would buy young cows aged from eight to 12 months, and 100 to 120kg in weight, for the farmers to raise, he said. They would owe no money and take 18 months to raise the cows to about 400kg each and then return them to the enterprise for sale.

Of the net profit, 90 per cent would go to the farmer and 10 per cent to the enterprise, he said. Farmers who prove to be good at raising cattle could come back for another round.

Luck said the project would be carried out transparently. Details of calf purchases would involve both families and livestock officials.

King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Lat Krabang had been hired to study the project and will submit a report in six months.

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