Thailand plans $956 million projects to boost rural incomes, farm sector

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand is planning new projects worth about 30 billion baht ($956 million) to support its farm sector and create rural jobs, its planning agency said on Wednesday, as it tries to restore an economy devastated by the coronavirus pandemic’s global impact.

FILE PHOTO: A farmer looks around his maize field destroyed by Fall Army Worm at Pak Chong district, Nakhon Ratchasima province, Thailand June 12, 2019. Picture taken on June 12, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun/File Photo

Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy suffered its biggest shrinkage in more than two decades in the second quarter as the coronavirus outbreak froze tourism and slowed consumption.

The new projects aim to boost rural incomes by developing farm technology, creating community products and promoting tourism, with plans to hire 69,000 students for government programmes, said Danucha Pichayanan, deputy head of the National Economic and Social Development Council.

“We are considering 3-4 projects worth about 20 billion to 30 billion baht,” he told a briefing, adding the projects would be proposed to cabinet on Tuesday.

They will be financed by the government’s 1 trillion baht of borrowing - 400 billion baht for reviving the economy and 600 billion baht for relief and health measures - as it tries to mitigate the impact of the virus, which has infected just over 3,400 people locally.

Under the 400 billion baht plan, about 45 billion in projects have been approved and should add about 100,000 jobs, said planning agency head Thosaporn Sirisumphand.

“But we don’t want to spend the money all at once because we have to live with COVID-19 for at least a year,” he said.

However, the government is working on a new stimulus package, Thosaporn said, including plans approved on Tuesday to help pay for hiring 260,000 graduates.

On relief measures, the government has spent about 300 billion baht to help businesses and households.

Thailand’s tourism-reliant economy is expected to contract by a record 8.5% this year, with foreign tourist numbers seen at less than a fifth of last year’s nearly 40 million.

($1 = 31.37 baht)

(Refiles to add dropped word in headline)

Reporting by Orathai Sriring and Satawasin Staporncharnchai; Editing by Martin Petty