November 8, 2016 / 8:28 AM / 3 years ago

Thai Navy to buy and help harvest rice as farmers struggle

BANGKOK (Reuters) - The Thai navy will buy rice directly from farmers and assign naval ratings to help them harvest their grain, a navy spokesman said on Tuesday, the latest in a series of steps by the military junta to soften the impact of falling prices on farming communities.

A tractor drives past at a rice drying yard at an export rice plant in the central Chainat province in Thailand, December 16, 2015. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File Photo - RTX2RBH6

On Monday, the country’s rice committee announced new loan schemes worth $514 million to help rice growers, as the junta looked to gain support in rural areas ahead of an election next year.

Rice prices in Thailand hit a 13-month low last week, hurting farmers in the world’s second-largest rice exporter. Rice exports account for around 10 percent of Thailand’s gross domestic product.

“If grain prices have fallen we will help where we can to purchase. Where farmers lack labor we will send groups to help,” Vice Admiral Jumpol Lumpikanon, a spokesman for the Royal Thai Navy, told reporters.

The admiral did not say how much rice the navy would buy, or where the budget would come from.

Last week Manas Kitprasert, head of the Thai Rice Millers Association, resigned after Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said that rice millers and politicians were colluding to drive down rice prices for political reasons.

Manas denied the accusations.

The junta has asked millers to buy rice from farmers at “reasonable prices”, and soldiers have visited rice millers to “seek cooperation”.

The party of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra won an election in 2011 in part by appealing to rice farmers with a populist scheme to buy their grain at above-market rates.

Yingluck’s administration was removed by the military in the 2014 coup.

Thailand remains politically divided between the county’s urban middle classes and royalist-military elite and supporters of populist governments ousted in 2006 and 2014 coups.

Reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Pracha Hariraksapitak; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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