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18 May 2007


Organic Rice: Vast Market Potential (Business Brief No.1991)

In the midst of the prevailing health consciousness trend and growing environmental concern, chemical-based farming has become alienated from the global market. The role of organic farm produce that is environmentally friendly and good for health has thus gained greater attention, and will be more sought-after by consumers. Thailand, as one of the world's largest volume farm goods producers and exporters, has launched organic farming on certain types of plants, particularly, organic rice which is regarded as a key crop for both markets at home and abroad.
Organic rice farming is a form of agriculture, which avoids or largely excludes the use of all types of chemicals or synthetic inputs, including synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. The use of organic natural substances is the cornerstone of the organic farming regime. However, a major restriction to organic farming expansion resides in stringent examinations and certification of products that are needed. In Thailand, standards for organic farming production were set in 2000 and the private body, the Organic Agriculture Certification Thailand (ACT) organization, is in charge of providing inspections and certification on the standards of organic produce.
Currently, internationally-accepted organic rice cultivation in Thailand covers an area of 52,181.25 rai (1 rai equals approximately 2.5 acres). The annual output of organic rice in Thailand is around 15,000 tons. In 1992, when organic rice farming was first introduced here, the output was only 2,000 tons. This represents a hefty growth rate of 50.0 percent per year. Even so, the cultivation area for organic rice accounts for merely 0.09 percent of the country's total rice farming area, while the output of organic rice makes up only 0.06 percent of Thailand's entire rice production. Under these circumstances, vast potential seems to lie ahead for expansion of organic rice cultivation and output. The major sources of organic rice production in Thailand are in the northeast, particularly, in Surin, Yasothon, Ubon Ratchathani, Maha Sarakham, Sisaket and Khon Kaen, representing 80 percent of the total organic rice cultivation area. The rest is found in the northern provinces, i.e., Chiang Rai, Payao, Chiang Mai, Phetchabun and Uthai Thani.
In terms of prices, organic paddy can fetch 10 percent higher prices than comparable conventional varieties. Both organic white rice and sticky rice are on sale in markets. Normally, the prices of packed organic rice sold at home is around 20-percent higher than other packed conventional rice. On the export front, organic rice can fetch around 20-30 percent higher prices than conventional rice varieties, while organic Dok Mali 105 white rice is, more or less, the same price as India's Basmati strain.
Around 96 percent of the organic rice output in Thailand is export-oriented. As far as estimates go, exports of Thai organic rice in 2007 may reach 14,400 tons, worth a total of THB1.5 billion, up 20.0 percent, over-year, both in volume and value. The key markets for Thai organic rice are in Europe. Demand for organic rice in European markets increases by 15-20 percent annually. Other potential markets for locally-grown organic rice include the US, Japan and Australia.
A survey on organic rice cultivation round the world shows that Thailand's organic rice farming ranks fifth after China, Indonesia, Philippines and South Korea. The organic rice farming area globally totals 839,463 rai, of which 44.7 percent is in China, 19.4 percent in Indonesia, 10.5 percent in Philippines, 8.0 percent in South Korea and 6.2 percent in Thailand. However, Thailand is the top exporter of organic rice in the world because the organic rice exports of China, Indonesia, Philippines and South Korea are very small. Almost all of their organic rice output is consumed at home, given their steadily rising domestic demand to consumer organic rice. For instance, China, particularly in their Eastern region, has increasing demand for organic rice due to consumers paying more attention to food safety helped by their higher incomes which enables them to buy more organic rice for consumption. However, China is also a country that may become an alarming rival in the future because the Chinese government is substantially promoting organic rice farming and their organic standard certifying agencies are also mushrooming.
For the organic rice market in Thailand, it is around 4.0 percent of the total organic rice output. The organic rice on sale in the domestic market is clearly divided into 2 markets, including sales in modern trade outlets and via direct sales channels where the price is rather high, but the standard is export quality; the other market is organic rice sold by farming communities within their own communities and shops that sell organic farm produce to visitors, where prices are usually cheaper than the rice sold in the primary market, but still higher than the price of conventional rice.
Therefore, it is necessary that the government and private sector urgently promote and push for the expansion of organic rice cultivation across the country more seriously, i.e., promoting understanding about the principles of organic rice production at international standards and precisely identifying supporting markets. Promotions that are likely to succeed include contract farming and cooperative systems because farmers in these projects can be confident that they will have definite markets to support their output, apart from producing organic rice for export, so production can also be extended to serve domestic consumption for better domestic hygiene and quality of life for the Thai people.
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