In Baan Tiam in Chiang Mai province there has been very significant transformation in dry season cultivation. A few years ago garlic was all the rage. But it rapidly lost popularity as a result of reductions in yield and the impact of the free-trade agreement with China. A range of other crops have been tried – peas, beans, eggplants, tomatoes, cabbages, zucchinis and more. Over the past two or three years tobacco has greatly increased in popularity. It is grown under contract (albeit an informal, verbal one) and one of the main attractions is that the company, not the farmer, pays for the seedlings and the fertiliser. This contract farming is an attractive option for some, especially those burdened by the debts from failed garlic crops.
Visiting a couple of weeks ago I was interested to see that a new dry-season crop was being tried – rice. Baan Tiam’s farmers are avid rice cultivators during the wet season but I had never seen it grown in the dry season. Two reasons were given for this innovation. First, flooding during the wet season had destroyed a lot of the rice crop. But flooding here is a regular event and perhaps even more important was the high price of rice. Those who had lost rice were reluctant to buy their rice from local suppliers, who were selling milled rice for up to 17 baht per kilogram. And even some of those who had not lost their rice thought that the high price represented an opportunity for a healthy cash sale.
It will be interesting to see if this catches on. I suspect not. Baan Tiam’s irrigation water supplies this year seem more than adequate. But this is not always the case and I have seen years when the stream running through the village has almost run dry. A wet rice crop under such conditions would not be a pretty sight!