Yesterday I blogged about agricultural productivity in Thailand. I included a chart which compared rice yields in Thailand with yields in China, Japan and Korea. Some readers have pointed out, both in comments on the post and by email, that the comparison between Thailand and Japan/Korea may not be particularly informative given quite different technical, social, ecological and agronomic conditions. Chris Baker asks “what happens if you put Malaysia, Philippines, and Indonesia on the chart – countries with climatic, social, and technological conditions relatively similar to Thailand?” Here is the answer:

SE Asia rice yields

The key points from the data are:

  1. Of the five countries shown, Thailand has the lowest yields. Surprisingly, the IRRI data suggest that yields in Laos have been higher than Thai yields since the early 1990s. Is this plausible?
  2. In the 1960s, Thailand and Indonesia had very similar yields. But Indonesian yields increased rapidly in the 1970s and 1980s. Since 1990, Thai yields have, on average, been 44% lower than Indonesian yields.
  3. In the 1960s, the Philippines had lower yields than Thailand, but the situation was reversed in the mid-1970s. Since 1990, Thai yields have, on average, been 20% lower than yields in the Philippines.
  4. Malaysia’s productivity trajectory is closest to that of Thailand, with modest productivity growth from a somewhat higher base. Since 1990, Thai yields have, on average, been 20% lower than yields in Malaysia.
  5. (Not shown on the graph – yields in Vietnam were similiar to those in Thailand until the mid-1970s; since then they have grown to a level slightly higher than Indonesia.)

The comparisons within Southeast Asia are not as stark as the comparisons between Thailand and north Asia – but Thailand’s lackluster performance is evident.

Chris Baker has provided some data (from the Thai Office of Agricultural Economics) that are slightly different to the IRRI data, and show a healthy jump to over 3 tonnes per hectare in 2008. One reader has suggested, via email, that recent increases in Thailand could be the result of rice price guarantee schemes that have encouraged farmers to spend more on fertiliser for rice production.

Thanks very much to those of you who have made very helpful contributions on this topic. I look forward to more discussion of this important issue.