Lately I’ve been working on trying to place my detailed ethnographic observations of a village in northern Thailand into a broader national and regional context. I’ve been looking at data from both IRRI and FAO on agricultural productivity. Here are some results from my number crunching this morning. The first graph using data from IRRI (click for a larger image) shows rice yields (tonnes per hectare) for Thailand, Japan, China and Korea along with the Asian average. The second graph using data from FAOSTAT shows garlic yields (kilograms per hectare). I have chosen garlic as it has been the most important cash crop in the northern Thai village where I have been working.
It’s not a pretty picture for Thailand. There have been modest increases in rice yields but, according to IRRI, Thailand’s yields are among the lowest in the world. This may come as something of a surprise given that Thailand is the largest exporter of milled rice in the world.
Thai garlic yields have increased a lot more (roughly trebling) but there have been similar increases in both Korea and China, both of which started from a much higher base. The gap between Thailand and the others is widening and Thailand is falling well behind the Asian average. Chinese garlic yields are almost three times higher than Thai garlic yields. Korean garlic yields in the 1970s were higher than Thai yields in 2007.
If we want to understand some of the political tensions that have become increasingly evident within Thailand over the past few years, the failure of successive Thai governments to deliver higher agricultural productivity may be one useful place to start.