In the past, the Thai economy used to rely on the agricultural sector as a main growth engine for a long period of time. This sector has been domestically known as the country’s backbone as it has generated food, employment and living incomes for the majority of Thai people. On the world stage, Thailand’s agricultural sector has also played a prominent role as the agricultural production from Thailand contributed to a steady increase of global harvests and food security. Nevertheless, the rapid growth in the agricultural production patterns has given rise to a number of serious environmental challenges. First of all, the agricultural sector has imposed a large impact on the use of natural resources that may often lead to exploitation and degradation; for instance, loss of forest areas, water and air pollution, loss of biodiversity and increased greenhouse gas emissions (hereafter, GHGs), particularly carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. The releases of GHGs in the agricultural sector is a result of deforestation, burning of agricultural wastes and excessive use of non-renewable energy. In addition, the process of intensive agricultural production also has significant environmental impacts, such as top soil depletion and contamination of groundwater, and lowered conditions for farmworkers.
According to the Second Biennial Update Report (SBUR) prepared by the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (ONEP), in 2013, the total emission of greenhouse gases in Thailand was 318,662 GgCO2eq. The energy sector was the major emitter, with the GHG emissions of 236,936 GgCO2eq (74 percent of total emissions in Thailand). The GHG emissions in the agricultural sector, the industrial sector, and waste sector were 50,919 GgCO2eq (16 percent), 18,977 GgCO2eq (6 percent), and 11,830 GgCO2eq (4 percent), respectively. Given that the agricultural sector is among the major contributors to the global warming effect, this sector has a high potential to mitigate the GHG emissions through the promotion and integration of sustainable consumption and production (hereafter, SCP) principle into the strategies and policies. Though there are diverse definition of sustainable production in agriculture, the key concept is to meet society’s food needs in the present without compromising the ability of future generations in meeting their own needs. The backbone of sustainable agricultural production is the integration of three main objectives, namely healthy environment, economic profitability and social & economic equity. The objectives of this study are two-fold. First, this study aims to review the existing and potential mitigation strategies in the context of Thai agricultural sector. Second, under this study, we aim to propose measures and instruments to facilitate adoption of sustainable consumption and production in Thailand.
With regards to the mitigation strategies in the agricultural sector, six strategies are highlighted, namely (i) no burning of agricultural residues, (ii) soil carbon sequestration, (iii) alternate wetting and drying (AWD), (iv) enteric fermentation, (v) biogas from manure, and (vi) biomass and biofuel from agricultural residues.
This study places emphasis on the promotion of sustainable consumption and production throughout the value chain in the agricultural sector, starting from utilization of natural resources and inputs, production process, processing process, distribution and logistics, marketing and consumption. Details of measures to promote sustainable consumption and production at each node of the value chain are as follows.
Utilization of Natural Resources and Inputs
To prevent farmers from encroaching the forest to do mono agriculture with intensive use of chemicals, a proper implementation of forest-based economy as site-specific solutions should be conducted, allowing for farmers to produce agricultural products under forest cover and without using agricultural chemicals. Moreover, a traceability system should be adopted to assure consumers that the agricultural products were produced from the appropriate sources.
To keep farmers from undertaking agricultural production in the areas highly susceptible to soil erosion problem, legal measure should be adopted and enforced, banning farmers from growing crops in such areas along with encouraging the soil and water conservation techniques. To promote more efficient use of water in agricultural
production, economic instruments such as imposing charges on irrigated water, should be considered to encourage farmers to economize on the water usage. As many parts of Thailand are currently facing problem of aging farm labor, the proposed measures include educating and training the elderly farmers on the new agricultural technologies which help them save on the use of farm labor. Giving that making the transition towards sustainable agriculture often entails high upfront costs and investment, measures such as suspension on debt repayment and provision of green credit to farmers at concessional rates should be introduced.
Two main issues need to be addressed when it comes to the agricultural production process. First is the land preparation by burning vegetation and open crop residue burning. This practice generates a substantial amount of air pollution. To address this issue, farmers should be educated and trained on how to use agricultural residues to
produce energy, such as biomass or biofuels. Moreover, farmers should receive additional funding on the use of alternative land preparation methods. The second issue is related to the intensive use of hazardous agricultural chemicals, particularly herbicide, insecticide and pesticide. In many European countries, pesticide taxes were introduced to discourage on the use of pesticide in crop production. For Thailand, prior to the introduction of similar measures, research and development on the natural alternatives to pesticide should be promoted. It is very important that these natural alternatives do not compromise on yield, affordable and accessible by farmers and effective.
A number of challenges arise during the processing of agricultural produces. The
first challenge is the lack of continuity in the supply of sustainable agricultural produce,
which are inputs in the processing process. One way to get around with this problem is to
source raw materials from multiple sources to diversify risks and ensure continuity of
supply. The second challenge to be addressed is the lack of processing standard, which
control the use of chemical additives during the processing process as well as prevention
Distribution and Logistics
Given that the sustainable agricultural products are often produced in the remote rural areas, while the demand for these products is largely concentrated in the big cities, the concept of “cold chain management” should be considered to preserve freshness of the agricultural products during the transportation process.
In terms of marketing, this study proposes that local market for sustainable agricultural products should be established and promoted to curb on the transportation costs so that the retail prices for these products can become more affordable for the consumers. To enhance consumer confidence, a traceability system can be put in place to control and trace back the supply chain of agricultural products. This would expand the market for these sustainable agricultural products.
To encourage more widespread consumption of sustainable agricultural products, the concept of “food literacy” should be promoted both among young children and among the public through social campaigning. In addition, labelling of sustainable agricultural products should be encouraged to provide more product information to the
Key Policies to be Highlighted
Given a large number of measures to promote sustainable consumption and production in the agricultural sector, this study proposes 6 measures which have high priority. The first measure focuses on encouraging transitioning to sustainable crop production that does not involve forest encroachment or excessive use of chemicals. Second, making the transition towards sustainable agriculture can often have high upfront costs, while it takes some time before the newly grown crops, particularly the perennial crops, start yielding some outputs. On this regard, measures of debt repayment should be introduced to farmers that are transitioning towards sustainable modes of farming. Third, green credit at concessional rate could be offered to farmers which committed to adopt a sustainable agricultural practice. Fourth, more research into the use of biologically substances for agriculture that does not affect the consumer and the environment need be conducted prior to the introduction of pesticide taxes. Fifth, given that farmers of sustainable produce still have limited access to distribution market channels, the large
wholesale market can help source the sustainable agricultural products from diverse farmer groups and provide a one-stop-service for retailers or end consumers. Sixth, there is still the need to develop and implement viable economic measures to increase local market channels and retail business units for sustainable produce, alongside the establishment of regulations, standards, and certification for agricultural products. Additional provision of traceability systems can also bolster consumer confidence in products and brands.