Agricultural Information Technology in Asia and Oceania 1998 © 1998 by The Asian Federation for Information Technology in Agriculture

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Application of Information Technology in Agriculture in Thailand
Apichart Pongsrihadulchai
Office of Agricultural Economics, Ministry of Agriculture & Cooperatives, Thailand 1. Importance of Agricultural Sector Thailand is a tropical country situated in Southeast Asia with a total area of 514,000 square kilometers or about 51 million hectares, of which about 40 percent are agricultural land. The total population in 1996 was about 60 million. The agricultural sector, although declining in relative term, is still playing a significant role in the national economy. Since most of other developments are based on agriculture and majority of the people are still living on farms or depend on the agricultural activities for their livelihood. However, the agricultural development in Thailand in the past has been achieved largely at the expense of the country’s rich natural resources. Consequently, the country is now confronting problems of natural resources and environmental degradation. The forest area had decreased from 19.8 million hectares in 1976 to 13.4 million hectares in 1993 or average loss about 0.4 million hectares per year. During the 20 year-period between 1976 to 1996, gross domestic products (GDP) for agricultural sector had increased quadruple from 92,460 million baht to 368,720 million baht but its contribution to national economy had decreased from 27 percent to 9 percent. Similarly, the agricultural population had also increased from 29.67 million to 36.98 million while its proportion had decreased from about 70 percent to about 61 percent. For export, the agricultural exports had increased almost ten times from 45,707 million baht to 414,730 million baht but its share had fallen from 76 percent to 29 percent. It is also interesting to note that many agricultural products exported from Thailand were either ranked first or on the top ten of agricultural trade in the world market. These included rice, natural rubber, tapioca products, sugar, canned pineapple, frozen shrimps and frozen chickens. Thus it is not exaggerated to say that even though Thailand is a small country it is one of the few countries in the world that able to produce food enough to help feed the world. The agricultural sector in Thailand is therefore not only importance to the country itself but also to the whole world as well. Despite of its importance, most farmers are still very poor as compared with other occupations. Presently, the GDP per capita for non-agricultural sector is higher than agricultural sector more than ten times. The average annual cash income of agricultural household in crop year 1995/96 was about 81,000 baht, of which 60 percent came from off-farm or non-agricultural activities. However, the net saving was only about 24,000 baht per household. 2. Agricultural Statistical System The agricultural statistical system in Thailand is a decentralzed system. The two major agencies involved in agricultural statistics in Thailand are as follows: 2.1 The National Statistical Office (NSO) It is one of the government agencies with a departmental status under the Office of the Prime Minister. The NSO is responsible for conducting all censuses relating to population, industry, agriculture etc., as well as large-scale statistical surveys, such as labbor force survey, socio-economic survey and intercensal survey of agriculture. 2.2 Office of Agricultural Economics (OAE) It is a department under Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives (MOAC), which is the prime agency responsible for collection, compilation, and dissemination of all current agricultural statistics. Other major functions of the OAE are to conduct agricultural economic researches, formulate and recommend appropriate agricultural policies and initiate development plan as well as monitor and evaluate certain projects of the Ministry. 3. Application of Information Technology in Agriculture There is no doubt about the importance of information especially during the “Information Age” as it is called today. The role of information technology becomes more and more influence to ways of life for all people including farmers due to its fast development. Those who access to more information generally will have more advantages than those who has limited information. The information technology has been widely used in Thailand for many years mainly in business sector. For agricultural sector, it is still mostly limited to the government agencies and the main objectives are for data processing or establishment of database. In recent years, however, the geographic information technology (GIS) together with remote

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2 Conversion of these analog maps to digital maps. .Economic forest area will be classified as agricultural area if there is no more existing forest and the land is suitable for agriculture (highly and moderately suitable). The irrigated area is always considered as highly suitable area. 2) Overlaying the maps from (1) and (2) and obtaining the suitability map. present landuse map (obtained from interpretation of Landat-5 images).Pongsrihadulchai sening technology became a popular tool among agencies within the MOAC for planning development project. corn. For each crop 4 levels of suitability are determined as (1).2 Internet for Farmers This is a pilot project initiated and supported by the OAE. and administrative boundary map. moderately suitable. transportation cost. 3. 2) Economic Forest Zone This zone is further divided as . 3) Conservation Forest Zone This zone include existing forest area and area for rehabilitation.Conservation forest area will be classified as non-agricultural area regardless of the existing condition.1. At present the suitability maps for rice. rainfall map. cassava. cost of production.3 Overlaying of digital maps to determine the suitability area for each crop follows: Grouping of soil series according to soil characteristics into 4 levels as highly suitable. and market demand etc. At the Ministry offices in Bangkok the experts in various fields in different departments are requested to join the BBS by responding to the relevants questions and providing the information needed by farmers. For the first experimental phase. However. sugarcane. The participated local organizations must already . It is also designed in such way that farmers can also communicate among themselves.Existing forest area will be classified as nonagricultural area. moderatly suitable. soybean. . These include basin map.5 The final recomendation of particular crop suitable for each area will base on the economic information such as farm price.Existing forest area .1. for each crop. rubber.20 - . of which about half were Tambon (Sub-District) Administration Organizations (TAO) while the other half were agricultural cooperatives. It was started in 1996 in 5 provinces near Bangkok and about 60 local organizations were participated.1. yield per unit area.1 Collection of thematic maps of scale 1:250. marginally suitable and unsuitable. otherwise it is recommended to be a reforestation area. This phase will concentrate on how to manage and organize the two-way communication within the community effectively by exploring the appropriate way to communicate between the local organization and farmers in the community. 3) Overlaying the maps from (3) onto legal forest boundary map and present landuse map and then classifying the area using the following criteria: . In this section two important examples of the application of IT in agriculture are disscused. legal forest boundary map. The first example is the application of GIS for agricultural zoning while the second one is the use of internet technology for dissemination of information. the estimated area for each category is not yet available. tree crop and pasture has already finished for all 25 watershed areas.1 Application of GIS for Determination of Crop Suitability Zone This project is under taken by the OAE.1. 3. 4 major zones are determined.4 As results.1. 3. soil series map. The procedures can be summarized as follows: 3. The pupose of the project is to study the feasibility of using internet technology as a two-way communication tool for tranfering of production technology and economic information from government agencies to farmers as well as a channel for recieving messages from farmers. The service is limited to the off-line Bulletine Board System (BBS) mode only without any on-line search or web browsing.000 and enter into the GIS.Encroachment area which will be classified as agricultural area if this area is either highly suitable or moderately suitable area for some crops. 1) Agricultural Zone For this zone it is further classified as highly suitable. MOAC with the objective to dilineate the suitability areas for each important crop in each watershed. marginelly suitable and unsuitable areas. Chulalongkorn University. 3. 4) Other Zone 3. 1) Classifying of areas according to quantity of rainfall and availability of irrigation system into 4 classes as similar to (1). 3. irrigation map. MOAC and is carried out by the Institute of Technology for Rural Development. only one central host at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok is established and all users must make a long distance call through the special telephone numbers provided by the project. road network map.

however. The main problem was that the local organizations were not actively participated especially in further dissemination of the information to the farmers which is the ultimate target groups of this project. and internet will be investigated for using as a mean for tranfering of technology and relevant information to farmers. Farmers are also able to exchange their views and experiences through this system. The establishment of local hosts will cut the long distance telephone cost and allow the number of users to conveniently expand. In this connection. It is expected that the use of IT for this purpose in the long run will save the government budget and personel. This is because they do not yet convince about the benefit of having the BBS. The project also support the cost of long distance call with the maximum time limit to 10 minutes per call. this project could not started due to the present economic crisis in the country.Pongsrihadulchai have their own computer and telephone line. After implementation for about a year it was found that there were still many obstacles and difficulties remained to be solved. The next phase will be the installations of provincial hosts and the improvement of information dissemination system. direct to home satellite.21 - . that after termination of the pilot project all of the communication cost and facilities will be the responsibility of the local organizations. . More importantly. The agricultural experts in Bangkok who help supporting information can use local call to the central host with separate lines or via internet. Future Plan The development strategy as stated in the 8 th National and Social Development Plan (1997-2001) is to use people as focal point of development. The project provides only the modem and the required client software. It is planned. The available information technologies such as teleconference. technical training for the users and solving any problem during operation. there will be no information gap between the original sources and the end users of the information as compared with the conventional procedure which the information were conveyed to farmers in many steps via goverment officials at various levels of administration. the MOAC has proposed “The Strengthening Capability in Management of the Farmers Project” to be implemented during this plan. In order to implement this project effectively and efficiently. 4. A local villager in each experimental area is recruited to work as an informant for conveying messages from local office (cooperatives or TAO) which obtained information from Bangkok to farmers in his village and also conveys the messages from farmers back to the local office for further transmission to Bangkok via BBS for corresponding. Unfortunately. the feasibility study for finding the appropriate curriculums and approach is needed. All technical issues are also supported including on site hardware and software installation.