Thai farmers are turning to Vietnamese rice varieties because they are easier to cultivate and have a similar taste to Thai rice, which is popular with consumers. However, this trend is causing concerns among Thai authorities, who worry about the reputation of Thailand's branded rice.
Charoen Laothamatas, chairman of the Thai Rice Exporters Association (TREA), has said that "more than 1 million rai (more than 160,000 hectares) in central Thailand have become home to Vietnamese rice varieties. No one can distinguish between genuine Thai rice and Vietnamese rice."
TREA conducts annual surveys with local farmers, millers, and traders to monitor rice production. The cultivation of Vietnamese rice varieties on Thai soil raises questions about the strategy of branding Thai rice for export, which has been advertised as genuine and high quality.
Thailand has a strict Plant Variety Protection Act that prohibits the import of major commodities into the kingdom, making the cultivation of Vietnamese rice varieties on Thai soil illegal. However, farmers are ignoring these legal restrictions, as it is impossible to distinguish between the two varieties without a DNA test.
Thailand was the world leader in rice exports for more than three decades, from the late 1970s to 2010. However, since 2011, India and Vietnam have overtaken Thailand in rice exports. (Source: The Economy and Forecast Review)
The Vietnamese rice variety that is being grown in Thailand is called Jasmine 85, which can be harvested just 90 days after planting. This short cultivation period allows Thai farmers to grow multiple crops a year, particularly in central Thailand where there is a good irrigation system.
In contrast, Thai rice varieties, such as the premium Hom Mali, are more difficult to grow and take longer to cultivate. Hom Mali is more fragrant but takes up to 120 days to grow and can only be grown in some northeastern highland areas once a year, depending on rainfall.
It is unclear when the Vietnamese rice variety was introduced into central Thailand, but Charoen Laothamatas estimates that over the past few years, more than 160,000 hectares of land have been converted to Vietnamese varieties. These varieties are smuggled into Thailand on large trucks due to the demand from Thai farmers for high-yielding, cheaper rice varieties.
India is currently the largest exporter of rice in the world, with an estimated export volume of 22 million tons in 2022. Thailand and Vietnam have been competing for second place, with Thailand exporting nearly 7-7.5 million tons per year. According to the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI), competition with Vietnam has become fierce due to Thailand's inability to supply the rice that the market wants at an appropriate price. The businessman of an international trading firm has warned that "it will be a big problem if Thailand cannot develop its own rice varieties to meet the different needs in the global market and let foreign varieties grow, causing difficulties for this country's rice exports."
Read more: Rice Industry Report