Since the 1980‘ Thailand had developed from an agriculture-based economy to an emerging market based on a strong growth of the industry and service sector. Non the less today still 33% of the working-age population is earning their living in the agriculture sector and the export of products of the agriculture and food industry contributes to around 14% of the export revenue of the country. However, the profit margins generated on approximately two-thirds of the agricultural land are insufficient due to low productivity and efficiency. As a result, the income of farmers households is lagging behind the income development in the other sectors and farmers are often highly indebted.
To increase the productivity of Thailand’s Agricultural Sector and the income of Thai Farmers the Thai Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives invented in its 20-year strategic development plan (2017–2036) a concept termed “Agriculture 4.0” providing Thai farmers with access to modern “Smart” technologies, know-how and finance. As part of the approach farmers are encouraged to establish “Clusterfarms”, a group of more than 30 farmers with the same main crop, to engage in joint management, investment, and marketing in order to enlarge the farm size and supply volume and modernize production methods, thus increasing productivity, reducing production costs, meeting quality standards and securing markets.
To further develop the Thai agricultural sector in a sustainable and market-oriented way the Thai Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives (MOAC) and the German Ministry of Food and Agriculture have embarked on a project which aims to foster the implementation of the Agriculture 4.0 concept. In September 2020, the “German-Thai Cooperation Project to Promote the Sustainable Development of Cluster Farms in Thailand” had started its operation. The project will run until End of August 2023.
Potential and Challenges
As per 08. October 2021 8,188 Clusterfarms with together 495,577 members and a production area of 6,499,392 rai are registered at the Department of Agricultural Extension. Together the members of an average Clusterfarm represent an agricultural production area and the respective production/ market potential of around 800 rai. To put this number in perspective, as per agricultural census from 2013 only 1,633 individual land holdings had been larger than 500 rai. This are 0.03% of all land holdings in Thailand. Thus, an average Clusterfarm in Thailand has a production potential on par with the top 0.03% largest land holdings in the country.
Clusterfarms have a huge potential but there are many challenges as well. On an average a Clusterfarm has 60 Members. In order to realize the full potential of each individual Clusterfarm the members have to coordinate and the different needs and interests of all the members have to be considered. Agriculture is complex because of so many factors involved which cannot be controlled by the farmer. Cooperation reduces complexity in some areas but increases it in others. Clusterfarms are a relative new approach. Some long-established concepts and answers may fit also for Clusterfarms. In some case new concepts and solutions had to be developed and tested.
To further develop the Thai agricultural sector in a sustainable and market-oriented way the Thai Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives (MOAC) and the German Ministry of Food and Agriculture have embarked on a joint project which aims to foster the implementation of the Agriculture 4.0 concept. In September 2020, the “German-Thai Cooperation Project to Promote the Sustainable Development of Cluster Farms in Thailand” had started its operation. The project will run until End of August 2023.
Cluster farms in selected districts have been strengthened with respect to high-performance, efficient, resource-efficient, and entrepreneurial agriculture.
1. Farmers in cluster farms apply modern management methods and sustainable agricultural practices.
2. State agencies at decentralized levels test extension methods and subject matter relating to sustainable agricultural practices and modern business administration and apply them in their extension approach for cluster farms development.
3. The capacities of the responsible state institutions and stakeholders to effectively steer the development of the agricultural extension system for cluster farms development have been strengthened by ongoing exchange among international experts.
The direct target group of the project includes
a) Farmers of the participating Cluster Farms who can improve their production methods and business administration methods through improved consulting and imparting of technical Know-How.
b) Experts and managerial staff of the Department of Agricultural Extension (DOAE) on both the central and decentralized levels, who receive applied knowledge in the efficiency agricultural production and management and business administration through coaching and training activities;
c)Experts and managerial staff of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives (MOAC), Thailand who receive knowledge about selected priority topics through various extension tools.
The indirect target group includes
a) Additional departments of the MOAC which are involved in improving extension services;
b) Farmers benefiting from the improved services offered by state institutions.
The Project develops, implements and tests a new concept for the further development of the agricultural extension service for Clusterfarms in cooperation with Pilot-Clusterfarms in different provinces. The result of the implementation will be monitored and evaluated, and the concept adopted depending on the results of the evaluation. At the end of the 1 phase the developed extension concept will be evaluated under the perspective of the possibility to establish it or parts of it as a nationwide concept for the extension service for Clusterfarms in Thailand.
8 Clusterfarms with 4 different Lead Crops in 8 Districts in 4 Provinces had been selected at Pilots for the Project.