Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Information technology to cut use of imported chemicals on Thai maize farms

Thailand, 18 Mar 2002 -- Bangkok - In the first such use of information technology on the country’s farms, maize farmers in Thailand will be given computer aided advice to boost yields and reduce environmental pollution, under a new project initiated by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

At the request of the government of Thailand, the world food and agriculture body will assist the country in developing a hand held computer-based farm decision support system that will tell maize cultivators exactly how much fertiliser to use, optimum planting dates and the expected yield.

Another objective of the two-year project, initialled on 18 March by Dong Qingsong, FAO deputy regional representative for Asia and the Pacific and Sitdhi Boonyaratpalin, deputy permanent secretary of the Thai ministry of agriculture and cooperatives and secretary-general of the national FAO committee, is to save Thailand foreign exchange by helping cut down wasteful use of imported fertilisers on the country’s maize farms.

Cultivated on 1.2 million hectares, mainly in the central and northeastern Lopburi, Nakorn Sawan, Petchboon and Nakorn Ratchasima provinces, maize is an important food and livestock feed crop for the country. At present, fertiliser use on Thai maize farms is determined more by market availability than soil needs, resulting in unbalanced and excessive use of the chemicals. This damages the soil, affecting yield and increases the government’s import bill as most fertilisers are bought abroad.

“FAO supports Thailand’s efforts to use modern technology to increase production of this important crop, which will enhance food security and livestock production, while protecting the ecological balance and reducing environmental degradation,” said Mr Dong after the agreement signing ceremony.

Although maize farmers in the country can presently use a simple and inexpensive soil testing kit developed by Kasetsart University, they need more information on farm soil quality and assistance to analyse the data for optimum fertiliser use.

FAO will contribute US$206 000 for the project that will be implemented by the department of agricultural extension of the ministry of agriculture in collaboration with the ministry’s department of land development, the soil science department of Kasetsart university, several local growers’ associations and fertiliser manufacturers. FAO will arrange one international expert in plant nutrient modelling and three national experts in soil fertility related matters to work on the project.

The project will train about 20 men and women extension workers in the use of hand-held computers loaded with a maize farm decision support programme developed after field surveys and soil tests at selected sites in each of the four maize growing provinces. The experience and expertise gained from the project will enable the country to develop similar farm decision support computer programmes for other crops.

Thailand is Southeast Asia’s second largest maize producer after Indonesia with an output of 4.6 million tonnes in 2001. According to latest government estimates, the country’s over 400 000 maize farms had an average yield of about 3 543 kg per hectare. Farms of between 1.5 to about 6.5 hectares make up more than half the country’s maize farms, which support 500 000 farmers.

RAP 02/06