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3 Vegetable production and potential

In Thailand, the demand for vegetables has been growing annually. Until recently, the government gave high priority to research and development of cereals and other staple food crops, vegetable crops remaining largely neglected. Though some attempts have been made to promote vegetables in home gardens and fences for self consumption, these are only short-term promotions.

3.1 Planted areas

Data on the production of main crops in Thailand (Table 10) show that areas allocated for root, tuber and pulse production are decreasing, while there is an increased production of vegetables with a corresponding increase in planted areas.

During the economic crisis, many urban people laid off from their jobs have returned to farming, mainly growing vegetables.

Vegetables are grown both in upland and irrigated land. For the upland crops. Thailand's variable rainfall (and consequent risk) has discouraged farmers from using higher levels of technology, such as the increased use of fertilizer. However, due to an increase in the domestic demand for the produce and competition for land resources, farmers are being obliged to improve yields through the use of more efficient technology, such as better agronomic techniques, improved seeds and other planting materials.

3.2 Production and productivity

The long-term trend in the acreage of vegetables seems to fluctuate with a slight increase over 1976–98 (Table 11).

Table 10. Main crop area, production and yields, 1987–1997

CropYearPercent change
Cereal Crops
Area (1 000 ha)10 67310 51510 44611 69411 505-0.1
Yield (kg/ha)2 0062 4102 5272 2932 2681.5
Production (1 000 t)21 41425 33926 39826 80826 0971.3
Roots and Tubers
Area (1 000 ha)1 3931 4031 2811 2851 220-2.1
Yield (kg/ha)14 20513 10313 73714 24014 931-0.2
Production (1 000 t)19 78418 37717 59218 29218 210-2.3
Area (1 000 ha)593450448458452-4.0
Yield (kg/ha)721847803737753-0.1
Production (1 000 t)427381359338341-3.8
Area (1 000 ha)NANANANA3 359NA
Yield (kg/ha)NANANANA2 125NA
Production (1 000 t)5 6937 3437 1337 2317 1392.4
Area (1 000 ha)1873733535154793.3
Yield (kg/ha)9 4648 63810 9979 31810 7070.4
Production (1 000 t)1 7703 2223 8824 7995 1292.1

Source: FAO, 1998.

* DOAE calculated statistics

Mean yields presented give an indication of the current yields achieved by farmers under organized production systems using an above average level of technology. Although these figures for 1998 give an idea of the current productivity levels, there is much room for improvement. Using hybrid seed, it should be possible to double the current yields.

Annual production increases have been as low as 2.1 percent, which is not high enough to keep pace with the rate of population growth of 1 percent. Much of this increase has come from expansion of production into new areas in the cooler regions of the North, Northeast and some arid regions. Despite the attempts to increase current yield levels, the situation has remained somewhat static. Although overall yields have shown a steady increase, the magnitude of increase in productivity is insufficient to create a significant impact on the food situation in the country. The vegetable processing sector has shown better performance, which may be due to more organized large-scale culture, using more advanced methods of production, post-harvest handling and processing.

Table 11. Cultivated area and production of vegetable crops (1976–1998)

YearArea (1 000 rai)Production (1 000 tons)
1976–807 3871 477.47 9051 581.1
1981–859 8201 964.010 3712 074.2
1986–907 4921 494.410 8782 175.6
1991–9510 2162 043.216 1153 223.2
1996–989 2833 094.315 3025 100.7

Source: Centre for Agricultural Information, 1996.

3.3 Availability

In spite of the impression that Thai cuisine is based on vegetables, Thailand has a yearly per capita consumption of fresh vegetables that is considerably below the minimum per capita requirement of 73 kg/cap/yr. In 1992, Thailand's vegetable availability was only 44.5 kg/cap/yr. (Devarrewaerre, 1995). In November 1994, FAO organized an Expert Consultation Meeting on the Regional Network on Vegetable Crops. The Meeting drafted a list of recommendations for improving vegetable production in the region and enhancing cooperation on research. Greater advocacy for promoting a balanced diet has resulted in an increased demand for fresh vegetables. Policy makers have realized the need for giving priority to vegetable production. In 1998, the per capita availability of vegetables increased to 88.36 kg/cap/yr. based on the overall supply of vegetables and the availability for fresh consumption averaged at 60.25 kg/cap/yr. (Table 12).

3.4 Regional variability

Vegetables sold in fresh markets contribute mainly to household food security. In view of the recommended per capita availability of vegetables, only the Northern and Western regions of the country are adequately supplied (average per capita availability of 123 and 192 kg/cap/yr. respectively. The production of vegetables also varies considerably within regions (Table 12).

Table 12. Regional production and per capita supply of vegetables, 1998

RegionOverall production (tons)Overall vegetable production per capita (kg)Fresh market production (tons)Fresh market vegetable production per capita (kg)
Central325 53326.99262 89221.80
North2 130 940176.261 491 446123.36
East331 19381.57270 53966.64
Northeast1 232 25158.40805 72538.19
West1 085 928304.50684 060192.15
South268 44633.76149 44318.80
Total5 374 291 3 664 105 
Average 88.36 60.25

Source : Centre for Agricultural Information, 1996.

The Central plain is the most fertile rice growing area with a hot and humid climate. The seasonal floods irrigate the rice crops and bring sediment to enrich the soil and to create conditions for an abundance of food. When flooding is over, the plain becomes rich in fresh vegetables, shrimps and fish. Due to a changing pattern of agricultural land use to non-agricultural land, regional supply is very low with yearly per capita availability of 21.80 kg. The most common vegetables are kangkong, Chinese chive, Chinese kale, pak choi and mini cucumber. People living along side water ways have easy access to vegetables because of the practice of picking green swamp vegetables like kangkong, water mimosa, water lily and sesbania (sano) shoots and flowers in addition to availability from markets. Availability can be further improved through:

The Eastern coastal climate is known for tropical fruit growing. The regional supply of vegetables for the fresh market is relatively low (66.64 kg/cap/yr.). The crops include cucumber, yardlong bean, Chinese kale and pak choi. Future development of the per capita availability should focus on:

The Northeast region has the biggest area and population, but a moderately low supply of vegetables. The Northeast plateau drains with a number of smaller rivers into the Maekhong River on the Laos border. The area has features of a typical rainfed agriculture with inadequate water during the hot and dry seasons. Vegetables are grown as crops after rice, with limited use of modern technology. Important vegetables for fresh markets include chili, multiple onion, shallot and long cucumber. The average availability is 38.19 kg/cap/yr. Accessibility of vegetables in low income groups is limited to gardening and gathering indigenous vegetables in birchwood and forests. The local availability can be improved by:

The long narrow Southern region mainly consists of orchards and rubber plantations, and the area for vegetable production is limited. The climate is tropical and sometimes hit by typhoons and tropical depressions. There are small rivers, which drain from the western mountains into the Andaman Sea. In spite of the limited area for vegetable cultivation, vegetables such as watermelon and sweet corn are produced in large quantities. Cucumber, pumpkin, yardlong bean and pak choi are the most commonly available vegetables in the fresh markets. The per capita availability of fresh vegetables is the lowest (18.80 kg) in this region. In general, Southern food is spicy and is eaten with fresh vegetables. A number of under-utilized vegetables such as species under genus Parkia also play an important role, particularly in the islands isolated from the mainland where distribution of vegetables is difficult. The per capita availability can be improved through:

The Northern region has fertile soil of plain areas in the basin of the Ping, Wang, Yom and Nan Rivers which are tributaries to the Chao Phraya River. Water supply for agricultural land is adequate, and the weather is cooler as compared to the Northeast. The climate is suited for both lowland and highland vegetable farming, and the region reflects a high per capita availability of vegetables (123.36 kg/cap/yr). Vegetable consumption may be limited in areas where seasonal transportation is inconvenient (as in hill tribe villages), or when inadequate and uncertain incomes make it difficult for people to purchase vegetables from the market.

The Western region consists of an alluvial basin of the Mae Klong and Tha Chin Rivers, which drain into the Gulf of Thailand. The landform in general, is an alluvial plain of moderate slopes from the western mountains to alluvial flat along the Mae Klong River on one side and gradual sloped plain from the North to the South. There are many vegetable farms in Suphan buri, Kanchanaburi, Ratchburi, Nakhon Pathom and Samut Sakhon provinces that produce the over supply of 192.15 kg/cap/yr. However, the urban growth is now threatening the agricultural environment. Production sustainability can be achieved by:

3.5 The royal project on crop substitution

Northern Thailand, encompassing the provinces of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Lamphun and Mae Hong Son, represents one of the most important regions of the country from the socio-economic, agro-ecological as well as political point of view. These four provinces account for about one quarter of the country's forest area and the majority of hilltribes - Hmong. Yao, Muser, Karen, Akha, Lisu and Chinese Haw live in the region. The population of the hilltribes has been growing rather fast, and has caused expansion of slash and burn agriculture in the region.

Part of the northern provinces lie within the infamous “Golden Triangle” region, where more than half of the heroin consumed over the world was being produced. Thailand has had a very difficult time in dealing with this national and international problem. His Majesty the King was the first to provide comprehensive plans, and initiated projects to tackle the problem. The strategy has been based on gradually replacing opium production by growing other cash crops.

During 1987, it was reported that there were about 260 villages in the North growing opium poppy over an area of about 6 000 ha (FAO, 1987). To combat the problem of eradication of poppy growing, His Majesty has had six main research stations, 21 project development centres and 24 crop replacement promotion centres. Furthermore, over 30 farming promotion centres, each responsible for the crop replacement in 5–10 villages are being set up. More than 300 researchers, extension workers and key farmers are regularly involved in this project.

Besides introduction and intensification of highland staple food crops, such as rice, wheat and maize, a large number of fruit, vegetable, medicinal, flower and ornamental crops have been screened for their suitability in the highlands, as well as for returns from these crops as compared with those from opium poppy. The temperate climate fruits produced are Chinese peach, Chinese pear, persimmon, plum, grape, Chinese apricot, strawberry, passion fruit and fig. Those species being researched are kiwi fruit, “soft kernel” pomegranate, raspberry and blueberry. The flowers produced include gladiolus, gerbera, statis, rose, gypsophilla, carnation, alstromeria, African violet, lily, chrysanthemum and freesia. There are over 50 kinds of vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, leek, celery, zucchini, turnip, Japanese cucumber, parsley, Chinese cabbage, (Hong Tae), cross lettuce, white bitter cucumber, potato, radish, fennel and endive. Exotic crop species are currently being introduced for field experimentation and adaptation. Propagating materials have been received from the governments of Australia, France, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Japan, Lebanon, New Zealand, United Kingdom and Germany.

During a recent visit to some of the Royal project sites in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai area, the successful replacement of opium with fruits, vegetables and flowers was evident. The main contributing factors toward the successful substitution of opium cultivation with the introduction of high value crops like fruits, vegetables and flowers, were the use of improved varieties, suitable cropping patterns, the provision of irrigation facilities, post-harvest and handling facilities with proper harvesting, packaging, grading and the development of infrastructure facilities with storage, transport and adequate access to markets. Fresh vegetables, strawberries and dried flowers are exported, fruits and vegetables are sold directly to leading hotels and supermarkets in Bangkok, and processed and canned produce is marketed under the brand name Doi Kham. Several farmers interviewed were satisfied with the income earned, which was either equal or sometimes higher than that earned through a single opium crop, because of multiple crops of vegetables, flowers and herbs annually.

The Royal project has received the active participation of various institutes and agencies in Thailand and abroad. Some of these include the University of Chiang Mai, Kasetsart University, Maejo University, Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, Department of Industrial Promotion, Ministry of Industry, Border Patrol Police, Government of Thailand, Thailand Institute of Scientific and Technological Research and the Agricultural Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Under His Majesty's inspiration and leadership, the Royal crop substitution project in Northern Thailand has been successful in imporving the lives of the rural poor, especially the hilltribes through appropriate income generation activities, which include the cultivation of vegetables.

3.6 Urban and peri-urban agriculture

The world's current population of 5.9 billion is split equally between urban and rural areas, with urban areas expected to surpass rural areas in population around the year 2005 (Dent and Nath, 1999). Regionally, there are significant differences in the degree of urbanization. Just over three quarters of the populations of North America, Latin America, and Europe live in urban areas, while only slightly more than one - third of the populations of Asia and Africa are urban. Expansion of cities is driven by economic growth and/or by migration from rural to urban and peri-urban areas as agricultural and rural employment opportunities decline or lag behind population growth.

“Urban” agriculture refers to small areas (e.g. vacant plots, gardens, balconies, and containers) within the city for growing crops and raising small livestock or milk cows for their own consumption or sale in neighbourhood markets. “Peri-urban” agriculture refers to farm units close to town, which operate semi or fully commercial farms to grow vegetables and other horticultural crops, raise chickens and other livestock, and produce milk and eggs.

Horticulture, mainly vegetable production, has expanded in and around cities in many developing countries as an informal activity practiced by poor and landless city dwellers. The broad diversity of horticultural crop species allows year round production, employment and income. Growers have realized that intensive horticulture can be practiced on small plots, making efficient use of limited water and land resources. Horticultural species, as opposed to other food crops, have a considerable yield potential and can provide upto 50 kg of fresh produce per sq. m per year depending upon the technology applied. Leafy vegetables provide a quick return to meet the families daily cash requirements for purchasing food. Leafy vegetables are particularly perishable and post-harvest losses can be reduced significantly when production is located close to consumers.

In Bangkok, His Majesty King Bhumibhol has allowed 22 rai of land at Sammakorn to be developed by the Department of Agriculture for the production of pesticide free vegetables and fruits. The King's aim is to show that empty land can be used by local people for producing hygienic vegetables and fruits. Pest control will be achieved by using bio-pesticides, while for improving soil quality (land-fill in this case) the DOA will use various types of organic material depending on the results of soil analysis. Mineral fertilizers will only be used in low amounts during the first stage until soil quality is good enough for crop production. The project is planned in two stages. The first stage, now underway, is to develop plots for cultivation and to set up infrastructure (irrigation trenches, roads, buildings and electricity). The second stage is to allow local people to farm the plots under the supervision of the DOA.

A second urban agriculture scheme under His Majesty The King's patronage is “Lemon Farm” run by Mongkhol Chaipattana Co. Ltd., which has developed a “chemical free vegetable farm” located on 6 rai of empty land-fill in the middle of Bangkok along the Ekamai-Ram Indra expressway. The farm consists of 220 raised beds (1.5 m × 2 m each). Soil improvement has been achieved by using molasses-based compost, rice husks, straw and waste neem, with natural compost and fermented, indigenous plant extracts being applied during the growth period. A variety of biopesticides are utilized and the plots are irrigated by a locally manufactured sprinkler system drawing water from Klong Phlaba. The farm products are delivered to Lemon Farm Shops within the city and since October 1998, vegetables have also been offered for sale at the farm itself with a “pick your own” system in operation since January this year. The main objective of the initiative is to set up a tangible example of urban consumer communities in support of rural communities, following the self-sufficiency concept of His Majesty The King to revive the Thai society and economy.

3.7 Organic farming and hygienic vegetable production

The problem of harmful chemical residues in vegetables has been highlighted in this document. Most vegetable farmers are either ignorant or do not heed extension advice on the use of harmful pesticides. The result is overuse of these chemicals, which end up as part of the food chain. His Majesty the King has launched a programme to encourage vegetable growers to produce vegetables without the use of any chemical input. There are several projects which are now being initiated by the Ministry of Agriculture and some private organizations to produce and market chemical-free vegetables. The DOA is also offering assistance to farmers by providing insect-proof net-houses to grow vegetables without spraying. There is some promise in this venture, but the practicability of spreading this concept countrywide is somewhat questionable as it could only be practiced on a very small scale. The use of IPM and bio-pesticides has much wider scope. Another novel approach that the DOA is planning involves the development of indigenous vegetables that already have built-in resistance to most pests and diseases, as opposed to imported varieties of commercial vegetables that seed companies supply. Most of these varieties that are completely alien to Thailand do not have genetic material from indigenous sources of resistant germplasm. Consequently, when they are grown in the country they cannot be successfully produced unless large quantities of agro-chemicals are used. The use of the local gene pool in future breeding programmes of the private and public sectors is therefore worth exploring.

Figure 2.

Figure 2. Kangkong : supermarket packed, in foam tray

Figure 3.

Figure 3. Community market

Figure 4.

Figure 4. Street vegetable vendor

Figure 5.

Figure 5. Car vegetable vendor

3.8 Marketing

Although there is much concern about the efficacy of the current marketing system, the situation does not appear to be a serious problem. In most places, an army of middlemen operate and assist the movement of produce from regions with well organized transport to local and urban wholesale markets. The middlemen serve as suppliers of credit, in addition to their role as buyers. They ensure the smooth flow of produce to the larger markets. Organized groups of growers formed with the assistance of the DOAE also have their own markets from which most of the produce reaches the central market near Bangkok and the market in the South. From these points, vegetables are distributed all over the country. Exports to Singapore and Malaysia are done from the Southern wholesale market. For certain commodities that are subject to processing, the marketing channels are slightly different. For the marketing of contract grown commodities such as asparagus, okra, extra-fine beans and baby corn, companies from importing countries carry out their own system of marketing. Wholesale markets in the Central region are in Pathumthani (Simoom Muang, Talaad Thai), in the North in Chiang Mai and Phitsanuloke, the Northeast in Udonthani and Nakhonratchasima, the West in Nakhonpathom and Angthong and Nakhonsithamarat in the South.

The marketing of perishable commodities is one of the most challenging enterprises. The system of marketing could be improved further by the introduction of more modern post-harvest technologies in handling operations. The problem is aggravated during periods of oversupply. The only alternative is to develop infrastructure facilities, such as irrigation in the main production areas as well as off-season production technologies in order to spread production throughout the year and develop the processing sector further, to siphon off surpluses when they occur.

3.9 Export and Import

Vegetable exports are mainly in dried and processed forms. Thailand's vegetable export was only 5.8 percent of the total vegetable production in 1997 (Table 13). There is great potential and scope for export of processed vegetable products and selected fresh vegetables in the regional markets. In addition, there is a good opportunity for exporting good quality seed to markets globally.

Imports of vegetables are mostly in the form of vegetable seeds, other planting materials, and sometimes dry chili for making various processed foods. Dried mushrooms and dried lily flower are also imported in small quantities.

Table 13. Situation of vegetable production and export, 1994–98

(in 1000 tons)

YearVegetable Production (VP)Vegetable Exports (VE)Percent of VE to VP
19943 222302.99.40
19953 882312.98.06
19964 799311.46.49
19975 129301.05.88
19985 374NANA

Source : Centre for Agricultural Information, 1996;1998.

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