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4 Research and development

4.1 Research

A number of institutions are involved with the improvement of vegetable crops. Among these are the Institute of Horticulture, Department of Agriculture, Kasetsart University, Chiang Mai University, Khon Kaen University, Prince of Songkhla University, Ramkhamhaeng University and several private seed companies who have contributed to the development of technologies. These institutions have been responsible for the development of many cultivars, mainly for high productivity and tolerance to diseases, since instability of production is brought about by damage from pests, diseases and sometimes poor adaptability to local weather conditions.

4.1.1 Current research strategies

While vegetable research is being carried out by the institutions mentioned above, Agricultural Colleges and regional institutes also handle small-scale programmes. The main research work covers varietal improvement, production management, pest and disease control, post harvest technology development and biotechnology.

Cooperative research among the national institutions is organized under the auspices of the Sub-Committee on Vegetable Research and Development Coordination (SVRDC). This subcommittee consists of representatives from the universities and many departments of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives. The National Research Council serves as the coordinating agency. Research on vegetables under the SVRDC is divided into four working groups comprising of tomato, legume vegetables, crucifers and the corn industry development programme. The Department of Agriculture concentrates its research efforts on crops such as asparagus, crucifers, bitter gourd, cucumber, pumpkin, garlic, ginger, indigenous vegetables, mushroom, onion, potato, shallot, sugar pea, sweet potato, tomato, kangkong and yardlong bean.

The DOA and DOAE jointly implemented a pilot project for commercial production of vegetable seed to help minimize the import of seeds of major vegetables. During 1997, Thailand imported 395 million baht worth of seed, and the pilot project was launched to explore the possibility of substituting exports. The private seed sector has been actively involved in this area of activity and helped the country to earn 781.5 million baht through seed exports.

4.1.2 Research priorities

The current research on vegetable crops focusses on the following areas: Varietal improvement

The institutions and the vegetable species on which work on varietal improvement was carried out are as follows :

InstitutionVegetable species
Horticulture Research Institute, Department of AgricultureLeaf mustard, non heading Chinese cabbage, Chinese Kale, Chinese radish, chili, sugar pea, asparagus bean, shallot, tomato, potato, sweet potato, water convulvulus and okra
Kasetsart UniversityChinese radish, asparagus bean, tomato, Chinese cabbage, okra and tomato
Khon Kaen UniversityTomato, chili, musk melon and leaf mustard
Chiang Mai UniversityHeat tolerant tomato and Chinese cabbage
Private Seed CompaniesOP and hybrid cultivars of hot pepper, tomato, eggplant, cucumber, bitter gourd, luffa, watermelon, melon, pumpkin, squash, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, pak choi, broccoli, Chinese kale, radish, leaf mustard, carrot, yardlong bean, okra, lettuce, sweet corn, asparagus, spinach, bush bean, sugar pea, bottle gourd, sweet basil, hoary basil, holy basil, kohlrabi, leek, Chinese celery, corriander and water convulvulus

The Horticultural Research Institute has released new OP cultivars of okra, cucumber, yardlong bean, garden pea, kangkong, taro, chili, eggplant, tomato, sweet potato and potato over the last 19 years. The private sector has concentrated more on the development of hybrids for all vegetables listed above. Its role in the development of the vegetable sector in the country is most commendable as more than 50 seed companies are actively involved in producing better cultivars from which farmers in Thailand have benefited immensely. Crop management research

The Horticultural Research Institute has conducted several agronomic investigations to optimize vegetable yields, improve quality and minimize production costs of the major vegetables grown in the country. The Institute operates a national programme through a network of research stations, which conduct multi-location testing of various technologies, assist the vegetable sector in selecting the correct cultivar and the most appropriate technology package for each region. Some of the notable contributions are growing shallot from botanical seeds, seed production technology for water convulvulus and potato, protected culture methods to minimize pesticide use, development of small-farm machinery such as potato harvester and ginger cleaning machinery, and IPM technology for asparagus, onion, tomato, chilies, yardlong bean and cabbage by using biocontrol organic compounds, micro-organisms, predatory insects etc. as substitutes for harmful insecticides. Other areas of research that have been carried out are on water management, soil fertility management, crop density studies and related cultural practices in each agro-climaticologocal region. Other activities include post harvest technology to minimize losses in the domestic sector as well as quality control in the export and processing sectors.

4.2 Production development possibilities

Presently the annual increase in vegetable production is about 2.1 percent, which is not enough to keep up with a population growth of 1 percent. The increase comes mainly from new areas of production through expansion into the North and Northeast, with cooler and arid conditions. Possible increase in yield per unit area could be achieved through improved cultural practices and appropriate use of critical inputs. Farmers should be encouraged to make the maximum use of arable land by intensive practices in which two or more crops are grown on the same land in a year. This can be accomplished by (a) sequential cropping, e.g. in ditch-and dyke system; (b) ratoon cropping, e.g. in okra production: (c) intercropping, for example yardlong bean and cucumber, chili and garlic, bitter gourd and Chinese celery; or (d) relay intercropping, for example yardlong bean after sweet corn. Better water management through appropriate irrigation systems can also improve the yield per unit area.

The use of hybrid seed in some vegetable crops also contributes greatly to increased yields, reduced use of pesticides and standardized products with improved keeping qualities (Nath, Velayudhan and Singh, 1994). Thai farmers now have exposure to hybrid and high quality seed. Recently the use of hybrids in Thailand has seen a breakthrough with hybrid seed being used for many tropical crops such as tomato, cucumber, watermelon and pumpkin. Further research on F1 hybrid cultivars would also increase the use of hybrid seed in Thailand.

In Thailand, the operations of domestic commodity trade, wholesale, export and retailing have been regulated by the MOAC. More market channels particularly in remote areas would encourage vegetable production.

4.3 Role of the government sector in vegetable research and development

The state organizations responsible for the development of the vegetable sector are mainly concerned with the development of technologies and transfer of the information to the production sector. As in all developing countries of the region, Thailand has invested heavily in the staple food sector and until recently, the vegetable sector had not been given much priority. This has resulted in lower outputs from national programmes. The extension services are extremely strong in the cereal and food crop sectors, and somewhat weak in activities related to vegetables. The field programme is currently handled, along with other crops, by personnel with no special training in vegetable crops. Most of the field staff are general purpose extension officers. Two subject matter specialists in each province have to handle all vegetable crops, whilst the districts have a lesser qualified specialist responsible for all production activities on these crops as well as others.

The country considers technology transfer as one of the critical areas for intervention to help farmers to increase their productivity and income. Realizing its importance, a separate Department of Agricultural Extension (DOAE) was set up under the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, parallel to with the Department of Agriculture. Horticultural development is handled through three divisions, which overlook the activities of fruit production, vegetable production and floriculture. There are six subject matter specialists in the vegetable division at the headquarters in Bangkok, who handle the national program of training and technology transfer. In addition, each province has two subject matter specialists who are jointly responsible for the operation of the regional programmes. There is also one subject matter specialist in each district to coordinate the activities of field-level staff. These officers are also expected to handle other crops in addition to vegetables. The specialists at headquarters conduct regular in-service training programmes for the field staff. The provincial subject matter specialists possess a basic degree in addition to their training given by the DOAE. The district-level subject matter specialists are high school graduates with some training in agriculture.

The main functions of the DOAE involve the organizing farmers who are interested in growing vegetables into groups, training these groups, coordinating with the private sector marketing agents, negotiating for fair prices, zoning areas with high potential for certain crops, and coordinating with the Agricultural and Cooperative Bank for credit when required.

Technological recommendations resulting from on-farm trials are introduced to farmers through demonstrations at various levels, such as demonstration plots, verification trials and field days. These demonstrations are carried out for each vegetable in high potential areas. Extension advisory services are carried out not only for pre-harvest activities but also for post-harvest activities such as grading, packaging, transporting and marketing. The division assists farmers in the formation of producer groups to enable them to dispose off their produce at suitable prices. DOAE staff in all regions have carried out many multi-location trials. There are, however, serious gaps between potential yields and actual on-farm yields.

Tropical Vegetable Research Centre (TVRC) and Asian Regional Centre (ARC)

The Thailand Outreach Programme was established with the approval of the Royal Thai Cabinet in 1982, as a cooperative programme at Kasetsart University for the Thai government, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Centre (AVDRC).

In order to improve technology in vegetable production and to enhance collaboration in AVDRC activities, the Tropical Vegetable Research Centre (TVRC) was established under the Kasetsart University Research and Development Institute (KURDI) in 1988. It coordinates and collaborates closely with the Asian Regional Centre (ARC) which was established in 1992 in the Kamphangsaen campus at Kasetsart University, in order to provide facilities for international training on vegetable crops specific to the Asian region.

ARC forges linkages with other research institutes to further its research mandate. In Thailand, on-farm trials on tomato, vegetable, soyabean, pepper, Chinese cabbage, and the other principal crops are conducted year-round in coordination with the TVRC-KU. Likewise it has maintained its home garden programme seeking new and improved techniques to ensure that vegetables are nutritious and at the same time, profitable to grow. ARC with the help of AVRDC and other international research institutions has established its own germplasm collection. Now, it is one of the few centres with a rich source of vegetable germplasm in this region.

Apart from the five-month vegetable production and research course, ARC also coordinates and at times supports short term training courses in and out of Thailand. ARC's research findings, activities, and other relevant information are disseminated to its network, training alumni and other research institutions through publications, news releases and instructional materials. Through the years, ARC has focussed its attention on delivering improved varieties of its principal vegetables. To date, it has released in Thailand and other countries in Asia, a total of 14 legume varieties for large scale production.

In Thailand, the use of improved varieties increased up to three times the Thai national average yield for all crops; for tomato, the yield was ten times higher. The release of three tomato varieties developed at ARC enabled Thai farmers to produce the much preferred small, pink tomato, even during the hot monsoon season.

4.4 Role of the private sector in vegetable development

Since no improvement programmes have been initiated for many local vegetables such as kangkong, bitter gourd, taro, water spinach and yam bean, productivity in these crops has either declined or remained stagnant due to a lack of good varieties. In the case of cucumber and luffa, however, seed companies have supplied new varieties and production has improved.

The DOAE undertakes the multi-location testing of new vegetable varieties supplied by the universities, the Horticultural Research Institute and the private seed companies before these are released to farmers. The DOAE has excellent seed processing facilities, which are not being utilized at present. However, yield gaps are common between field trials and farmers' fields, probably due to deficiencies in the technology transfer programmes. Seed is the most important tool of the extension worker. The timely availability of seed to the farmer is vital to the success of an extension programme. Seed companies have been successful in supplying seed of many new varieties to the production sector, and have been instrumental in some varietal improvement programmes. There is a large number of vegetable seed importers and exporters. They are mainly responsible for the introduction, testing and distribution of a large number of open pollinated varieties and hybrids in the country.

During the last two decades or so, the Government of Thailand decided to liberalize the vegetable seed industry by inviting foreign investment. This has resulted in significant growth of the private seed industry, and at present, probably 80 percent of the improved seed is supplied by the private sector. Hybrid seed may be costly, but the production system today operates on unwritten agreements between middlemen and farmers. It is reported that the middlemen, who are aware of the way market forces operate, reach farmers in various regions and engage them as contract growers for crops that have immediate demand. Improved seeds, including hybrid seeds, are offered with the agreement to purchase all the produce at a pre-determined price. This agreement assures the farmer of a ready market for his/her produce. There is keen competition among the multinational and national seed companies that operate in the country to gain the confidence of the farmers to accept their new cultivars. The universities have also contributed to a small extent to the sector by joining hands with the private sector to support the industry, and have provided elite breeding material and trained agricultural graduates for the seed industry. The liberal policies of the government of Thailand have also boosted trade of seed to the neighbouring countries in the region.

In the informal non-organized seed sector, farmers produce seed of some indigenous vegetables, which is usually maintained and traded by farmers, and in some instances, purchased and distributed by seed merchants. However, the bulk of the vegetables seeds used in the country is imported. The government has certain restrictions on quotas in order to prevent over-supply, but there is no import duty on seed. About 75 percent of the annual needs is met by imports. In 1997, the country imported seed to the value of 395.1 million baht. Seed companies based here, also exported seed valued at 781.5 million baht.

As seen from the above, vegetable seed supply is monopolized by the private sector with over 50 companies and distributors. This also includes multi-national seed companies operating from this country, using it as a base for their regional operations. They have taken advantage of the low-cost labour for the production of hybrids, which are highly variant to satisfy local needs. However, it is possible to produce seed of some fruit vegetables only, as those crops that need low temperatures for successful bolting cannot be produced here. The government provides many incentives to the private sector to enable private companies to satisfy the needs of local farmers.

The hybrids that are produced by these companies are mainly for export and have been developed from imported parent genetic materials which are more adaptable to conditions in neighbouring countries. Most of the OP varieties are sold in Thailand. Local farmers depend heavily on imported hybrids that usually come from Taiwan and Japan. Seed production and post-harvest seed technology in the government sector is relatively under-developed, mainly because of the lack of sufficient local expertise, despite the fact that the DOAE has some of the best seed processing facilities in the region, but production capability needs improvement. Consequently, the government seed sector supplies only a negligible amount of seed to local farmers. The research institutions and universities conduct basic research in collaboration with seed companies to backstop the seed industry.

On the whole, the private seed industry which has received facilities from the government continues to expand, with some of the best multi-national companies competing with each other. This has benefited local farmers due to a large array of varieties being offered to them. The government policy of liberalizing the seed industry has paid large dividends, and at present, seed is not a constraint to the vegetable production development effort. The only concern is the plight of the low-income small farmers, who are compelled to use their own seed because they are unable to benefit from highly priced improved seed.

4.5 FAO's assistance

Vegetables have received the attention of FAO at global, regional and national levels through regular and field programmes. Considering the growing importance of vegetables in the Asia-Pacific region, FAORAP organized an Expert Consultation on Vegetable Crops in 1994; over 20 countries from the region, including Thailand, participated and concluded on the frontiers of hybrid technology in vegetable crops. On regional basis, Thailand has participated in the regional project on vegetables (UNDP/RAS/89/941), along with China, DPR Korea, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. Likewise, Thailand has benefited fully from the regional project (GCP/RAS/153 DEN) on the Establishment of a Seed Association for Public and Private Seed Enterprises in the Asia-Pacific region (APSA). During June 1999, FAO in collaboration with APSA and the Thai Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives organized a successful conference on seed policy issues covering the region. Thailand is also an active member of the on-going regional project on Integrated Pest Management in Vegetables (GCP/RAS/160/NET).

On the national level, the following FAO/UN projects supported the vegetable sector in Thailand:

1956/1957-Home Economics
1960-Nutrition Education Programme
1965-Nutrition Education and Training Programme
1975-Coordination of Plant Production Research
1984-Rehabilitation of Agriculture Sector with Provision of Vegetable Seeds (TCP/ THA/2313)
1984-Mushroom Cultivation (TCP/THA/4403)
1986-Vegetable Cash Crop Production for Opium Replacement in the Highlands of Northern Thailand (TCP/THAI/6653)
1987-Fruit and Vegetable Processing (TCP/THAI/6764)

Among the on-going projects, the TCP project (TCP/THAI/8821) is assisting mushroom training for disabled people, whereas, two TeleFood Projects (TFD-97/THAI/001 and TFD-97/THAI/002) are supporting farmers with vegetable seeds and seedlings, along with other related activities.

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