FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Thailand

CASE 22 -- Building digital villages by harnessing smart farming in Thailand: the cases of pilots in Nakhonsawan (maize), Suphanburi (rice) and Sukhothai (mango)

The Thai government is promoting smart farming technologies to increase farm productivity and respond effectively to climate change. It supports digital smart farm level piloting and launched a series of pilot farms across the country to demonstrate smart farming techniques, starting with key strategic crops: maize, rice, mangoes, mangosteen etc. Under this initiative, pilot farms demonstrate the proof-of-concept for digital smart farm techniques and send data back to university researchers for analysis and processing. This smart farming initiative is a collaboration between government departments and relevant universities. Pilot farms implement smart techniques for maize production in Nakhon Sawan Province, rice farms in Suphanburi  Province and mango farms in Sukhothai Province.

In 2019 the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives (MOAC), in close collaboration with the Digital Economy Promotion Agency (DEPA) and the National Innovation Agency (NIA), developed a smart farming technology exhibition project involving 150 farmers and approximately 100 ha of maize farms in Nakhonsawan Province. Since 2016 Ban Suan Taeng Rice Farming Group in Suphanburi Province has successfully implemented smart farming practices in their 165 ha of farms with the support of the Rice Department. From 2017, the Department of Agriculture Extension and Kasetsart University implemented similar practices in around 200 ha of farms in Sukhothai province with a total of 65 mango farmers.

  • These pilot farms exhibit several advanced digital technologies.
  • Weather forecasts: Farmers are provided with weather data from the past ten years and a weather forecast for the next 30 days. The earlier data allow farmers to anticipate future forecasts to avoid potential damage from abrupt weather events and decide on the best time to carry out field operations. These weather data are shared with farmers through mobile devices, giving them access to real time weather information.
  • Sensors to farm analysis: On the maize farm in Nakhonsawan, the CropSpec machine analyses the nutritional needs of each plant, collecting soil samples to map the nutrient status of the soil. Based on the fertility analysis data farmers can decide on the correct amount of fertilizer to apply for maximum efficiency. This technology limits excessive fertilizer use, lowers production costs and reduces soil erosion by keeping the soil moisturized.
  • Similarly, on the rice farm in Suphanburi, sensor-attached drones analyse the need for nitrogen and other nutrients in the soil based on the colour of plant leaves. Using high definition images they can estimate the level of production before harvesting. Insect trap cameras and smart water level pipes collect relevant farming data delivered to farmers via mobile phone apps.
  • Automatization: The pilot farms demonstrate the practice of the anti-pest spraying drones or UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles). Using the UAV to spray liquid supplements reduces labour costs. For example, a worker takes one hour to spray one rai (0.16 ha), while a drone takes only three minutes. It also cuts water usage by 95 percent. The GPS (global positioning satellite) and automated steering wheel helps farmers level the plot quickly and plant seeds more precisely. Choak Anan Mango Nam Khum Collaborative Farm in Sukhothai Province could afford fruit sorting machines to sort produce by maturity and size and is employing a fruit processing facility post-harvest.
  • Use of quality seeds: The pilot farm in Nakhonsawan uses quality seeds suitable for local soil and weather conditions. The kneading process eliminates worms, especially polka dot corn worms and also increases the germination rate.

At the same time, the rice farmers’ group in Suphanburi can apply GAP (good agricultural practices) and certified seeds, seeking technical support from Kasetsart University and the Rice Department. In this way farmers can generate higher revenues up to an additional
1 000 baht per tonne. Mr Kiatsomporn, the leader of the rice farming group said: “Farmers can benefit by adopting high quality rice seeds as its unit prices are higher than traditional ones. If farmers are equipped with knowledge on good rice seeds and technology, they can reduce production costs.”

Since the implementation of these innovative technologies in farming, crop productivity improved substantially. For the pilot farmers, crop yield increases reached 69 percent for maize in Nakhonsawan, 27 percent for rice yields in Suphanburi and 23 percent for mango farms in Sukhothai, while cutting the use of fertilizers and pesticides by 30-50 percent. The Sukhothai mango farmers’ group was able to diversify their selling channels with its GAP certificate. Now their mangoes are exported as well as sold domestically through e-commerce platforms. Another improvement is that Thai farmers can reduce not only the use of seeds from 30 kg in traditional paddy-sown rice farming to only 8 kg but also investment costs by 500 baht per rai plot of land. 

“Farmers can benefit by adopting high-quality rice seeds as unit prices are higher than traditional ones. If farmers are equipped with knowledge on good rice seeds and technology, they can reduce production costs.” - leader of the rice farming group in Suphanburi Province.”

These are examples of public-private partnerships whereby different government agencies and private sector partners successfully collaborate. For example, the MOAC, DEPA and the NIA cooperated closely to initiate the maize pilot project in Nakhonsawan. While the MOAC has expertise in identifying the strengths and weaknesses of maize farming, the DEPA and the NIA led the way in designing and deploying digital technologies and related policies. Both the rice smart farming project in Suphanburi and the mango project in Sukhothai began at grassroots level but also received financial and technical support from the Rice Department and Kasetsart University. These projects engage a range of private partners in procuring farming machinery and distributing products, especially via online marketing channels.

These digital technologies and their applications on pilot farms are still being tested and validated with the farmers needing a full assessment of their effectiveness. The government will continue to invest resources in expanding digital farming in these and other pilot programmes. Specifically, the MOAC plans to create an Internet of Things platform to analyze data collected from sensors in maize fields to alert farmers to information so they can manage farming events efficiently. It will also establish an operation centre to deliver accurate information to farmers to assist them make timely and correct farming decisions through various apps. Finally, the active participation of farmers in adopting these state of the art technologies, as well as their financial capacity, will be key factors in determining the success of the project.