Here was the plan: the government of Thailand would buy rice at a higher-than-market rate — say, 40 to 50 percent — then store it, wait for the global adjustment in demand (because of how much rice Thailand exports), and then, when the other countries who need the rice come to them begging … they swing open the rice storage silos and gauge ’em on price. Yep, that was the plan. It’s not working and may, in fact, be eating up eight percent of the entire national budget. Broken rice is being smuggled in. The program was sold as ‘cost-neutral’ but $4.4 billion has been lost. The whole idea was to create favor with rural farmers, but that isn’t working either. The whole scheme could actually drive down world prices. The rice mountain is, literally and figuratively, casting a shadow over world markets.
Protests are now raging, and the IMF has called on Thailand to end the subsidies. As the Thai government stockpiled rice, India and Vietnam surpassed it as the world’s leading rice exporters. The hope now is that the subsidies can be replaced with programs aimed at helping lower-income rural farmers.
For more context on the importance of rice to the global economy and the feeding of the world — it accounts for some of the primary feeding of 3.5 billion people, i.e. half the global population — read this article.
It’s unclear who is really benefiting in the grand scheme of this whole idea; the U.S. is even pushing back on it now. Hopefully it’s time to walk it back, or at least consider new approaches, because the current plan is clearly not working — and endangering one of the most beautiful areas of the world, and most important food staples of the world, all at once. And remember, as we’ve seen in the U.S. too… subsidies are all schemes.