Farmers’ outrage at delayed government pledge scheme payments and their protests .Farmers from Pichit, Phitsanulok, Sukhothai, Kampangpetch, and Nakhon Sawan Block Highway 117
Farmers blocked Highway 117 in front of the Wachirabaramee district office yesterday to demand immediate payment for the rice they sold to the government under the rice-pledging scheme.
Kittisak Ratanawaraha, president of the Lower Northern Region Farmers Association, said farmers agreed to disperse when a caretaker minister said 70 billion baht fund has been approved and another 40 billion baht was being sought from the Election Commission for approval.
The minister said a total of 110 billion baht would be paid to them by January 15 through the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives, the farmer leader said.
He said with such a promise, farmers were happy though not confident of his words.
Farmers remained uncertain how and where the government would be able to get the money but at least farmers would have to trust the promise, he said.
“We will wait until January 15 before going to ask the bank if the money has been transferred to pay farmers. It’s alright if we will get the money a bit late but will not tolerate again with another lie,” he said.
If the government fails to keep up with the promise, then the protest will be stepped up, he said.
He made clear that the government not only has to pay for the rice farmers sold to it, but also to absorb the 7% interest which farmers have to seek from the bank to spend first after over five-month of late payment.
He said the bank has eased the plight of farmers by allowing them to seek loan of 20% from the face value of rice vouchers issued as an official certification that they had sold rice to the government.
It was like borrowing farmers’ money from the bank but has to pay interest for their money which is unfair, he said.
The certificate shows both the price and the amount of rice farmers sold under the pledging scheme. It is the document issued by the Public Warehouse Organization and the Marketing Organization for Farmers for rice sold by farmers to government. Farmers will use the vouchers to claim money from the bank.
All vehicles on both inbound and outbound traffic from Bangkok to the north and vice versa were advised to avoid the blockade and use the rural road instead.
Farmers gathered in front of the Wachirabaramee district office which is located on Highway 117 from Phitsanulok to Nakhon Sawan.
Their representative Kittisak Ratanawaraha, also president of the Northern Farmers Association, submitted a three-point demand to the district officials to pass onto the government.
The first demand called on the government to pay all rice farmers who have already received rice vouchers from the Bank of Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC) by January 15.
Secondly, the government must absorb the bank interest which was charged from loans they sought from the BAAC. The loan was provided at 20% of the voucher value.
The third demand is to put off payment of loans to the BAAC and with free interest for a year.
The farmer leader said that if the government could not pay for the rice within the deadline, farmers would step their protest to oust the government.