Country Profile: Thailand
by Mehmet Ugur Gürkaynak, Milling and Grain, Eurasia and Middle East Regional Director, Turkey
Located in the heart of Southeast Asia, Thailand is adjacent to Laos in the north and northeast, Myanmar in the north and west, Cambodia in the east and Malaysia in the south. Thailand has a surface area of 513.120 km².
The official name of the country is the Kingdom of Thailand, which is historically a Siam name. Interestingly, the country can be can be considered, geographically, as five unique regions. The northern region is home to many narrow valleys and forests, the central region is renowned for its green and fertile plain, the northeast region possesses a rugged and arid structure, the industrially important eastern region is home to many and the southern region is home to a very tropical climate. As a result of this, Thailand has all the characteristics and culture of a typical Asian country.
The country's climate is generally humid and hot throughout the year. Although it varies by region, the temperature is around 27 °C on average. The plains in the central region have a largely rainy environment. Summer monsoons, which often cause heavy rains between June and October, are frequently occuring. The months of March and May are hot, it is rainy between June and October and often cooler between November and February.
The capital of the country is Bangkok. Other major cities include Nakhon Ratchasima, Ubon Ratchathani, Chiang Mai, Udon Thani and Nakorn Srithammarat.
The traditional livelihood of the country is agriculture. However, since the 1980s, the export-oriented economy has gained weight and significant growth with the investments and supports made by the state for the textile and clothing sector, the computer technologies and the automotive industries since the 1990s. For this reason, the Thai economy has been one of the emerging economies of Southeast Asia in recent years that has seen a grear deal of growth and has become very effective in global markets.
Approximately half of the Thai economy is part of the industrial sector. Although the agricultural sector meets a small part of the country's economy, rougly 10 percent, it is the livelihood of almost half of its labour force.
Major export items from Thailand include machinery, electrical and electronic equipment, nuclear reactors, vehicles, rubber and mineral fuels. On the other hand, construction materials such as iron and steel products, motor vehicles, petroleum oils and gold are also the main goods it imports.
The agricultural sector has been losing its key place in Thailand's economy in recent years and its share in the economy has decreased significantly. Its share in GDP in recent years has been around 13 percent. While employment in the agricultural sector was 52 percent in 1995, this level has fallen below 40 percent in recent years.
The central plains is the area with the most efficient resources. Here, cotton, corn, cassava and pineapple are grown. Half of the cultivated area, which is 20 million hectares, consists of rice paddy.
In terms of productivity in general, the Thai agricultural sector is inefficient. As a solution to this, the Thai government promotes the use of technology in agriculture and cooperates with other countries to increase the export of products.
The main agricultural product present in the country is rice. It is grown in the central plains section by the rice irrigation method. However, rain water is sufficient in other regions.
Rice is the most important food product in Thailand. The total cultivation area of rice is 11 million ha and corresponds to approximately 40 percent of the total cultivated land.
Rice fields, irrigated and fed with rain, can be classified as plateau ecosystems. More than 80 percent of the rice growing area in Thailand are regions irrigated with monsoon rains, but where the product is harvested once a year. 20 percent of them are regions where crops are obtained more than once a year but irrigation is mandatory for this.
The main policy regarding rice production in Thailand is to produce enough rice for itself, then produce more, export and provide foreign currency input to the country.
May is generally the preferred month for rice planting to begin. Most Thai farmers must wait for seasonal rain for planting. Farmers are trying to solve this problem by digging canals in rice fields. They organise rituals in order to increase the fertility of the soil. Rocket festivals around Gecko Villa are examples of this.
The walls made of mud in the rice fields are designed to hold water in the paddy. From here, holes are drilled at some points in the mud walls to irrigate the lower levels of paddy, allowing the water to flow down from the high areas.
Rice, which can be harvested until the end of November, is collected by farmers.
The main export markets for canned corn are Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines and South Korea. Recently, the Middle East has taken its place among the new export market for canned corn in Thailand.
Domestic corn demand, which was approximately 5.72 million tonnes in 2015, increased to 5.85 million tonnes in 2016. The main reason is the development of the livestock industry and, therefore, the increase in demand for corn, which will be used in animal feed manufacturing. As is known, corn is the most important input for the poultry industry. Feed demand increased by five percent in 2016 due to the increase in poultry and pig production within the country.
Thailand is ranked 24th among the world's largest seed exporters. It is the third largest seed exporter in Asia after China and Japan. Among the seed varieties produced by Thailand, corn covers a large portion of total exports and imports in terms of value.
Approximately 35 percent of the seed export values are obtained from corn seed export. If sweet corn seed is added to this, total corn seed export reaches 42 percent.
Thailand imports corn seed in maize season due to insufficient production in the domestic market.
The Gulf of Thailand and Andaman Sea, which have abundant natural resources, make Thailand the largest seafood producer and exporters in the world. Shrimp in this region, which is famous for its high quality flavour, is the main economic seafood sourced in the country. The country has a beach for fsmring shrimp that is more than 2,500 kilometers long. In addition, there are 22 national marine parks, 936 islands and a total sea area of 316,118 square metres.
According to the information obtained in various studies, the total export value of Thailand's frozen, canned and processed seafood increased by 8.6 percent compared to the previous year, reaching US $4.54 billion, excluding shrimp. Major countries to which these products are exported include the USA, Japan, China, Australia and Saudi Arabia. Half of the canned tuna supply worldwide is made by Thailand.
The increase in the demand for seafood around the world has brought the attention here and private companies to invest in the Thai seafood industry. American food and agriculture company Cargill invested about $70 million into the implementation of technology and innovation to create an efficient and sustainable supply chain at the end of 2018.
However, many Thai private companies prefer to invest in neighboring countries instead of Thailand because they have lower labour costs.
On the other hand, it can be expected that Thailand will take advantage of the ongoing trade wars between the USA and China. Since the two countries add increased tariffs to each other's products, it is likely that Thailand will increase its share in seafood exports to China. Thailand normally crab and shrimp to China in vast abundance.