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Unseen Crisis Brewing: Thailand’s Agriculture at the Brink! El Nino Triggers Massive Dry Spell – Can 16.5 Million Rai of Land Survive?

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In a recent announcement by the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, it’s projected that an astonishing 16.5 million rai of agricultural land spread across the country is at risk of experiencing the detrimental effects of reduced rainfall, a situation triggered by the El Nino weather phenomenon this year. Apai Sutthisang, the deputy permanent secretary of the ministry, expressed the escalating concern over the upcoming dry season, especially since the influenced by El Nino seem poised to escalate come November.

The Royal Irrigation Department is preparing for a significant dip in water supply by the end of the rainy season in November, with the country’s main 35 reservoirs estimated to hold about 22.8 billion cubic metres (m³) of water. This will denote a decrease of roughly 13 billion m³ compared to the supply of the previous year— a notable reduction brought about by the unparalleled effects of El Nino.

If the current weather patterns hold, forecasts for November project the total water volume contained within the nation’s four major dams— Bhumibol Dam in Tak, Sirikit Dam in Uttaradit, Kwai Noi Bamrung Daen Dam in Phitsanulok, and Pasak Jolasid Dam in Lop Buri—to drop to 6.8 billion m³. This translates to a significant depletion of 7.7 billion m³ compared to the same time last year. Overall, an alarming 16.5 million rai of farmable land is estimated to bear the adverse effects of El Nino, of which 7.3 million rai is encompassed within the Chao Phraya Basin’s 22 constituent provinces.

Considering the imminent dry season, officials have embarked on formulating various strategies to minimize the impact. Primarily, they intend to promote the cultivation of alternative crops that possess better resistance to dry conditions, like beans, instead of the traditional second rice crop, as suggested in a report by the Bangkok Post. Moreover, local governance plans on identifying novel water sources to supply the affected agricultural regions. In collaboration with the concerned agencies, the ministry will also work towards generating alternate job opportunities in locales where the planting of a second rice crop isn’t feasible, in an attempt to alleviate the impact of El Nino.

Apai Sutthisang elaborates the final strategy as being centered around water conservation in the succeeding rainy seasons. Meanwhile, the water levels at Lam Takhong Dam in Nakhon Ratchasima have plunged to a decade low, as the dam currenly holds an inadequate 133 million m³ of water—signifying just 42% of its total capacity. The dam’s water irrigation and maintenance department director, Yutthasart Teerawattana, stated that this drastic water shortage has affected a total of 277,000 rai across ten villages.

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