LAST WEEKEND, I met 66-year-old Son Sukcharoen. He was busy covering his newly harvested rice with plastic as his village of Khao Poon in Ratchaburi's Photharam was being hit by unseasonal rain.
This was the fourth time Son had tried drying his rice in the sun, and if his crop ended up getting drenched and damaged, he would stand to lose a lot.
Son is among the thousands of farmers who took part in the rice-pledging scheme that was reintroduced by the Yingluck Shinawatra government a few years ago. The scheme offered an unprecedented amount of Bt15,000 to Bt20,000 per tonne of rice.
During that time, farmers enjoyed high payments without having to bother about the costs for chemical fertilisers, pesticides, farm labour, farm rental and such, which have been quietly and consistently on the rise.
This large-scale scheme, with practically every grain of rice invested under it, was heavily questioned from the very start.
Eventually, the rice-pledging scheme came to an abrupt end, with Yingluck being impeached and now facing investigation for allowing corruption and for the state incurring losses of up to Bt500 billion.
Meanwhile, farmers like Son have been left to face the reality. The price for rice has dropped by more than half, standing at just about Bt7,000 per tonne, while farming costs have not dropped simultaneously.
With many farmers mired in debt, Local Action Links - a non-profit think tank researching the plight of Thai farmers - has realised that the situation is worsening compared to the results of studies previously conducted.
I met the organisation's director Pongtip Samranjit and while discussing the situation, we realised that government policies to help farmers have remained more or less unchanged. Government policies, so far, have only touched the tip of the problem, instead of tackling it at the root and addressing issues like the cost of farming, education and boosting farmers' self-reliance capabilities. Not a single government, so far, has addressed these issues.
With the rice-pledging scheme coming to an end, farmers have found themselves shouldering the same old burdens that have only become tougher over time.
Besides the tragic plight of the farmers, there is also plenty of politics at play.
It is undeniable that policies on agriculture are political, as they have a direct impact on an administration's popularity and the number of votes it can garner.
As such, we often see a lot of agriculture policies based on assessments of popularity, rather than the plight of the farmers themselves. That's why we often see unreasonable populist policies initiated, such as the rice-pledging scheme.
With the damage incurred becoming increasingly clear, policies on agriculture are in desperate need of reform so they can truly become responsive to farmers' needs. They need to take into account farmers' fundamental problems and come up with measures to make them self-reliant and better educated.
If such steps are not taken soon, we will continue hearing stories of farmers killing themselves all in the name of yet another extravagant government farm policy.