Writer: Natasha Angsakulchai, Project Assistant, Facilitating Trade for Agricultural Goods in ASEAN (FTAG)
Written by Natasha Angsakulchai and Patamasiri Hoonthong, Department of Agriculture Thailand
Dr. Suparat Kositcharoenkul, Head of Fertiliser Regulation Group of the Department of Agriculture, shares with us in an interview, his views and experiences that give us insights into the status of bio fertilisers in Thailand as well as the challenges and issues in fertiliser regulation.
“Bio fertilisers are becoming more popular these days. However, many farmers still misunderstand that bio fertilisers are organic fertilisers. They think the way to use these products are the same and this is the reason why bio fertilisers are not as popular as they should be. [Bio fertilisers contain living microorganisms capable of creating nutrients that are beneficial to plant and use to improve soil fertility. Organic fertilisers are derived from organic matters that contain essential nutrients for plants and are subjected to biodegradation.]
Moreover, there are obstacles in using bio fertilisers in Thailand such as the country’s hot weather and the fertilisers’ short-term shelf life. Lately, there has also been an increase in the numbers of fake and unqualified products in the market.”
What can the Thai government do to promote bio fertilisers?
“There should be more research and development (R&D) to increase the fertilisers’ types and effectiveness, and there should be a study to expand the scope of application.
Also, the policy to support the use of bio fertilisers should focus on changing farmers’ habits by prototyping the best practice. This can be done through government training to a group of farmers who are ready to accept new things. If this group succeeds, the knowledge will be handed over to other groups as the best practice.
Yet, our current policy affects only some farmers who receive government training so this is scattered and there has not been any obvious example of the best practice for other groups of farmers to follow.”
What is the main challenge for the Fertiliser Regulation Group?
“The main challenge of the Group is loads of chores that are responsible by only a small number of officers. We have to approve over 16,000 licenses a year, so with this small number of officers we get our work done very slowly.”
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The Fertiliser Regulation Group oversee the registration procedures, production license, import and export of fertilisers including chemical, bio and organic fertilisers. The Group is also responsible for drafting secondary-level law and regulations concerning fertilisers’ quality control. Under the Fertiliser Act B.E. 2550, all types of fertilisers are required to be registered.
“There are some difficulties since the Group has to oversee two level of quality control starting from registration level to market level.
In terms of registration, there is a problem with lab result which is one of the required documents to certify whether the product contains ingredients based on its label or not, since company always gets their lab results from institutions that are not recognised by law.
Meanwhile, since there are only few officers to inspect bio fertilisers in the market, quality control at the market level is hardly thorough as there are over 30,000 fertiliser shops in the country.
Also, when unqualified bio fertilisers are found, companies always get compromise by the court and it is known that they can get away from the full-term sentence indicated by law. In most cases, the company will be fined but get only two year jail time and this will always be suspended.”
Right now ASEAN is trying to harmonise the regulations of bio fertiliser. How do you think this will affect Thailand?
“Honestly, I do not think that change will happen quickly. Even when we take the example of the EU, we can see that it takes a long time to make changes in terms of regulations and law.
It will be best to create one consensual regulation together at the ASEAN level before each ASEAN Member States (AMS) changes their own regulations so that there exists ‘the ASEAN baseline’ for all AMS to refer to or else there will be many rounds of revision and we cannot reach consensus.”
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The ASEAN Sustainable Agrifood Systems (ASEAN SAS) Project has supported the development and implementation of the ASEAN Guidelines on the Regulation, Use and Trade of Biological Control Agents (BCA). Endorsed in 2014 by the ASEAN Ministers of Agriculture and Forestry, the BCA Guidelines has provided framework for implementing BCA and harmonising BCA regulation in the ASEAN. The project has been actively engaged in promoting BCA as part of its work to promote sustainable agrifood systems in the ASEAN region.