BANGKOK, May 1 (Xinhua) -- Thailand's Ministry of Finance will lease about one million rai (160,000 hectare) of state-owned fallow lands at low fee to farmers in a bid to boost the country's rice production in face of a much-warned potential global food crisis, Deputy Finance Minister Ranongrak Suwanchawee said Thursday.
The unused lands will be leased to farmers to grow crops for food or agricultural commodities for refining into alternative fuels, Ranongrak was quoted by Thai News Agency (TNA) as saying.
Ranongrak said the Ministry's Treasury Department would charge only a token fee of 20 baht (65 U.S. cents) per rai (0.16 hectare) annually for the leased lands and that the rental contract would initially mature in three years.
So far a total of 266,539 rai (about 42,646 hectare) of state lands, mostly in the northeastern region, has been taken from government agencies and is ready to be leased to farmers, she said, adding that the remaining land was expected to be in the ministry's hands by the end of 2011.
The Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry will be responsible for selecting suitable farmers entitled to rent the land, she said.
Previously, each farmer was allowed to rent a maximum of 15 rai(2.4 hectare) of land but the ministry may have to rent larger plots of land to each farmer this time since larger areas is needed for planting crops used for producing alternative energy, the TNA report said.
The idea of renting unutilized state land to farmers to grow rice and crops to produce alternative energy was floated recently by Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej as the government is finding ways to boost rice production both for domestic use and for export in the world's NO. 1 rice exporting country, as international organizations have warned against an impending global food crisis, surging up rice prices in Thailand and other countries.