The Siam Magazine

Thai Lifestyle and Culture at Its Best.

Rice, the national staple of Thailand, has appeared inmyths and in history since long ago, leaving clues about Thai civilizationat least as far back as 5,500 years ago. Rice husks found in earthenware pots in the Chiang and Nonnokta vilages, in Phu Wiang district, Khon Kaen provincealong with sticky rice grains found dug away in the Pung Hung caves in Mae Hong Son province, are presumably the oldest grains of rice found in Thailand.

In addition, rice grains, ashes, and impressions of rice husks have been discovered at Khok Khanom Di, Phanat Nikhom district, Chonburi, which suggests a community planted rice there in prehistorical times along the coastal regions. Wild rice flowers have also been found in the Khao Talu cave in Khanchanaburi,dated to sometime between the Late Neolithic and Early Metal Age.
Cave and cliff paintings drawn around 6000 years ago at Pha Mon Noi, in the village of Ta Klum, Huay Pai sub-district, Khong Chiam district, Ubon Ratchathani, record the planting of arice-like cerealbeside images of buffalo. These images indicate human knowledge of rice cultivation.

Three Japanese scientists, Tayada Natabe, Tomoya Akhima, and Osamu Kinosgita all from Tottri University, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry Department researched rice by looking at the rice husks from ancient bricks from 108 historical sites in 37 provinces all across Thailand leading to the conclusion that rice cultivation has existed in Thailand for a long time since the sixth century CE. The rice cultivated was usually some variety of sticky rice with a later increase in slender white rice varieties.

ข้าวไทยThis research has revealed that between the 11th and 20th centuries three sizes of rice were grown: large grained rice such as the sticky rice grown in the mountiains; rounded rice such as the sticky rice grown in valleys (both varieties grown before the Dvaravati period between 11th to 16th centuries); and slender grain rice such as standard white rice found during the Srivijaya period (13th to 18th centuries). Between 4 BCE and 26 CE, Chinese thought began to influence Thai trade and agriculture, arriving presumably via the Mekong river in lower Isaan and popularizing the cultivation of big grain and round grain sticky rice, such as would later be grown in the Central region during the Dvaravati era.

During that period there began the cultivation of long slender grained white rice, which presumably was borrowed from the Khmer kingdom, the ruling class of the period. This rice was cooked differently than how the natives cooked their own rice, hence why white rice is now called in Thai“Khao Jao” (meaning “lord’s rice”), and sticky rice is called “Khao Prai” (“commoner’s rice”), or sometimes “Khao Bao” (“slave rice”), or “Khao Neung”(“steamed rice”), all of which indicate class association with each variety.

During the Sukhothai period (1197-1497 CE), the rice cultivated was mostly round grain and long grain sticky rice, though long grain white rice was beginning to be planted as well. During this era, kings managed agriculture well yielding bountiful crops as shown in stone inscriptions: “In the water is fish, in the fields, rice.” Jungles were cleared and occupied for agriculture, land which was then passed on through inheritance. Such settlement facilitated the growth of a more substantial government, economy, and society. Thus feudalism, where classes were divided according to property ownership, probably emerged during this era.

After this, during the early Ayutthaya period, the city-state enjoyed both great wealth and prosperity, which extended even to the kingdom’s distant provinces. The government was organized according to the model of the “Four Pillars,” which were the four ministries of government. One of these “pillars” was the “Ministry of Fields” which was earnest in its support of farming because rice was both the staple food of the population and a provision of supplies in times of war. The majority of rice planted was still round grain and long grain short rice, though there was an increase in the growth of slender long grain rice as well.
Between the late Ayutthaya period and the early Rattanakosin period, all the way up until the reign of Rama III, rice was taxed in the central region, usually the varieties introduced by the government or the high-quality native varieties. As for the upper North Thailand, it was popular to plant sticky rice, but in the lower part of the North and in the South, farmers favored plain white rice.

During this period western powers were colonizing the worldand Thailand became one of their objectives. But with the sagacity and foreign policy of its kings, Thailand stayed free of foreign control and was able to maintain its independence. Part of being independent was that it allowed an increase in trade with foreign countries, establishing rice as an essential export for Thailand. The government had to shift where farming was conducted so as to increase the volume of rice production in the river valley lands of the princes where the soil was most fertile.

Currently round grain sticky rice is mostly grown in the North and Northeast, while long grained white rice is found mostly in the Central and Southern regions, which are the most fertile.
45% of land for rice cultivation is in the Northeast. Mostly jasmine rice is grown which is the highest quality rice in the world, with most of it grown for export.Following the Northeast, the Central and Northern regions each represent an additional 25% of total production.

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