In the last four decades, Thailand has shifted from a rural agrarian to an urban and industrial economy, with high growth rates and major reductions in poverty and hunger. Only a small share of the population still lives under the poverty line. Agriculture has declined in relative importance, yet Thailand has become a leading agricultural exporter, able to produce a range of tropical produce at competitive prices. Agriculture represents 12% of the GDP and 20% of the exports, with main the commodities being rubber and rice followed by fish and shrimps. About 38% of the national workforce is employed in agriculture.
Thailand has about 21.1 million ha of agricultural land, with only about 20% being irrigated. The main crops are paddy (50%) followed by field crops (20%), fruit and perennial crops (20%) and then pastures. Field crops are dominated by cassava (1.3 million ha), maize (1.1 million ha) and sugarcane (about 1 million ha). The average farm size is 3.6 hectares, or 0.3 hectare per person, much higher than other South East Asian countries.
The remote Northeast region, or Khorat plateau represents one-third of the territory, where almost half of the farmers live. In 2004, almost 90% of rural households were involved in agriculture here, compared to 62-75% in other regions. Yet, this region has the least favorable agroecological conditions. Even though rainfall is high due to the tropical monsoon, it is highly seasonal and erratic, and farmers cultivate sandy and low fertility soils, with a quarter of the area being saline. The Northeast is drier than the rest of the country and has the lowest yields as well as the highest incidence of rural poverty.