Agriculture is the principal occupation engaged in by over half of the population, and half of these are rice farmers. Likened to the "backbone of the nation," the farmers grow rice to feed the entire population and export the rest to feed many more millions around the world. Other cash crops that make up the agricultural economy include sugar cane, maize, cassava, and an immense variety of fruit, and there are many animal products.

A proverbial saying of the Thais, "In the water there are fish, in the field there is rice," paints the picture of a land teeming with abundant food sources. Such are the optimum conditions the country has found itself in, harking back to the era of the ancient Kingdom of Sukhothai, whence the proverb supposedly took its origin. Geographically, the most fertile area of the country covers the Central Plains, a low-lying valley fed by an extensive network of rivers and waterways. Indeed, the Thai people are intimately rooted in the way of the water, for the rivers and waterways form an integral part of their lives.