Back off, Thai PM tells rubber farmers

Back off, Thai PM tells rubber farmers

PRIME MINISTER Prayut Chan-o-cha has asked rubber farmers not to try and pressure the government into providing them with subsidies by staging rallies.

In response to falling rubber prices, farmers have called on the government to guarantee a price of Bt50-60 per kilogram.

Government Spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said yesterday the Prayut administration did not have the Bt140 billion needed to subsidise farmers at that price range.

He said the PM did not believe subsidies would tackle problems in the industry at the root causes. The government also had to take care of millions of farmers who grow other crops.

Sansern said rubber prices had dropped due to falling oil prices and rubber oversupply due to a wrong policy to promote rubber plantations.

He said the government had been solving the oversupply problem by using rubber for the construction of roads and stadiums but this took time.

He said the government would help ensure that rubber prices would not plunge further and was driving 18 measures which it believed were sustainable solutions to these woes.

The spokesman pointed out that some rubber farmers would be better off by switching to other crops as suggested by the government.

In Trang, Pratob Suksanan, chairman of the Southern Rubber Farmers network, led rubber farm leaders from the South at a press conference.

Pratob said the network would hold a meeting on Tuesday in Trang in a bid to pressure the government to meet their four demands.

They called on the government to reveal details of deals signed by the Rubber Authority of Thailand with China for 200 billion tonnes of rubber.

They also want the government to appoint the Rubber Authority of Thailand board, and for the government to keep its word by giving rubber farmers Bt1,500 per rai for a maximum of 15 rai.

The government has paid only 2,000 farmers, they claimed.

Farmers demanded that the PM and Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives Minister Pitipong Phuengboon na Ayudhaya directly hear complaints from farmers and not to send representatives to discuss problems with them.

Pratob said the farmers were upset by the PM's remark about the rubber oversupply.

Pratob said farmers would decide the timeframe for the government to solve each problem and how to step up their demands.

A rubber farmer organisation in Songkhla issued a statement calling on its members to meet on Tuesday at the central rubber market in Hat Yai district to discuss measures aimed at pressuring the government to solve the industry's problems.

Thaworn Senneam, a former co-leader of the now-defunct People's Democratic Reform Committee, hit out at National Police chief General Chakthip Chaijinda and said he was ready to face the consequences if he broke the law.

Chakthip had reportedly said he would not be considerate if Thaworn crossed the line by demanding the government help rubber farmers.

"Region 9 Police Commissioner also said if I stage a movement I am then nothing else but a rogue who acts above the law. Thanks for warning me," Thaworn said.

He said rubber prices had hit a record low this century and the government had a duty to solve the problem. "Rubber farmers have grown other crops as suggested, but that brings them only a supplementary income as their main income is still rubber,'' he said.

In Buri Ram province, rubber farmers deferred rubber tapping after the price fell to as low as Bt13 per kilogram.

Farmers have resorted to borrowing from loan sharks to meet their daily expenses.

They said they could not adjust by introducing integrating farming instead of doing mono-crops as suggested by the government, as they had no knowledge in other types of farming.

Suchart Panomrak, a rubber farmer, said he was not confident in the government's solution of encouraging farmers to cut down rubber trees to reduce supply. "We have to inject money into other crops and we do not know if we have markets for other crops. We may face the same oversupply problem."

Rubber farmer Wandee Kethom, 59, pleaded for state help, saying this was the worst time in 11 years she had operated a rubber plantation.

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