Southern rubber-growers to go ahead with protest

national September 01, 2013 00:00

By The Sunday Nation

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As the network of rubber growers in 14 southern provinces were set to protest in Surat Thani on Tuesday, the government yesterday affirmed measures to aid them.



These measures, including a request for a Bt5-billion budget to subsidise rubber growers’ fertiliser cost at Bt1,260 per rai for those with less than 10 rai, would be proposed for Cabinet approval at its weekly meeting on Tuesday.
Deputy PM and Agriculture Minister Yukol Limlaemthong, standing in for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on yesterday’s weekly TV show, said world rubber prices had fallen to Bt75 per kilogram. He said Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia must stick together for better bargaining power with the price-setters in Singapore and Japan. 
He affirmed that the Cabinet would on Tuesday consider the measures to aid growers. This includes the Bt1,260 per rai fertiliser subsidy to be paid to the growers via the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives. He said some 100,000 growers with less than 10 rai, who were hit hard by the falling prices, would be aided first. They would be advised to grow other crops in between rubber trees such as oil palm. He said the government would use 200,000 tonnes of para-rubber in stock domestically because if it were to be sold in the world market, the prices would go even lower.
Another speaker, PM’s deputy secretary-general Suporn Atthawong, urged rubber growers to accept the government’s offers and claimed that rubber-growers in the North, East and Northeast wouldn’t attend the previously-planned Tuesday rally.
The other speaker, Deputy PM and Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong, suggested that the growers shift to or additionally grow economic crops such as sugarcane or oil palm. He said if farmers cut down old rubber trees to grow oil palm, they could get more aid from the state because the Energy Ministry would buy more palm oil for the B7 bio-diesel production, which had seven per cent of palm oil in its mix.
In Phatthalung, Deputy Finance Minister Tanusak Lekuthai told reporters that the government had not abandoned rubber growers. He revealed a Transport Ministry plan to try adding para-rubber in the asphalt mix for road construction, which if successful could be another long-term solution. 
However, the Rubber Farmers Network of Thailand deputy chair, Theerapong Tantipetcharaporn, said the southern growers would host a major protest in Surat Thani on Tuesday. He said they wouldn’t accept the government’s offers, including the Bt1,260 per rai fertiliser subsidy. They thought the measures didn’t tackle the root of problem and the government wasn’t sincere in resolving the rubber price issue while the group viewed the government’s previous agreement to the network chairman’s demands as a personal dealing that didn’t reflected the network’s resolution, he added.
Theerapong said the network wanted a government guarantee to buy rubber at a higher price. As for the long-term, they want the government to guarantee rubber prices like it does other crops such as rice and corn, he added.
However, Sitthiporn Thepjantramaneechai, head of a network of rubber farmers in the Northeast, urged fellow rubber growers to give the government a chance by postponing the protest for 15 days or until September 13.
As the rubber growers’ ongoing road and railway blockade in Nakhon Si Thammarat continued yesterday to press for the government’s help in raising the sagging rubber prices, Nakhon Si Thammarat Rubber Farmer Association vice president Somyos Raksawong yesterday read a statement that they backed the ongoing demonstration, saying it was the people’s right to gather peacefully and unarmed.  The government should not obstruct it but allow it to take place peacefully, the statement said. The association also urged the government to hold another round of negotiations with the growers before Tuesday to prevent violence that might stem from ill-intentioned third parties.
Meanwhile a Songkhla-based retailer said the blockade of highways affected goods shipments while shipments by rail were also disrupted hence consumer goods were disappearing from shelves in the South. Somsak Arunoprayote, manager of Leewiwat Super Store, a chain of eight stores in Muang district, Songkhla, said that shipments from Bangkok had been cut off as few truck drivers know the detour. As highways are blocked, the road along the Andaman Sea coast is now the only option, but this leads to higher fuel cost. 
“For now, we have told distributors to use the route. Though fuel cost will increase, we’re ready to shoulder the extra cost, to ensure there’s no shortage of goods,” he said.