Rubber planters in the southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat have protested and blocked highways since Friday, and upgraded their activity to obstruct railway services last night.
Pleading for cooperation, Ms Yingluck said the people’s economic problem should not be blown out of proportion to include other issues which, if done, would make it more difficult for the government to solve.
She said the government would be patient in dealing with the protesters but legal action is inevitable if the demonstration escalates beyond the limits of the law.
The Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry earlier agreed to pledge the price of rubber sheets at Bt80/kg but planters wanted Bt120/kg – a price which the prime minister described as too heavy a burden for the government.
“If planters say Bt80/kg is too low, they should give more explanations. We have analysed the production costs and ensure planters’ revenue at an acceptable level, (even though) production costs vary in different regions,” she said.
She urged rubber growers to appoint representatives to talk with the Agriculture Ministry and jointly solve the problem of falling rubber prices, both in the short and long terms.
Ms Yingluck said the state-initiated rice pledging scheme should not be compared to the government’s handling of rubber prices.
The rice subsidy is extended only once a year while the government has already issued several measures to shore up rubber prices and assist rubber planters, she said.
The government has taken equal care of farmers in every sector, she said, adding that rubber prices heavily depend on the world’s market movement.
In the long run, agricultural zoning is necessary to cope with dropping prices of agricultural products, she said.
Deputy Prime Minister/Agriculture Minister Yukol Limlaemthong informed the Cabinet today that Thailand produces 3.6 million tonnes of rubber each year. Only 500,000 tonnes were for local consumption while the rest was exported.
The global economy’s weakness has affected Thailand’s rubber exports -- especially to China – the country’s major market, he reportedly said.
He said the government has offered cash to 790,000 planters who own less than 10 rai of rubber plantations to buy fertilizer and find other alternatives such as cutting down rubber trees older than 25 years and replacing them with palm trees.
There are planters who grow rubber trees in forests without legal ownership or access, but the government’s assistance will cover only planters with legal ownership of their lands, the minister said.