Southern Thailand Insurgency Cramps Rubber Trade

By Nasueroh
150324-TH-rubber-620 Farmer Jade Charongan cuts a rubber tree to draw sap in Phang Nga province, southern Thailand, Oct. 1, 2014.

The separatist insurgency in Thailand’s Deep South region is cutting into its important rubber industry, by preventing plantation hands from working at night and affecting prices on latex yields, locals say.

Because insurgents tend to operate under cover of darkness, it is too dangerous for rubber farmers and plantation workers to go out at night and tap rubber trees, when temperatures are cooler.

“We are afraid to go out at night,” Masobree Abu, 37, a resident of Yala, one of the region’s three provinces, told BenarNews. “Since the violence broke out, black-clad men [have appeared] in the rubber plantations, but we don’t know who is who.”

“The violence has changed our normal nighttime rubber tapping. We can’t go to work while it’s dark,” he added.

This problem is causing planation workers to tap rubber trees for sap during the daylight hours, when temperatures heat up. As a result, they are suffering economically because they earn less money on latex tapped during the day.

The sap of rubber trees coagulates more quickly in warmer temperatures, which makes it inferior to latex tapped at night.

Yala residents whose livelihoods depend on the agricultural industry have seen prices on latex yields plummet in recent years, said local rubber farmer Ibraheng Jeyusoh, 57.

He has seen his daily wages for tapping rubber drop to 80 baht (U.S. $2.46 dollar) from 200 baht (U.S. $6.15).

“We barely make ends meet and we cannot cut more corners,” he told BenarNews.

Ibraheng and other rubber industry workers in the area now are only getting 10 baht (U.S. 31 cents) per kilo of latex, he said.

“Our kids skip lunch, just eating breakfast in the morning, going to school and enduring hunger until they arrive home to eat again,” Ibraheng added.

On the rebound?

According to figures from the Thai government’s Office of Rubber Replanting Fund, prices for ribbed stock sheet rubber trading in Hat Yai, the regional rubber market, have fallen steadily during the past four years. In 2011, the per kilo price averaged 132.43 baht (U.S. $1.70) , but it had dropped by more than two-fold to 57.86 baht (74 cents).

Yet provincial officials expect rubber prices to begin rising again sometime this year.

The price for rubber will rebound in the second quarter, which will begin in April, predicts Yala Industrial Officer Pitak Boonkongkaew.

“The woefully low price ranges have resulted in less supplies into the market and into rubber processed factories, simply because the prices were way too low for the farmers,” Pitak told BenarNews.

“In my view, in the second quarter, the rubber supplies will remain relatively low but the factories will be looking for more procurement to fulfill their stockpile. I believe the prices of raw latex and rubber sheet will be heading into a better perspective,” he added.

According to the Department of Agriculture’s Rubber Research Institute, Thailand produced more than 4.3 million tons of rubber products in 2014.

About 3.8 tons of this output was exported to China – the biggest destination for Thai rubber – followed by Malaysia, Japan and the European Union. Last year’s exports totaled about 315 billion baht (U.S. $96.9 million).

Thirty-four percent of the Deep South’s population of 1.4 million people is employed in the agricultural sector.


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