THAILAND: Premier kicks off rubber plantation expansion

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is encouraging farmers to take part in the government's new rubber plantation project covering 800,000 rai (one rai=1,600 sq m) nationwide.

The project aims to create new rubber planters who would own between two and 15 rai of land each.

"The expansion of rubber cultivation must not encroach on forest areas," he told governors and the public in several northeast provinces at a teleconference.

The government inaugurated the three-year project this year with plans to increase rubber plantations in the Northeast by 500,000 rai, in the North by 150,000 rai, with the remaining 150,000 rai to be spread over the East, central plains and the South.

Participants can register at local centres of the Office of the Rubber Replanting Aid Fund from 15 Feb. onward.

The premier said the government would finance the project by providing technical support, low-priced rubber saplings and fertiliser for the first three years, while planters have to shoulder the cost for the remaining three to four years before the trees are ready for tapping.

A state bank may extend low-interest loans for them during this period, he said.

Each planter will receive 3,529 baht a rai for the costs of saplings and fertiliser. The government raised the payment for saplings to 25 baht a piece from 18 baht to offset a strong market.

The project hopes to add 160,000 planters and is expected to contribute more than 220,000 tonnes of natural rubber by 2017, in addition to the 3.11 million tonnes the country harvested last year.

On 4 Feb. 2011, the Natural Rubber Committee chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban approved the extension of interest-free loans for farm cooperatives establishing rubber processing plants as well as market intervention when prices are low.

The 8-billion-baht programme that ended last year will be extended to 31 March 2012, since only 504 million baht has been borrowed.

Strong rubber prices have resulted in low borrowing.

The government expects rubber prices to continue to rise and reach 200 baht a kilogramme for ribbed smoked sheet grade 3 (RSS3) this year, based on the current FOB Bangkok price that reached 181 baht on 4 Feb.(Syed Rashid Ali, Karachi, Pakistan)