Channel NewsAsia

Rubber farmers in southern Thailand at the forefront of anti-government protests

Owners and workers of rubber plantations in southern Thailand are at the forefront of anti-government protests in Bangkok.

NAKHON SI THAMMARAT: Owners and workers of rubber plantations in southern Thailand are at the forefront of anti-government protests in Bangkok.

Many young people from Thailand’s southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat are in Bangkok taking part in anti-government protests, with some having been there for months.

Last September, the province’s rubber farmers staged their own anti-government protests, blocking key roads in the south for over a month.

They wanted the government to do something about the falling price of rubber. The government agreed, promising them financial assistance.

To date, many rubber farmers have still not received this payment, which is one of the reasons why they continue to take to the streets.

"Some of us got what was promised but not all of us did. Only a few of us got the payment so far," said Arporn Sitthisak, a rubber farmer.

Rubber plays an important role in the economy of southern Thailand, and there is an obvious link between the plight of rubber farmers and the ongoing political unrest.

Nevertheless, local farmers recognise that the solution to the challenges they face goes beyond just the change of government in Bangkok.

National politics has a huge impact on the lives of these farmers.

In 1994, Suthep Thaugsuban, who was then the deputy agriculture minister, formed rubber cooperatives that benefited farmers in the south by helping them grow their business. This also cultivated loyalty to Mr Suthep and his Democrat Party.

Then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra later upped the stakes by introducing cash handouts and price subsidies.

Successive administrations, including the Democrat-led government of Abhisit Vejjajiva, initiated similar schemes with mixed results.

Some farmers in Nakhon Si Thammarat say these policies made them weaker in the long run.

"There have been policies that interfere with the price of rubber and those policies are not useful because they weaken the farmers and make us dependent,” said Chaiya Kaewchuen, a rubber farmer.

“Rather, I think assistance should come in the form of cost reduction, or help that would increase the amount of production, or add value to our product instead."

The competition to win votes has made many rubber farmers overly dependent on government assistance.

Only time will tell what other policies will be implemented to help farmers with the aim of securing their political support.  

Tweet Photos, Videos and Update on this Story to  #cna