Govt to swoop in on rubber sneaks, illegal plantations

The Department of Royal Forests will speed up operations to destroy rubber trees illegally planted inside protected forest zones to prevent the trees’ owners from periodically sneaking in to harvest their milky latex, the key ingredient of rubber.

Chonlatid Suraswadi, chief of the forest department, said he will implement stronger measures to deal with illegal rubber tree planting in reserved forest zones by moving quickly to cut down those trees before planters get a chance to extract their milk.

The department will also work closely with locals to prevent such illicit activity by educating them on ways to identify and report offenders.

According to the department, nearly 700,000 rai of 32.45 million rai national reserved forest has been encroached upon and turned into illegal rubber tree plantations.

In Phitsanulok province alone, 158,615 rai of forest reserve has been turned into an illegal rubber tree plantation. It is considered to be the biggest illegal rubber plot in the northern provinces.

The department’s forest officials recently moved in to confiscate 113 rai in Kao Krayang National Reserved Forest in Nakhon Thai district, which officials say they have the authority to cut it down.

Cheevapab Cheevatham, chief of Payakprai, said the department has confiscated 23,173 rai from big investors in Phitsanulok province, with forest officials having so far cleared all rubber trees in 4,394 rai.

He said he would speed up the process to clear all the trees on the entire site as soon as possible and turn the area back into a fertile forest.

“To stop investors from reaping the benefits of illegal rubber trees, we must move quickly to clear all the trees. We will work with locals to prevent any further forest encroachment,” he said.

Forest encroachment for rubber plantations is still a challenging problem for the department and is mainly found in the northern and northeastern regions.

The department will confiscate such land from big investors — those who illegally plant rubber plants over an area of 25 rai or more — under the National Council for Peace and Order’s (NCPO) direction. The NCPO has ordered that forest officials take legal action against forest encroachment perpetrators.

Meanwhile, Asia’s top rubber producers will meet in Thailand next month to discuss ways of boosting prices. Rubber prices, which have suffered in recent years from oversupply, surged late last year after floods in key growing regions, but have since largely subsided.

Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia together produce nearly 70% of the world’s natural rubber.

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