The plunging price of rubber driving young tappers to ketum (Mitragyna speciosa) smuggling as reported by NST portal on February 23, 2023, are relevant for discussion. Rubber smallholders in parts of Kedah are turning to ketum to make ends meet amidst low scrap rubber prices ranging from RM2.20 to RM2.70. The report from Padang Besar stated for years, ketum has been the most valuable 'export commodity' from Kedah with its price nowadays skyrocketing to up to RM60 per kg in Thailand. However, things have drastically changed after Thai authorities lifted the ban on the planting of the herb known as 'kratom' last year and sending the price of ketum plunging. Although cultivation of the herb is no longer as lucrative as before in which with its current market price dropping to just RM10 per kg, the smuggling of the plant is still ongoing albeit not as rampant as before. With the plunging of the price of rubber, rubber smallholders and those depending on rubber tapping for a living are struggling to survive. Some rubber smallholders have resorted to ketum harvesting to supplement their income while some youths are smuggling ketum across the border. Ketum is being sold at RM6 per kg to the supplier in which is still better as compared to one kg of scrap rubber selling at below RM2.70 per kg as said by a local rubber smallholder in Padang Terap who spoke on condition of anonymity. Reported that Kedah is the largest rubber producer in the country.
The retired civil servant in his 60s said the other factors that make ketum smuggling attractive among the youngsters is the depreciation of Malaysian currency. The Thais 'importers' will pay in Baht. As for the smugglers he told reporters that that each of them can make some RM200 to RM300 per person each trip. It is an easy money as compared to tapping rubber trees. He believes this explains why ketum smuggling activities were still happening along the Malaysia-Thai border. Rubber smallholder known as Rodhi aged 46 from Kubang Pasu had understood why his fellow smallholders have turned to ketum. Meanwhile he as a rubber smallholder in Kubang Pasu said it was understandable why some rubber smallholders from Padang Terap have turned to ketum planting. Currently one kg of scrap rubber can get you about RM2.20 to RM2.70. From the 1,800 trees that he manages than he can harvest about 300kg in the last two weeks so that's about RM600 of income for his family a month and this is not a sustainable income. He claimed that is why rubber smallholders and rural folks in Padang Terap, Baling, Sik and Pendang have ventured into ketum planting to mitigate losses suffered from the rubber price plunged when contacted. Hence, he urged the government to come up with a more practical and sustainable assistance for rubber smallholders. He hoped that the government would consider increasing the floor price of rubber to RM3.50 per kg to help the rubber smallholders as well as rubber tappers. In November last 2022, the former Rural Development Minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid said the current floor price for rubber of RM2.50 per kg was too low and adversely affecting the livelihood of rubber smallholders who were struggling with high cost of living. Prior to the 15th General Election, he was reported as saying the then federal government would fight to ensure that the floor price of rubber would be increased to more than RM3 per kg. Yesterday reported that two suspected ketum smugglers were detained after the pick-up truck they were travelling in crashed in Kuala Nerang while fleeing from soldiers who spotted them near the Malaysia-Thai border in Durian Burung. Padang Terap district police chief deputy Superintendent Mulkiaman Manzar confirmed that the soldiers had fired shots at the vehicle's wheels during the afternoon high-speed chase. The suspects, both local, were subsequently detained and authorities seized about one tonne of ketum valued at RM38,000. Today reported that the Jitra magistrate's court granted the police a four-day remand order against the suspects, aged 29 and 31 for further investigations. Thanks. Source: NST.