KENINGAU: The time has come to raise the floor price of scrap rubber or cup lumps in Sabah to RM3.50 per kilo in order to increase the income of smallholders, says Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Seri Dr Jeffrey Kitingan.

Kitingan, who is also the state Agriculture and Fisheries Minister, said the present floor price of RM2.50 per kilo was set seven years ago and that maintaining it today was unfair to smallholders.

“Times have changed and there is a reason to raise the floor price now.

“We must ensure that our smallholders can make a living, particularly during this time when prices of goods, including food, have increased dramatically,” said Kitingan during a dialogue between the Sabah Rubber Industry Board (LIGS) and members of the Association of Rubber Smallholders Keningau on Monday.

He also explained that the price of rubber was set by the market and not by his ministry or LIGS, and its prices were determined by the commodity’s demand in the global market.

Furthermore, he said the prices of supplies such as pesticides and fertilisers were under the control of the federal Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry and not his ministry or LIGS.

“It is critical that these factors be understood so that no one blames the wrong party or thinks the ministry has unlimited authority to raise or lower prices at will,” Kitingan said.

“If it were up to us, we would certainly control the price accordingly so that our people could have a better income.

“But the truth is that all prices are market-driven. I wish we could do more. Unfortunately, we can only help so much such as through subsidies, monetary aid and technical assistance.

“That is our responsibility and we will continue to provide these services,” he added.

Aside from raising the floor price of scrap rubber, Kitingan said LIGS also proposed other ways to increase rubber smallholders’ income such as growing other crops like pineapples, rearing livestock such as chickens, and exploring opportunities in the stingless honey bee industry.