The WWF is run at a local level by the following offices...
- WWF Global
- Central African Republic
- Central America
- Democratic Republic of the Congo
- European Policy Office
GROWING MYANMAR'S RUBBER INDUSTRY FROM THE GROUND UP
Under the canopy’s sparse and dappled shade, the December sun is hot. Though this is the ‘cold’ season in Myanmar, mosquitoes swarm our ankles.
We are standing among rows upon rows of rubber trees. The tall, white spotted trunks are fastidiously aligned as far as the eye can see. Each tree wears half a coconut shell secured with a piece of wire. Above, the branchless trunk is chiselled with a neat succession of half-inch deep grooves. They are all angled at 45 degrees and feed into vertical channels leading to a coconut collection pot. A single drop of viscous white liquid makes its painfully slow journey across, down and into the coconut. This latex in its raw form.
THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM
We are visiting one of the many rubber plantations found in the Tanintharyi area of the Dawna Tenasserim Wilderness, a vast mountainous region straddling the border between Myanmar and Thailand. On the drive here it’s difficult to ignore the patchwork of plantations scarring the once uninterrupted, lush greenery. This landscape is home to a staggering array of biodiversity, including a long list of rare and endangered species including tigers and Asian elephants.
It is also home to a number of rural communities, many of which rely upon rubber farming as a means of income. Although the Tanintharyi already accounts for around 20% of Myanmar’s rubber production, rubber farm expansion is on the increase and this agricultural commodity is contributing dangerously to deforestation.
“Myanmar’s rubber farms are not very productive. The yield per hectare here is around 650kg – tiny in comparison to the average 2000kg per hectare in India. The sheets of rubber that finally result are also of very low quality, fetching a low price on the market.” Says Gaurav Gupta, WWF-Myanmar’s Sustainable Business Programme Manager.
The implications of this low quality and yield are both social and environmental. Rubber farmers, falling victim to an unstable market and unpredictable yields, branch out into production of other non-timber forest products like cashew and betelnut. Beginning afresh with a new plantation comes at a great cost for both the farmers and the landscape that is their home.
GROWING THE INDUSTRY UP, NOT OUT
WWF is working to solve the rubber conundrum both on the ground and at a national level.
Gaurav explains, “we are helping the farmers to improve their livelihoods, and at the same time to become forest stewards by building their capacity to better understand what it takes to cultivate productive trees, and to produce high quality latex. On top of that we’re providing technical support and setting up links to the international trade market.”
So far, lessons on the ground have been welcomingly received. After three days of training farmers can see up to 20% increase in their yield.
“Word spread fast, and now more and more farmers are asking for advice and guidance on how to increase their rubber productivity,” he adds with a smile.
With thousands of rubber farms spread across the country, WWF-Myanmar can’t do this one alone. Setting up a sustainable system will be integral to the success of the rubber supply chain here – so teams from the agricultural department will be trained and enabled to educate farmers on how to cultivate effectively.
“Ultimately we are reducing the horizontal expansion of rubber plantations, and of other commodities that contribute to deforestation due to falling rubber prices. Our goal is to create a zero deforestation rubber supply chain,” Gaurav says.
A WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY
The global rubber market is shifting. Premium buyers like Michelin and General Motors are now committed to sourcing sustainable rubber.
At the moment such a thing doesn’t exist. Though some countries adopt a zero-deforestation approach, a lack of traceability makes it impossible to verify if the rubber has been sustainably sourced. Using hand held devices to track GPS locations, price fluctuations and other socioeconomic parameters like plantation size and age, Myanmar could soon be equipped to produce the world’s first fully verifiable sustainable rubber.
Myanmar’s rubber plantations once scarred and charred the landscape, leaving little behind for nature nor man. Now, the country is perfectly poised to become a key player in the quest for sustainable
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