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  • How can rubber contribute to sustainable development in a context of climate change?

How can rubber contribute to sustainable development in a context of climate change?

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FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

Rubber trees grow in rows in South Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo by I. Cooke Vieira/CIFOR

Developing the rubber sector while meeting environment and social objectives involves both challenges and opportunities.

Lying in the shadow of oil palm in terms of sustainable development issues, the sector needs a combination of measures to progress toward sustainable development. There is now a wealth of knowledge and evidence to make this happen.

“Evolution to Revolution: New Paths for the Rubber Economy” was the theme of the World Rubber Summit held in Singapore on March 18-19, 2019, organized by the International Rubber Study Group (IRSG). The CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) participated in the summit and I presented during a session titled Managing sustainability performances in the rubber value chain.

Plantations of all major tropical commodities – especially oil palm, timber, pulp, cocoa and rubber – are expanding quickly, creating opportunities for development while also raising concerns about impacts on the environment, landscapes and livelihoods.

FTA has identified plantations as a research priority. Rubber is a particularly interesting example; plantations are continually expanding with a very concentrated sector downstream (the majority being a small number of tire producers), and a production sector heavily dominated by smallholders.

Read also: Challenges and opportunities for sustainable rubber in Myanmar

Rubber at a crossroads

The sector is confronted with a range of issues when it comes to its impact on and contribution to sustainable development.

Land-use change: Rubber is the most rapidly expanding tree crop within mainland Southeast Asia. Additional land will be required to meet future rubber demand, which could be in forested areas or on mosaic landscapes, swidden agriculture and agroforest, though there is also potential to reduce land-use change and deforestation through more intensive systems – both in terms of rubber and other associated production depending on situations.

Biodiversity: In many areas rubber expansion has been on former natural forest, including sometimes in protected areas. The effects of converting primary and secondary forests to rubber monoculture are well understood – it decreases species richness and changes species composition. However, the biodiversity value of swidden agriculture and of mosaic landscapes is less well known and the effects of their conversion to rubber plantations has been assessed in less detail.

Climate change mitigation: The potential contribution of rubber to climate change mitigation depends on what it replaces and the way it is conducted. The impact is generally negative when rubber replaces primary or secondary forests, but positive when planted on very degraded land. The impact can be neutral or slightly positive when rubber replaces swidden systems with a short fallow period, but negative when it displaces swidden systems that will then encroach on forest.

Water and erosion: Effects again depend on what rubber replaces. For instance, there can be less fog interception relative to complex canopies. Conversion to rubber can increase evapotranspiration relative to native vegetation. Rubber risks depleting deep-soil moisture during the dry season with effects on groundwater and streamflow. In mountainous areas of mainland Southeast Asia, plantations on steep slopes have negative impacts on soil erosion, landslide risk and water quality. There are also indications of impacts from rubber plantation runoff on water quality and aquatic biodiversity.

A hevea tree is seen in Ngazi, DRC. Photo by A. Fassio/CIFOR

Social issues: Production is still dominated by smallholders in most countries, especially in “traditional” production areas. The establishment of rubber replacing swidden agriculture has substantially increased smallholder income in Southwest China and Northern Thailand. In non-traditional areas, such as Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and some African countries, the expansion of rubber often takes the form of larger-scale plantations – which could disadvantage rural communities, with some reports of evictions and of poor labor conditions in large-scale plantations.

Resilience to price fluctuations: Rubber prices can be volatile, which is a concern for long-term investment and has consequences for the sustainability of economic and production models. Smallholders who are purely engaged in rubber are very exposed, especially if they are not supported by public policies. Smallholders with diversified systems are the most resilient. Paradoxically, large estates may be more exposed due to monoculture and having to pay a workforce.

Climate change adaptation: Until recently it was difficult to predict the incidence of climate change on violent precipitation and winds, to which plantations are vulnerable. There is also a need for more research on the impacts of climate change on the distribution of pests and diseases. Diversified systems are more resilient to shocks of any kind, including from climate change, and can contribute to adaptation at a landscape level.

Read also: Challenges and opportunities for sustainable rubber in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic

Ways forward 

Given these challenges, the potential impacts of rubber expansion and the contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement ultimately depend on three factors. First is where expansion occurs, and the land use or land cover that rubber replaces. Second, it involves production systems, yield and overall efficiency, including the use of rubber wood, as well as impacts on water and biodiversity. The third factor is benefits for smallholders and local populations, contributing to economic and social resilience.

A range of objectives could pave the way forward for sustainable development.

  • Limiting negative impacts of land-use change
  • Regulating land concessions and contract farming
  • Supporting smallholders and farmer groups
  • Promoting and improving diversified systems

To meet these objectives, it would be necessary to see a combination of measures.

  • Research in development
  • Extension services aiming for high yields and quality, as well as diversified production systems
  • Land-use zoning and planning
  • Enabling regulatory environment on concessions and contracts
  • Recognition of sustainable practices, including through corporate social and environmental responsibility and certification
  • Support and incentives for smallholders when engaging in sustainable development, such as secure tenure, technology transfer, economic risk mitigation, payment for environmental services

The rubber sector needs measures connecting downstream with upstream, involving various stakeholders, building on science and knowledge and promoting transfer in a practical way. The newly launched Global Platform for Sustainable Natural Rubber (GPSNR) will hopefully address this.

Knowledge and evidence could enable the transition in a proactive way, contributing to sustainable development outcomes. FTA stands ready to work with the GPSNR and to help support the sector move toward sustainable development, “from evolution to revolution”.

By Vincent Gitz, FTA Director


The CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) is supported by contributors to the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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  • How can rubber contribute to sustainable development in a context of climate change?

How can rubber contribute to sustainable development in a context of climate change?

Rubber trees grow in rows in South Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo by I. Cooke Vieira/CIFOR
Posted by

FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

Developing the rubber sector while meeting environment and social objectives involves both challenges and opportunities.

Lying in the shadow of oil palm in terms of sustainable development issues, the sector needs a combination of measures to progress toward sustainable development. There is now a wealth of knowledge and evidence to make this happen.

“Evolution to Revolution: New Paths for the Rubber Economy” was the theme of the World Rubber Summit held in Singapore on March 18-19, 2019, organized by the International Rubber Study Group (IRSG). The CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) participated in the summit and I presented during a session titled Managing sustainability performances in the rubber value chain.

Plantations of all major tropical commodities – especially oil palm, timber, pulp, cocoa and rubber – are expanding quickly, creating opportunities for development while also raising concerns about impacts on the environment, landscapes and livelihoods.

FTA has identified plantations as a research priority. Rubber is a particularly interesting example; plantations are continually expanding with a very concentrated sector downstream (the majority being a small number of tire producers), and a production sector heavily dominated by smallholders.

Read also: Challenges and opportunities for sustainable rubber in Myanmar

Rubber at a crossroads

The sector is confronted with a range of issues when it comes to its impact on and contribution to sustainable development.

Land-use change: Rubber is the most rapidly expanding tree crop within mainland Southeast Asia. Additional land will be required to meet future rubber demand, which could be in forested areas or on mosaic landscapes, swidden agriculture and agroforest, though there is also potential to reduce land-use change and deforestation through more intensive systems – both in terms of rubber and other associated production depending on situations.

Biodiversity: In many areas rubber expansion has been on former natural forest, including sometimes in protected areas. The effects of converting primary and secondary forests to rubber monoculture are well understood – it decreases species richness and changes species composition. However, the biodiversity value of swidden agriculture and of mosaic landscapes is less well known and the effects of their conversion to rubber plantations has been assessed in less detail.

Climate change mitigation: The potential contribution of rubber to climate change mitigation depends on what it replaces and the way it is conducted. The impact is generally negative when rubber replaces primary or secondary forests, but positive when planted on very degraded land. The impact can be neutral or slightly positive when rubber replaces swidden systems with a short fallow period, but negative when it displaces swidden systems that will then encroach on forest.

Water and erosion: Effects again depend on what rubber replaces. For instance, there can be less fog interception relative to complex canopies. Conversion to rubber can increase evapotranspiration relative to native vegetation. Rubber risks depleting deep-soil moisture during the dry season with effects on groundwater and streamflow. In mountainous areas of mainland Southeast Asia, plantations on steep slopes have negative impacts on soil erosion, landslide risk and water quality. There are also indications of impacts from rubber plantation runoff on water quality and aquatic biodiversity.

A hevea tree is seen in Ngazi, DRC. Photo by A. Fassio/CIFOR

Social issues: Production is still dominated by smallholders in most countries, especially in “traditional” production areas. The establishment of rubber replacing swidden agriculture has substantially increased smallholder income in Southwest China and Northern Thailand. In non-traditional areas, such as Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and some African countries, the expansion of rubber often takes the form of larger-scale plantations – which could disadvantage rural communities, with some reports of evictions and of poor labor conditions in large-scale plantations.

Resilience to price fluctuations: Rubber prices can be volatile, which is a concern for long-term investment and has consequences for the sustainability of economic and production models. Smallholders who are purely engaged in rubber are very exposed, especially if they are not supported by public policies. Smallholders with diversified systems are the most resilient. Paradoxically, large estates may be more exposed due to monoculture and having to pay a workforce.

Climate change adaptation: Until recently it was difficult to predict the incidence of climate change on violent precipitation and winds, to which plantations are vulnerable. There is also a need for more research on the impacts of climate change on the distribution of pests and diseases. Diversified systems are more resilient to shocks of any kind, including from climate change, and can contribute to adaptation at a landscape level.

Read also: Challenges and opportunities for sustainable rubber in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic

Ways forward 

Given these challenges, the potential impacts of rubber expansion and the contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement ultimately depend on three factors. First is where expansion occurs, and the land use or land cover that rubber replaces. Second, it involves production systems, yield and overall efficiency, including the use of rubber wood, as well as impacts on water and biodiversity. The third factor is benefits for smallholders and local populations, contributing to economic and social resilience.

A range of objectives could pave the way forward for sustainable development.

  • Limiting negative impacts of land-use change
  • Regulating land concessions and contract farming
  • Supporting smallholders and farmer groups
  • Promoting and improving diversified systems

To meet these objectives, it would be necessary to see a combination of measures.

  • Research in development
  • Extension services aiming for high yields and quality, as well as diversified production systems
  • Land-use zoning and planning
  • Enabling regulatory environment on concessions and contracts
  • Recognition of sustainable practices, including through corporate social and environmental responsibility and certification
  • Support and incentives for smallholders when engaging in sustainable development, such as secure tenure, technology transfer, economic risk mitigation, payment for environmental services

The rubber sector needs measures connecting downstream with upstream, involving various stakeholders, building on science and knowledge and promoting transfer in a practical way. The newly launched Global Platform for Sustainable Natural Rubber (GPSNR) will hopefully address this.

Knowledge and evidence could enable the transition in a proactive way, contributing to sustainable development outcomes. FTA stands ready to work with the GPSNR and to help support the sector move toward sustainable development, “from evolution to revolution”.

By Vincent Gitz, FTA Director


The CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) is supported by contributors to the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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  • Bioenergy Production on Degraded Land: Landowner Perceptions in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia

Bioenergy Production on Degraded Land: Landowner Perceptions in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia

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FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

Bioenergy production from degraded land provides an opportunity to secure a new renewable energy source to meet the rapid growth of energy demand in Indonesia while turning degraded land into productive landscape. However, bioenergy production would not be feasible without landowner participation. This study investigates factors affecting landowners’ preferences for bioenergy production by analyzing 150 landowners with fire experience in Buntoi village in Central Kalimantan using Firth’s logistic regression model. Results indicated that 76% of landowners preferred well-known species that have a readily available market such as sengon (Albizia chinensis (Osb.) Merr.) and rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis Müll.Arg.) for restoration on degraded land. Only 8% of preferred nyamplung (Calophyllum inophyllum L.) for bioenergy production; these particular landowners revealed a capacity to handle the uncertainty of the bioenergy market because they had additional jobs and income, had migrated from Java where nyamplung is prevalent, and preferred agricultural extension to improve their technical capacity. These results contribute to identifying key conditions for a bottom-up approach to bioenergy production from degraded land in Indonesia: a stable bioenergy market for landowners, application of familiar bioenergy species, and agricultural extension support for capacity building.

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  • CIRAD research featured in new book on corporate governance

CIRAD research featured in new book on corporate governance

At a sustainably certified sawmill in Jepara, men carefully cut logs of wood that are then measured and marked. Photo by D. Ramsay/CIFOR
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FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

A sustainably certified sawmill in Jepara, Indonesia. Photo by D. Ramsay/CIFOR

How does the complex pattern of shareholdings and subsidiaries – entangled, hierarchical and pyramidal – influence actions, decisions, policies and strategies? It could be said that the behavior of conglomerates and mega corporations is influenced by their ownership structure.

A new book, Minister of Finance Incorporated: Ownership and control of corporate Malaysia, looks at quantitative methods to decipher corporate governance, from biomass, forest and plantations to Malaysia’s corporate finance.

How the structure of commodity corporates could impact the sustainability of agricultural landscapes is of direct interest to the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD), one of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry’s (FTA) partner institutions.

Jean-Marc Roda speaks about the new book. Photo by IDEAS

Read more: Sustainable value chains and investments to support forest conservation and equitable development

This is because many activities linked to deforestation; forest management; the sustainability of palm oil, rubber and timber plantations; biomass and biofuel strategies are driven by the choices of international finance and mega corporations.

CIRAD’s activities concern the life sciences, social sciences and engineering sciences, applied to agriculture, the environment and territorial management. Its work centers on food security, climate change, natural resource management, the reduction of inequalities and poverty alleviation.

In particular, in Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia, research by CIRAD and its public- and private-sector partners focuses on natural resource management, food security, biodiversity studies and the sustainability of tree crop-based systems, paying particular attention to island agro-ecosystems, which are particularly sensitive to climate change.

ET Gomez presents during the book launch. Photo by IDEAS

In 2010, CIRAD’s Jean-Marc Roda and his Malaysian team at Universiti Putra Malaysia started to develop methodologies aimed at deciphering corporate governance and their environmental commitments among Southeast Asian transnationals. Deciphering corporate governance and environmental commitments among Southeast Asian transnationals: Uptake of sustainability certification was subsequently published in 2015.

The paper’s coauthor Norfaryanti Kamaruddin, who also contributed to the recently launched book, previously completed a PhD that was partially supported by FTA.

An important debate on global trade and sustainability relates to the role that corporate governance has on the uptake of sustainability standards. The paper suggests that financial factors, such as ownership structure and flexibility in decision-making, may have a fundamental role in understanding the adoption of sustainable standard systems in the corporate sector. This is based on the analysis of four major Asian agribusiness transnationals comprising about 931 companies.

In addition, this paper explores as a way forward the convergence of environmental sustainability with long-term family business sustainability.

Read more: Soils, governance, big data and 99 tropical countries: Best reads in forests, trees and agroforestry

The new book looks at corporate ownership and control in Malaysia.

Research tools developed throughout the project proved extremely accurate for deciphering any kind of corporate financial structure. Such quantitative methods of ownership structure analysis, initially designed for the analysis of the forest and agriculture financial sectors, were successfully employed to independently confirm and illustrate previously published results from ET Gomez.

Roda and his team were able to demonstrate how a core of 26 corporations controlled the Malaysian corporate sector and to provide details on how that control spread throughout the financial network, leading to the chapter “Understanding the network typology of the seven government-linked investment companies (GLICs)”.

The book was launched by the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) in August 2017. It covers all Malaysian financial sectors, with Chapter 4 focusing on the plantation sector and on quantitative methods used for comparison and validation.

Adapted from the article by Jean-Marc Roda, originally published by CIRAD.


This work is linked to the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

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  • Challenges and opportunities for sustainable rubber in Myanmar

Challenges and opportunities for sustainable rubber in Myanmar

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FTA communications

Authors: Kenney-Lazar, M.; Wong, G.

Key points

  • Smallholder rubber production in southern Myanmar has alleviated rural poverty, while large-scale plantation concessions in the north have led to land expropriation and limited livelihood options for rural people.
  • Policies should support smallholder rubber production over large-scale models, while addressing the economic challenges that smallholders face, such as low quality and quantity of latex production.
  • All forms of rubber production require regulation to ensure that land use rights of rural people are not infringed upon, forests are not cleared to make way for rubber plantations and the use of agrochemicals is limited.
  • A diversity of subsistence and cash crops should be planted – at the landscape level and in plots using agroforestry – to retain higher levels of biodiversity and protect against price crashes.

Geographic: Myanmar

Series: CIFOR Infobrief no. 154

Publisher: Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Bogor, Indonesia

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  • Challenges and opportunities for sustainable rubber in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic

Challenges and opportunities for sustainable rubber in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic

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FTA communications

Authors: Kenney-Lazar, M.; Wong, G.

Key points

  • The opportunities provided by rubber cultivation in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) have been offset by sustainability challenges, such as low prices, food insecurity, land expropriation, deforestation and a loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services.
  • Smallholder rubber has had the greatest success in alleviating poverty while limiting environmental impacts and should be the preferred form of rubber production.
  • Improved and extensive credit, technical and extension services are needed to support a robust smallholder sector that cultivates rubber in ways that are economically, socially and environmentally sustainable.
  • Large-scale land concessions for rubber should be limited and highly regulated to prevent expropriation of rural people’s lands, unfair compensation, deforestation, agro-chemical pollution and exploitative labor practices

Series: CIFOR Infobrief no. 153

Publisher: Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Bogor, Indonesia

Publication Year: 2016

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  • Assessment of governance mechanisms, livelihood outcomes and incentive instruments for green rubber in Myanmar

Assessment of governance mechanisms, livelihood outcomes and incentive instruments for green rubber in Myanmar

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FTA communications

Authors: Kenney-Lazar, M.

Over the past decade, rubber cultivation has expanded throughout the Mekong region, from established centers of production in Thailand, China and Vietnam to new sites in Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. Rubber has brought opportunities for increased incomes and livelihood improvement as well as social and environmental risks. The2012 drop in rubber prices has sent the sector into disarray, halting the expansion of rubber and constraining the ability of farmers and companies to profit. This study examines how rubber production in Myanmar is governed, especially the socio-ecological dynamics of varying forms of production: smallholding, contract farming and large-scale estate plantations. Based upon an analysis of secondary literature and interviews with key stakeholders, it was found that rubber production in Myanmar is for the most part not ‘green’, meaning that it has not reduced poverty and protected ecosystem services and forested areas. The price crash has prevented most smallholding farmers from increasing their income. Wages on large-scale plantations have been low and only a limited amount of work for Myanmar people is available. Large-scale estates have been developed on land expropriated from communities and have replaced forested areas that provide important ecosystem services to local communities. The paper argues that if rubber is to be truly green then significant changes to production and trade must be made, including minimum price supports from the state, appropriate land use planning measures, the establishment of cooperatives, the protection of community land rights, and the implementation of agroforestry rubber production models.

Series: CIFOR Working Paper no. 207

Publisher: Bogor, Indonesia, Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)

Publication Year: 2016

Also published at Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)

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  • Thai farmer describes his mixed rubber garden's origins and benefits

Thai farmer describes his mixed rubber garden’s origins and benefits

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FTA

By World Agroforestry Centre

Witoon Chamroen, farmer, of Phattalung Province, Thailand, describes how his old rubber trees act as ‘nursery’ trees for the others and still produce more latex than younger trees. An inspiring and passionate talk from a committed and sensitive farmer.


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