Charting the future of rubber

Charting the future of rubber

Viet Nam - 18 November, 2013

To promote discussion of the Vietnamese rubber sector’s rapid development, TBI Viet Nam organized the “Forestland conversion to rubber plantation: opportunities and challenges” workshop in Hanoi on 27 September. In attendance were Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) officials from concerned provinces, lead national forestry policy officials, and rubber industry representatives – including the head of the Viet Nam Rubber Association.

The 2009 rubber development strategy to 2015 and vision to 2050 sought to increase Vietnam’s rubber plantation area to 800,000 ha by 2020, with total latex volume reaching 1.2 million tons ($2 billion in export revenue). These figures were easily exceeded: 915,000 ha of plantations were already in place by the end of 2012.

There’s no question that the rubber is an attractive cash crop, especially for poor rural families. Income per hectare can reach $2,860 annually (timber plantations offer only $357). Yet development comes at the expense of Viet Nam’s remaining natural forest: the frenzy for rubber licenses has allowed some firms to exploit timber with no intention of developing rubber plantations on the cleared land.

With this in mind, TBI Program Director Nghị co-chaired a discussion on rubber development’s considerable implications for FLEGT and REDD+ with Mr. Tô Xuân Phúc (Forest Trends Viet Nam). For one, rubber trees sequester little carbon per hectare due wide spacing of individual trees – the plantations have no value for REDD+.

Participants agreed that better sectoral planning is needed. In addition to considerable natural forest destruction, overly eager officials and communities have established plantations in unfavorable soil and/or climate conditions; the trees either die or produce unprofitable yields. Furthermore, conversion of household cropland to rubber plantation can strain food security. Strengthened environmental and social safeguards are needed to ensure that opportunity comes without excessive ecological and social externalities.