By Grace Villamor
Indonesia’s rubber agroforests harbour nearly as much biodiversity as primary forests. Yet they, too, are under threat. Can ‘green’ rubber help save them?
Studies of rubber agroforests in Jambi province in Indonesia have found that their physiognomy and functioning are close to those of natural forests. Although most of the complex rubber agroforests have disappeared in Malaysia and Thailand, around 2 million hectare are still thriving in Indonesia. However, if left neglected they will soon be converted to agriculture and industrial plantations. And since little primary forest is left in the country, maintaining these forests is the only option to support high forest diversity.
In the absence of specific incentives, there is no reason why smallholders should agree to forego the benefits of more profitable land uses for the sake of biodiversity conservation. Eco-certification or eco-labelling of rubber agroforests has been explored by the World Agroforestry Centre for the past decade as a mechanism for conserving biodiversity habitats and furthering economic development in rubber-growing areas.
This kind of scheme guarantees that the production practices used to generate a product meet a set of eco-standards, or that the raw materials of the product are produced in biodiverse systems, and verifies that producers have used management practices that conserve environmental services.
Thus, selling eco-labelled rubber latex at a price higher (a ‘price premium’) than the average, ‘farmgate’ price would increase farmers’ economic returns from rubber agroforests. Clean and dry ‘green’ rubber currently sells for around USD 3 per kilogram, which is twice the farmgate price for ‘non-green’ rubber. Though there is no substantial market yet for certified rubber products, some interest has been shown by companies and negotiations are underway.
About 30% of the natural rubber latex is used for tyre manufacture and the production of natural rubber is mainly in Asia. Hence, there is a great potential to develop the market, as a huge number of natural rubber consumers are still untapped. However, there are still constraints that would affect the decisions of farmers to adopt a scheme that creates ‘green’ rubber.
The constraints include standards that could be very difficult for farmers to achieve; no factories as yet willing to receive eco-certified rubber; conflict with government policy that promotes oil palm companies (no government policy supports conserving rubber agroforests); and the market for eco-certified rubber is still underdeveloped.
Overcoming these challenges will take more research and a concerted effort by many different players if the biodiversity of these agroforests is to be preserved and the livelihoods of local farmers improved.
Edited by Robert Finlayson
Read the thesis
Villamor GB. 2012. Flexibility of multi-agent system models for rubber agroforest landscapes and social response to emerging reward mechanisms for ecosystem services in Sumatra, Indonesia. PhD Thesis. Bonn, Germany: Zentrum fur Entwicklungsforschung (Center for Development Research), University of Bonn.
This work is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry