Lack of tappers leads to idle rubber smallholdings

Malaysia’s rubber production also plunged to 639,830 tonnes last year from 1.28m tonnes in 2006

by SHAHEERA AZNAM SHAH / pic by AFP

MORE than half of Malaysia’s rubber-producing plots of land are now idle, putting in danger the country’s position as a leading producer of natural rubber (NR).

According to national data, 683,000ha out of 1.2 million hectares (ha) of rubber estates lay idle because there are not enough workers to maintain them.

This is in contrast to the situation in 2010 when only 380,760ha were left idle.

According to the National Association of Rubber Smallholders Malaysia (NASH), movement restrictions have made the matters worse with more rubber tappers abandoning their plots.

The association said the movement curbs resulted in 50,000ha of rubber land being left idle in 2020 alone.

As a result, Malaysia’s rubber production — a combination of dry and latex — also plunged to 639,830 tonnes last year from 1.28 million tonnes in 2006.

The government has made some effort to boost rubber production, especially latex, and allocated RM16 million to develop a “latex production corridor” in traditionally non-rubber producing states of Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan.

However, the allocation seems impractical if the oversupply and unrestricted imports of cheaper NR are not being tackled, said NASH supreme council member Abdul Halim Hassan.

“There is an abundance and growing supply of low-priced latex, especially from Thailand and Vietnam. Thailand is estimated to be producing 1.2 million tonnes of latex annually.

“Also, local downstream industries can get cheaper imported NR, particularly latex for gloves manufacturing, from Thailand and Vietnam at an unlimited tonnage.

“Gloves and other latex-based products need long-term supply assurance, and local manufacturers are seeking guaranteed supply from alternative sources to sustain their business,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

Meanwhile, fluctuations in raw materials prices and growing latex allergies have contributed to the increasing demand of synthetic alternative which is posing a threat to NR, said Abdul Halim.

“Medical gloves are made from either natural rubber latex (NRL) or synthetic rubber latex in the form of nitrile butadiene rubber latex (NBRL).

“Initially, most medical gloves are NRL-based, but due to the NRL allergy scare in the US and other major importing countries, more buyers are ordering NBRL-based gloves. Higher uptake of NBRL poses a threat to NRL demand,” he said.

Abdul Halim added that the ratio of NRL to NBRL usage was recorded at a ratio of 58:42 in 2011 and 37:63 to date.