Rubber industry told to target sustainability

Sustainable latex production is important for Vietnam’s rubber industry, and the country should focus on getting rubber plantations to obtain certifications on sustainability, experts have said.

Vo Hoang An, Deputy Chairman and General Secretary of the Vietnam Rubber Association, said Vietnam produces around 1.1 million tonnes of natural rubber every year, with 60% coming from small farming households, and imports another half a million tonnes from Cambodia and Laos annually.

Vietnam is the third largest exporter of natural rubber in the world, with around 80% of its output exported and China being the biggest buyer.

The remaining 20% is used for making products such as tyres, shoe soles and sport equipment.

An said in recent years global demand has been shifting towards sustainable, environment-friendly rubber products. Products that are certified as sustainable could bring higher added value and enter more markets around the world, he added.

Nguyen Vinh Quang, a research associate at Forest Trends Vietnam (a non-profit focusing on conserving eco-systems) said most of the rubber collection occurs via traders who connect households with processing companies.

Most of the output is from small farming areas without certification for sustainability, which makes their added value limited. Sustainable rubber farming is still a relatively new idea for most households.

The Vietnam Rubber Association is working to develop a Vietnam rubber brand, provide guidelines for sustainable natural rubber production and ensure international cooperation and trade.

Dr To Xuan Phuc, senior analyst at Forest Trends in Australia, said there are many international standards for sustainability, several of which are easy to obtain for Vietnam’s rubber industry.

So strategies to develop the rubber industry sustainably should start with easier standards and ones that receive greater priority in global markets, and gradually move up to the harder ones, he said.

Both large companies and small farming households need to contribute to the industry’s sustainable development, he added.

Huynh Nhat Tan, deputy head of business division at the Lien Anh Rubber Company, said companies need to help rubber farmers understand the importance and benefits of complying with standards and help farmers with initial investment and by buying their produce.

Nearly one million hectares around the country are planted with rubber trees, and around 70% of them are available for tapping latex.