Rubber Agroforestry: Opportunities for People and the Environment

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Rubber Agroforests vs Monocultures

Natural rubber production continues to increase in area and tonnage, with almost 90% produced in Asia. In addition to expansion of large-scale plantations, about 90% of natural rubber is produced by smallholder farmers, who are often strongly dependent on rubber tapping for their livelihoods. Despite livelihood and economic benefits from growing natural rubber, there are social, economic and environmental risks and harms associated with natural rubber production in monocultures. Specifically, smallholder farmers growing rubber in monocultures are exposed to financial risk through fluctuations in the global rubber price, because they have few alternative sources of income when prices are low. The degradation of soils and water in monocultures, as well as risks to rubber tree health from disease, drought and frost, are serious concerns. The clearance of natural forests contributes to climate change, and exposes the rubber supply chain, and broader society, to a multitude of risks and harm associated with the loss of biodiversity and natural capital. In addition to these existing challenges, the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting global supply and demand dynamics that in turn affect the rubber supply chain down to the producer level.

 

There is a clear need to improve the sustainability of natural rubber production and a comprehensive review about the opportunities and benefits offered by rubber agroforestry systems. Two main issues include 1) whether agroforestry practices can support sustainability in the sector, and  2) coming up with a unifying understanding of what agroforestry systems are.

 

Our team - supported by Mighty Earth, the Global Platform for Natural Sustainable Rubber (GPSNR), and experts in the sector compiled a first authoritative report containing 

  1. a typology of rubber agroforestry systems

  2. evidence of benefits from existing agroforestry production systems for farmer livelihoods, social issues, and the environment, including biodiversity, climate change and climate resilience

  3. a discuss of best practices, challenges, and barriers to wider adoption of rubber agroforestry; and

  4. recommendations for achieving wider adoption of agroforestry practices, both in the context of smallholder farms and larger-scale plantations.

The report will be released on the 18th of May 2021 as part of the GSPNR Rubber Expert Webinar, featuring Prof. Sara Bumrungsri (Prince of Songkla University, Thailand), Pakamat Tongkam (Sustainable Rubber Research, Thailand), Linda Preil (Einhorn, Berlin), and Prof. Thomas Wanger (Westlake University, China; University of Goettingen, Germany; Global Agroforestry Network). 

>> You can download the full report here and find the summary here. <<

Rubber intercropping in Southern Thailand. Image credit: Eleanor Warren-Thomas
Rubber intercropping in Southern Thailand. Image credit: Eleanor Warren-Thomas

Pengolin captured in Myanmar rubber plantations. Image credit: Thomas Cherico Wanger
Pengolin captured in Myanmar rubber plantations. Image credit: Thomas Cherico Wanger

Child in rubber plantation in Myanmar. Image credit: Thomas Cherico Wanger
Child in rubber plantation in Myanmar. Image credit: Thomas Cherico Wanger

Rubber intercropping in Southern Thailand. Image credit: Eleanor Warren-Thomas
Rubber intercropping in Southern Thailand. Image credit: Eleanor Warren-Thomas

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Our Work

We aim to understand the benefits of rubber agroforesty for the environment and people and facilitate broad scale implementation of agrofrestry practices.

 

We do this by producing policy reports and engaging all stakeholders from the farming, and research communities to the decision makers in policy and industry in knowledge exchange.

The scope of our work is global and we are open for collaborations with experts on rubber production systems. 

Publications and Press 

Published​

  • Wang MMH, Warren-Thomas E, Wanger TC. 2021. ​Rubber Agroforestry - Feasibility at Scale. Mighty Earth & GPSNR report

  • Jayathilake HM et al. 2021. Fruit Trees and Herbaceous Plants Increase Functional and Phylogenetic Diversity of Birds in Smallholder Rubber Plantations. Biological Conservation 257: 109140.

  • Warren-Thomas E, Dolman PM, Edwards DP 2015. Increasing Demand for Natural Rubber Necessitates a Robust Sustainability Initiative to Mitigate Impacts on Tropical Biodiversity. Conservation Letters, 8: 230–241

  • Warren-Thomas E, et al. 2018. Protecting Tropical Forests from the Rapid Expansion of Rubber Using Carbon Payments.” Nature Communications 9, 1–12.

  • Warren-Thomas E, et al. 2020. Rubber Agroforestry in Thailand Provides Some Biodiversity Benefits without Reducing Yields. Journal of Applied Ecology, 57: 17–30.

  • Tscharntke, T., et al. 2011. Multifunctional Shade-Tree Management in Tropical Agroforestry Landscapes–a Review.  Journal of Applied Ecology 48,  619–629. Full text available here

Submitted or in preparation

  • Warren-Thomas E, Wang MMH, Wanger TC. in prep. ​The Ecological, Economic and Socioecological Benefits of Rubber Agroforestry - A Review. in prep.

  • Song L et al. in prep. Restoration potential of rubber production systems.

Public press and media

Contact

For further information about our research, press releases and potential collaborations, please contact our work-team.

Eleanor Warren-Thomas

Research Fellow - Bangor University, UK

Maria Wang Mei Hua

PhD student - Sheffield University, UK

PhD student - Durham University

Thomas Cherico Wanger

Professor - Westlake University, China

Partners

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