MALAYSIA: Smallholders to gain from strong prices

From a meagre average income of RM276 per month in 2002, more than 260,000 rubber smallholders have received a monthly income of RM2,592 per month last year - thanks to high rubber prices brought about by strong demand from emerging economies.

The smallholders' income are likely to go up further, says Malaysian Rubber Board director-general Datuk Dr Ms Salmiah Ahmad.

The monthly income of the smallholders had risen from RM1,000 in 2005 to RM2,000 in 2008.

However, the declining rubber prices amid a high supply situation in 2009 had put a dent on their monthly income when it fell to RM1,400.

Farm gate price of cuplumps sold by rubber smallholders has increased from RM2.87 per kg in 2003 to RM9.20 per kg last year.

Interestingly, the number of smallholders has also gone up from 189,279 in 2002 to 264,894 in 2009, indicating an interest in rubber tapping as a full-time job among the people.

Salmiah says the socio-economic importance of rubber in Malaysia cannot be denied as it has sustained the livelihood of the smallholder families.

"The economic well-being of the local smallholders therefore is of considerable importance to ensure continuous stability in the rural sector,” says Salmiah.

Rubber smallholders contributed about 94% of the country's total rubber production which stood at 857,000 tonnes in 2009.

Last year, the smallholders produced over 800,790 tonnes of rubber with total yield of 1,500 kg per ha per year compared with major estate players' production of over 56,230 tonnes at 1,630 per kg per ha per year.

While the smallholders may be producing more than the estate holders, Salmiah says the Government expects higher yields from them.

"There is a strong concern over the stagnant rubber yield per ha per year among the smallholders,” says Salmiah.

From 2007 to 2010, the rubber smallholders' yield was between 1,414 and 1,470 per ha per kg per year.

While it may be difficult for the smallholders to undertake replanting during current high prices, MRB will encourage them to plant the Malaysia clone RRIM 3001, Slamiah says.

"This high yielding clone is tappable in less than five years with the average yield in the first three years of between 2,264 and 2,792 per kg per ha per year and could surpass the 3,000 kg per ha per year.

"Smallholders can also generate new income as the clone also produce high wood volume due to its high growth vigour.

"At the age of 10 years, the average tree volume is 0.89 cubic metre per tree. Smallholders would be able to increase their income by replanting using this new clone which is high in the production of latex and timber,” she says.(Syed Rashid Ali, Karachi, Pakistan)