VIETNAM: North-west plants out rubber

What's your assessment of the spread of rubber plantations in the north-western region?

The spread of rubber plantations in the region has become a hot topic among local farmers as they think that's the way to help them escape poverty.
The trees require a climate with heavy rainfall and without frost. Yet in the north-western region we have very cold winters. This is something we have to think about.

In addition, the topography there is very complicated while the land is sloppy. Growing rubber is something they have only heard of, not experienced. It is not their trade.

But over the last five years, rubber trees have been planted on about 15,000 ha in a pilot project. The trees have developed rather well, yet some problems have cropped up and need to be analysed and addressed.

What are the problems?

First, the rubber trees can be planted only in Son La, Lai Chau and Dien Bien provinces in the north-western region. For north-eastern provinces like Phu Tho, Lao Cai, Ha Giang and Yen Bai, the decision allows farmers to conduct experiments only as the weather in the winter there is cold and frosts appear.

If a frost does occur, the results can be disastrous for production. One frost can cause the rubber from an entire plantation to become brittle and break once it has been refined.

Second, we also advised farmers in the northern mountainous region that the growing of rubber trees must be in accordance with the approved plan.

And finally, rubber trees must be grown in a plantation with a joint venture between the farmers and enterprises.

These are the three principles guiding the development of rubber plantations there.

And in reality, the severe and long cold spell in the winters of 2008 and 2010 destroyed 90-95 per cent of the rubber plantations in the north-eastern region - a costly lesson for the plantation owners.

What other lessons have been learned in the past five years?

With five year's experiences and through research, our scientists have come to a conclusion that two rubber seeds imported from China - Van Nghien 77-2 and Van Nghien 77-4 - could stand the cold in the north-eastern region.
And the trees should be planted less than 600m above sea level.

In addition, the expansion of the rubber plantation must follow the region's master plan development. And a must: farmers have to be trained how to take care of the plantation.

Once the trees are 5 -7 years old, harvesting can begin. One hectare of rubber trees should yield at least one tonne. If the yield is lower than that I'm afraid to say that it is not economically viable.

Under the plan, by 2020 the total area put under rubber trees in the north-western region will be between 50,000-70,000 ha. Yet it doesn't mean the entire area must be covered with rubber trees at once. We want to learn by doing. By now some 15,000 ha of rubber trees are growing in the north-western region and about 2,000 ha in the north-eastern region.

At present, China is the main importer of Vietnamese latex. What will happen if China suddenly decides not to import Viet Nam's latex in a few years' time when rubber trees in the north-western region are ready to tap?

I think that the demand for latex will increase along with economic development. At present, Chinese latex processing plants need more material.

In addition, we are trying to look for new markets so that we don't have to depend on the Chinese market.

It is my advice that local authorities should advise the farmers on supply and demand. This is a key principle for success.

Parallel with that we have to improve the quality of our latex.

Source: Daily "Vietnam News", Hanoi; 23 Sept 2011(Syed Rashid Ali, Karachi, Pakistan)