VIETNAM: Rubber sector puts future in focus

Upgrading processing facilities and offering training to farmers will help the rubber industry develop in a sustainable manner, said experts at a sustainable rubber development forum in Binh Phuoc Province last week.

The area of rubber tree plantations increased rapidly from 1980-2010, with an annual average rise of 7.7 per cent in area and 10.7 per cent in output, said Pham Van Tinh, deputy director of the National Agricultural Extension Center.

During the period, rubber yields also rose strongly from 703 kilos per ha in 1980 to 1,720 kilos per ha last year.

Rubber tree development has improved the incomes of more than 130,000 farm labourers and more than 143,000 farmer households, Tinh said.

Although the sector has flourished in recent years, the sector faces problems compared with other countries in the region, he said.

The current rush to plant the tree, without suitable land for cultivation, coupled with excessive exploitation, may cause a lower yield and quality in the future, threatening sustainable development for the sector, he said.

"This requires localities to quickly create a zoning plan for rubber plantations and urge farmers to strictly follow a plan and not cultivate the tree on any land when there is a rubber-price surge," said Dr Nguyen Anh Nghia, head of the Rubber Research Institute of Viet Nam's Crop Protection Division.

He also urged localities to improve agricultural-extension activities and give instruction in proper plantation techniques for seed selection, plantation, and harvesting.

Demand for natural rubber in the world market is expected to continue to increase until 2012, however, the planting should not be done indiscriminately, said Tran Thi Thuy Hoa, VRA's general secretary.

Currently, the export price of Vietnamese natural rubber is lower than that of Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia because importers blamed the inconsistent quality of Vietnamese products, Hoa said.

"The country, therefore, should improve the quality management system for preliminary processing of natural rubber and support farmers to improve the quality of their rubber raw materials in line with national and international norms to enhance the sector's competitiveness," she said.

Supply shortage

The world's natural rubber output this year is expected to increase by 6.2 per cent from last year but is still low compared to the demand for latex, Hoa said.

Supply shortage has pushed up rubber prices in recent years, she said.

Though the price slightly fell this month due to a political crisis in Libya and the earthquake in Japan, it still stands at more than US$5,000 per tonne.

Currently Viet Nam is the world's fourth largest exporter of natural rubber, exporting 782,200 tonnes last year, earning $2.28 billion.

China is the largest buyer of Vietnamese rubber, accounting for 59 per cent of the country's total rubber exports.

Besides latex, last year the country also earned more than $300 million from exports of rubber wood-based products, accounting for about 10 per cent of total wooden products' export revenue, she said.

The country last year had 740,000 ha of rubber plantations, an increase of 62,300ha over 2009, mainly located in southeastern provinces.

The Government has created a master plan to develop the industry until 2015 with a vision to 2020.

Accordingly, the country targets having 800,000 ha under rubber cultivation by 2015, producing more than 1.2 million tonnes of natural rubber per year by 2020.(Syed Rashid Ali, Karachi, Pakistan)