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rubber is the hardened and processed latex of the trees of the genus heave.
These trees grow wild in the Amazon forests and were tapped by the Indians. The
latex was coagulated and sold to merchants. The inferior quality of the wild
rubber, coupled with increasing demand in Europe, led to the establishment of
rubber growing on a plantation basis in some Southeast Asian countries.
As time advanced, the production of
rubber gathered momentum in Sri-Lanka, Malaysia and Indonesia, and plantations
were established in central Africa. The area over which it could spread is
Production in Southeast Asia, which is
estimated to account for 90% of the world production, is from both large and
efficient estates and from smaller native holdings. Competition between the two
sources has been acute in modern time because of the change in the
international economic situation.
In the early days, a rubber tree was
just a rubber tree one of the descendants of the strains imported in 1876. But
in the 1920s there was an experimental work in reproduction, mainly by bud
grafting of strains. The replacement of the old rubber by the new strains was
in vogue in the estates of Malaysia in the 1930. It was also discovered from
research that fertilizers, leguminous cover crops and chemical stimulants can
As a result, about 95% of the planted
area of estates is now under high yielding rubber. The average yield is about
1,200 pounds per acre a year as compared with about 400 pounds before.
Estate yields are also about a third
higher than those on small holdings planted with high yielding rubber. To bring
about improvement in quality, natural rubber has been improved both in
processing and technical grading. Some estates produce concentrated latex
instead of dry rubber for making special kinds of rubber products. Dry rubber
is also produced as 'black rubber' of much higher consistency than the
traditional 'ribbed' smoked sheet'. Some percentage of Malaysian rubber exports
are graded under the Standard Malaysian Scheme which gives the consumer a
predicted range of physical properties in accordance with the grade which he
may choose to buy.
For two or three decades, natural
rubber producers had to survive in reluctant competition with a price
stabilizer imposed upon them-synthetic rubber production. The consumers were
already using increasing proportions of synthetic rubber of steadily improving
quality. The reason was that until the mid -1970s, synthetic rubber made from
petroleum chemicals was comparatively cheap. It was sold at prices which were
fixed for a considerable period ahead. In physical properties, it was
originally inferior to natural rubber, but over the years, improvement of
synthetic rubber has closed the gap. Both synthetic and natural rubber has some
uses for which they are preferred, but the main determinant of the industrial
consumer's choice is price.
A new era emerged in 1973 with the
sharp increase in the world price of petroleum, since synthetic rubber is made
from petrochemicals. Natural rubber became cheaper than synthetic and American
manufacturers stopped the remorseless expansion of capacity to produce
synthetic rubber. However, this was also a period of recession in which the
price of natural rubber fell sharply because of reduced total demand.
Eventually, it becomes imperative for
Malaysia to stabilize the price of natural rubber at a level which would yield
a satisfactory income to its small holders. The first move towards reconstituting
international regulation of natural robber came in 1970 when Malaysia and
Indonesia took the lead in setting up an Association of Natural Rubber
Producing Countries which also included
Thailand, Sri-Lanka and Singapore (as a major centre of the world rubber
trade). These countries produce about nine-tenths of world output of natural
rubber, but, conflicts of interest make it difficult to concert common action.
Rubber, if cultivated well, can
contribute a lot to the economy of a country. For example, natural rubber is
the most important agricultural production in Malaysia and contributes about
12% of the GDP, or about 43% of agriculture's contribution to the GPD.
About 80% of the total area cultivated
in Malaysia is devoted to either rubber or rice and another 14% to coconut and
In terms of size of holdings, 60% of
the rubber area is comprised of large estates and 40% is run by small holders.
The plantation of rubber also helps employ a large number of people of a
country. In Malaysia, for instance, rubber industry is the largest industry, in
which about one fourth of the working population is employed. Apart from this ,
the plantation of rubber has also helped protect the soil of Malaysia.
Natural rubber helps increase the
national income of a country by augmenting the export drive of a country,
because natural rubber is only form of rubber actually traded in world
commerce. At present, about three- quarters of all rubber is used in transport,
with 60% going into tire production .Since various means of transportation are
increasing day by day in many countries, there is no denying that there is a
good scope for the plantation of natural rubber in these countries.