This year, the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) has focused on the Southeast Asian region, which accounts for 85% of the world’s natural rubber (NR) output . Its purpose is to ensure that the region employs the most sustainable procedures in the harvesting and supply of the commodity.
A global gathering, organized by PEFC, took place in September, bringing together stakeholders from the rubber sector to exchange lessons learned from successful pilot projects in Southeast Asia. It also revealed industry interest in the rubber sector for sustainable and traceable supply chain solutions.
Participants from throughout the world include major automakers, tyre manufacturers, the fashion sector, various product processors, and international rubber platforms. Government agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) concerned with social and environmental issues were also well-represented in the audience and contributed to the conversation. The topic included not just the global rubber supply chain, but also the demonstration of sustainable methods on the ground and in supply chains. Three rubber producing ASEAN countries produced some promising reports:
Rungnapa Wattanavichian, Project Manager for the Thailand Forest Certification Councilwas a key participant in the global meeting and was able to report on pilot projects for innovative group certification for smallholders covering rubber plantations in Thailand.
He pointed out that PEFC partners, foresters and conservationists in Thailand are proving the viability of group smallholder models in the rubber sector. They’ve shown how to successfully work with cooperatives to connect smallholders and implement sustainable forest management at the macro and the micro levels, simultaneously.
Their experience also shows how important buyer support has been able to successfully mainstream the certification for rubber.
According to Statista, Thailand produced 4.37 million metric tons of natural rubber in 2020, making it the leading producer of natural rubber worldwide, even though it experienced production declines in that year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite being the largest producers of this commodity, Thailand and Indonesia consumed less than one million metric tons of natural rubber in 2020. In comparison, China consumed 5.4 million metric tons, making it the world’s largest consumer of natural rubber by far.
Malaysia is one of the top three producers of natural rubber and rubberwood in the world. Thanks to a fruitful partnership between PEFC and the Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC), they are also leading on certification for sustainable rubber.
In her report, Siti Syaliza, Senior Manager at MTCC, talked about the innovative way MTCC is using the “controlled sources” approach to differentiate rubber wood as a legal and sustainable tropical hardwood. This reduces the pressures of illegal logging on natural forests, and has contributed to an expansion of Chain of Custody certifications across Malaysia.
Malaysia’s early successes are the result of both creativity and pragmatism. When dealing with a large quantity of rubber wood from trees that are at the end of their productive lives, PEFC partners implemented a Chain of Custody – Due Diligence System (DDS) – that allows supply chain companies to use this rubber wood as a replacement for timber harvested from forests. This allows a huge amount of timber into the supply chain in a way that acknowledges it is legal, sustainable, and reduces pressure on neighbouring forests.
Malaysia’s rubber wood resource is being put to good use in the furniture sector, as there’s high demand for certified rubber wood to produce quality furniture.
MTCC works closely with the Malaysia Rubber Board to build capacity. Rubber plantations are among the 381 Chain of Custody certifications issued by MTCC and PEFC.Syaliza reported to the meeting on the strategic approach taken by MTTC in its partnership with PEFC to champion sustainable rubber.
“The system is there, tested and recognised,” she said, and a lot of vital technical support can be shared with different stakeholders. The MTCC/PEFC collaboration benefits all natural rubber stakeholders, as it gives them greater market access in the process.
Local experts made outstanding contributions to PEFC’s online gathering, including speakers from the Vietnam Rubber Group (VRG).
The VRG already benefits from the certification of nearly 55,000 hectares of rubber plantation for sustainable forest management. This land produces over 60,000 tons of natural rubber and over 300,000 cubic metres of rubber wood.
More than 100,000ha of rubber plantations in Vietnam are expected to be awarded an international sustainable forest management certification by the end of this year.
Up to 38 rubber processing plants will get PEFC Chain of Custody certificate that provides independently verified assurance that the forestry-based product originates from sustainably managed forests. This certificate complements the PEFC’s sustainable forest management certification, which ensures that forests are managed in line with environmental, social and economic requirements.
Joining the webinar, Diep Xuan Truong, a member of Sustainable Development Steering Committee under the VRG said that more than 54,500ha of rubber sites, belonging to 12 member companies of VRG, and 22 rubber latex processing plants were to be recognised.
Over 60,000 tonnes of certified rubber latex and more than 300,000cu.m of rubberwood was certified by Vietnam Forest Certification Office, a member of PEFC.
Truong said that certified rubber products are welcomed in markets around the world and obtain a higher price than non-certified products.
About 1.1 million tonnes of natural rubber is produced in Vietnam yearly, with 60% of the rubber supplied by small farming households and the remaining amount is from rubber companies.
According to the General Department of Forestry, Vietnam has about one million ha of rubber plantations. Nearly 70% of rubber growing areas are generating latex. VRG, a State-owned company, is managing about 38.4% of the country’s rubber areas, households 51.9% and private companies 9.7%.
Global & Regional
During the global webinar, Richard Laity, PEFC Southeast Asia Manager said that natural rubber represents a US$300 billion supply chain and that natural rubber was essential material in the production of more than 40,000 types of products.
“Most of this rubber is produced by independent smallholders in Southeast Asia, on the borders of some of the world’s most ecologically important forest areas. Sourcing this rubber sustainably helps protect these forests and is a necessary step towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals before 2030,” he said.
PEFC has piloted certification for both natural rubber and rubber wood across Southeast Asia. Working with growers of all sizes, PEFC has developed group certification solutions that allow smallholders to band together and prove their sustainable credentials.
These early adopters demonstrate that certification is entirely achievable. By getting certified, they both open up their rubber to the market, protect adjacent forests and improve their own livelihood.
“Sustainable forest management and chain of custody certification are relatively new for the rubber industry. But early adopters are already on the move,” Laity said.
“Lessons learned from these early adopters (in Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam) has value for the entire rubber sector,” he said. These successful pilot projects to certify rubber producers and rubber processors set a new standard for environmental sustainability in the rubber industry.
This global webinar on 22 September was a key event for PEFC’s Supporting Sustainable Rubber campaign, telling the story of both natural rubber and the people that produce it, making a connection between sustainable natural rubber production, forest health, and smallholder livelihoods.
Together these three successful ASEAN projects demonstrate the vision, creativity, and solutions-focused approach of players in the rubber industry who are committed to sustainability.
PEFC says it’s proud of these country pilot projects, as they have been able to spread greater awareness among so many important players in the rubber industry.