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Commercialization of rubber production technologies: Exploring options in Rodriguez, Rizal

Maria Anna M. Gumapac

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There is one often overlooked raw material that is present in everyday living. Not quite obvious at first for most, inconspicuous and likely to be taken for granted. Vehicles, heavy machinery, computers, other technical gadgetry certainly contain this raw material. But the fact is that everyone has need for it as it is useful in its myriad forms. It is none other than rubber.

There is one often overlooked raw material that is present in everyday living. Not quite obvious at first for most, inconspicuous and likely to be taken for granted. Vehicles, heavy machinery, computers, other technical gadgetry certainly contain this raw material. But the fact is that everyone has need for it as it is useful in its myriad forms. It is none other than rubber.

There are, in fact, two kinds of rubber: natural and synthetic. Natural rubber is a solid product obtained through coagulating the latex produced by certain plants, particularly Hevea brasiliensis. Although there are a number of species that can produce secretions similar to latex when the bark is cut, only a select few can provide ample quantities with the quality adequate for exploitation on an economic scale. Synthetic rubber, on the other hand, is any type of elastomer, invariably a polymer. This type of rubber, while it reduces the pressure and demand for natural rubber, is considered expensive - certainly more so than its natural counterpart. They find use in special applications where its properties exceed those of natural rubber.

For the Philippines, rubber products constitute an important export and are vital to the country's generation of foreign earnings. However, because of the lack of support from the government, the growth of the rubber industry has slackened, certainly close to a standstill. This is most apparent in cases wherein, due to said lack of support, tire and rubber manufacturers have been forced to import raw materials and incur higher production cost, prompting some of them to close shop. Consequently, losses of job opportunities and potential revenues have occurred. This is in spite of the fact that the Philippines ranks sixth in the world in rubber production.

While rubber was introduced in the Philippines in the early 1900s, the rubber that was used to manufacture local tires and shoes then came from Thailand and Indonesia. In the early 1920s, rubber mills were established in Basilan, but it was only in the 1950s that local private corporations embarked on setting up rubber processing plants in Mindanao. As of 2008, the major rubber-producing provinces in the Philippines could be found only in Mindanao.

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Re-establishing Hevea rubber in Rizal

In Rodriguez, Rizal, there is no available record which can pinpoint exactly when local farmers and local folks engaged in planting rubber trees. The local soil and climatic conditions are very favorable to the growth of the tree.

The municipality of Rodriguez is situated at the outskirts of metropolitan Manila. It is the biggest municipality in Rizal in terms of land area (36, 308 hectares, 26.81% of Rizal). Largely based on agriculture and rock quarrying, its economy is typical of pre-industrial towns. One-third of its area is alienable land while the rest is a forest watershed reserve. More than half of the area is hilly or mountainous, suitable only for tree crops, pasture, and wildlife. The underutilization of its land has been one of the reasons for the low per capita income of the town's farmers.

The local climate is characterized by two pronounced seasons: dry from December to May, and wet for the rest of the year. July and August are the rainiest months with 550-568 mm rainfall.

The predominant wind direction that affects Rodriguez is the southeast monsoon, with an average speed of 10 km per hour. However, this speed direction deviates to other directions, thus reducing its impact on the town - an important feature for the wind-vulnerable rubber plant.

In response to the need to support the Philippine government's revival of the moribund rubber industry and given the municipality's location and natural resources, the University of Rizal System (URS) and the local government unit (LGU) of Rodriguez, through its Municipal Agriculture Office (MAO), have jointly proposed the promotion and commercialization of rubber production technologies in Rodriguez. The project developed has the following objectives, to wit,

  1. To introduce and showcase rubber production technologies and document their performance under Rodriguez, Rizal conditions.
  2. To conduct social and economic preparations, vis-à-vis, the introduction of rubber production system in Rodriguez, Rizal.
  3. To document and assess the problems (technical, economic, political, etc.) encountered during the implementation of the project.

Said project is being implemented through the collaboration of three agencies: the URS, the LGU of Rodriguez particularly its MAO, and the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Agricultural Research (DA-BAR). The MAO provided the land for the said project and security for the area, as well as 50% of the labor cost. URS Rodriguez is providing the manpower and other technical support while DA-BAR is shouldering the rest of the expenses and other services necessary in the implementation of the project.

Project components include the establishment of a nursery to propagate budded rubber seedlings. The seedlings of the recommended clones, USM1, PB85, and RRIM 600, will be planted in a 6-hectare plot in Rodriguez, Rizal, with at least 100 trees per clone. Survival and growth of the seedlings in both nursery and field shall be documented, including latex yield (after 5-6 years), pest and disease incidence, as well as the experience in implementing project activities and protocols.

From the start of the project, it was the program's goal to promote natural rubber production in Rizal as a profitable and environment-friendly industry. One of the indicators of the program's success in achieving said goal is that at least 1,000 hectares of rubber would have been planted by 2020, with 6 hectares of rubber demo farm already established by the end of 2010.

The rubber project began in August of 2009. Thirty kilograms of rubber seeds were purchased from Laguna to serve as initial planting materials from which, 2,500 seedlings were produced and transferred to seedling bags. A second batch of seeds included another 30 kg, which was planted on September of 2010, with resulting 2,450 seedlings transferred to seedling bags. To date, 3,500 seedlings remain in the nursery and are being prepared for patch budding.

The budwood garden was also established on August of 2009 with 350 budded seedlings purchased from Lucban, Quezon. Among the three clones utilized, RRIM 600 has attained the highest height, with an average height of 241.3 cm, followed by USM1 and PB330, with 235.9 cm and 235.6 cm, respectively. In terms of girth, however, PB330 was the biggest among the three with an average circumference of 10.3 cm, followed by USM1 and RRIM 600 with an average of 8.8 cm and 8.1 cm, respectively.

"I'm rubber, you're glue…"

There's a saying, "I'm rubber, you're glue. Whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you." If one were to consider the forecast of rubber production by the Association of Natural Rubber Producing Countries (ANRPC) as believable, it would turn out that we would be lacking in rubber by 2011 and stuck in a puddle of glue. What metaphorical puddle does this mean? It just tells us that we would probably have to pay more for a product that we could very well grow in our own backyard, so to speak.

With project implementation in Rodriguez, Rizal, the major problems identified were the inadequate promotional and technology dissemination efforts, inadequate volume of planting materials, lack of viable financing scheme available to farmers, and the absence of quality standards for rubber. Therefore, the promotion of rubber production technologies in Rodriguez have included the conduct of social and economic preparation, vis-à-vis, the introduction of rubber, and development of Information, Education and Communication (IEC) materials for distribution to farmers and extension workers. Activities that have been implemented to achieve the aforementioned aims and objectives included the conduct of a seminar on rubber production for farmers and technicians.

As it is, ANRPC estimates that worldwide rubber production this year could be around 10.025 million tons, a lower figure than the earlier forecast of 10.060 million tons. The program led by URS, with Rodriguez, Rizal LGU, and DA-BAR, should help lead us out of the proverbial puddle of glue with improvement in the yield of natural rubber in the country. This effort is vital and should be pursued to its proper end given the Philippines' unstable and disproportionately small volume of rubber production.

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The article was beased on the study, "Promotion of Rubber Technologies towards Commercialization in Rodriguez, Rizal, "by Freddie Regalario of the University of Rizal System. For more information please contact: Mr. Freddie Regalario at (63) 02-997-9765.

Source:
1.Agriculturr.ph Blog (2008). 100 Years of Rubber in the Philippines: Some Glimpse. Available at: http://blog.agriculture.ph/100-years-of-rubber-in-the-philippines-some-glimpses.html
2. Commodity Online (2011). World will see less of Natural Rubber in 2011. Available at: www.commodityonline.com/news/World-will-see-less-of-Natural-Rubber-in-2011-38660-3-1.html