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Making rubber more sustainable
Making rubber more sustainable
“Eight years ago, people wouldn’t have believed me when I had talked about agroforestry. They would say I was crazy,” said Mr. Hmadchaa Hnuuhmaan. Also known, as Bung hmad, Hmadchaa is a rubber farmer from Ban Huai Hat, a community in the southern province of Songkhla and a speaker from the SNR Model Contest Event.
Several decades ago, the farmland was mostly a monoculture. In early 2000, economic fluctuations caused the fallen price of natural rubber which devastated rubber farmers. They had to find better ways to save their plantations, ones which have been passed down from generation to generation.
Bung hmad, is one of the very first few people who started adopting agroforestry, or wanakaset in Thai, a system of farming that emulates the workings of forest ecology to retain soil biodiversity and improve food security.
Since 2019, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Thailand has worked with local rubber farmers in southern Thailand under the S4RSH Project (Sustainable Rubber for Smallholders) to help them build knowledge and manage their plantation sustainably. In November 2020, WWF-Thailand, along with Prince of Songkhla University’s Faculty of Science and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), organised the SNR Model Contest for the first time, with the aim to find good examples of sustainable rubber farms and build networks for farmers to exchange their knowledge.
The judging criteria for the SNR Model Contest was divided into five categories, which are Happy Farmer, Smart Rubber Farmer, Wealthy Farmer, Self-sufficiency Farmer and Farm-to-Fork Farmer.
“With the instability of rubber prices in recent years, many farmers have integrated local wisdom and creativity to make ends meet. The change paves the way for ‘sustainable’ rubber plantations. The practice has become a widely adopted model. We hope the models we have collected will serve as an alternative way to help smallholder farmers have happier lives and more stable income,” said Mr. Korapat Jayaphorn, Agri-Forestry Officer, WWF-Thailand.
“This event is a starting point for rubber farmers who strive to create more sustainable rubber plantations. In this event, they are able to exchange knowledge and meet like-minded people. There are also experts from the public sector and university who have come together to help develop sustainable farming methods,” he added.
Apart from the contest, farmers also took part in a panel discussion on successful and sustainable rubber plantations. When asked what the sustainable farming is, one of the farmers quickly said that it is “happiness”.
“I have grown rubber trees for decades. There is nothing new about it, but when I saw other tress that my family and I planted together grow, it fills me with such happiness,” she shared with the group.
One farmer said that rubber plantation serves as a classroom for his family. Another added that it is a space where the elderly can spend time together happily. Many said several in the neighbourhood are now starting to adjust their farming practices to preserve biodiversity while making a living.
On the second day of the event, WWF-Thailand brought 50 rubber farmers to see two successful models of sustainable rubber plantation which incorporates agroforestry systems that include rubber-livestock farming system and rubber-livestock farming system.
“Sustainable rubber farms can be implemented in many ways, depending on a farmer’s expertise and farming style. Rubber plantations are a farmer’s happiness and also their soul security, so they should be a place where farmers can be comfortable and get to be themselves, applying the methods that make them happy,” said Mr. Kamdueng Phasi, an experienced rubber farmer from Buri Ram.
Sustainable rubber agroforestry systems give farmers more choices to have better income from their latex. The model paves the way for a balance between the environment, economy and society. The systems also allow farmers to use their land as efficiently as possible, aligning with WWF’s goal of the forest conservation. When farmers can adapt and manage their own lands, have sufficient income and enjoy a better quality of life, the change will cause less disturbance to forest lands.