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The shadows of the rubber tree leaves hit the ground as we walked through the corridors of 43-meter tall rubber trees.
In Nathawi district, Songkhla province, this 700-hundred tree rubber plantation is one that Thanrata Phawasin’s father passed down to her.
“I am continuing my father’s legacy of tapping rubber. Right now I only have my mother. Us three children left to study in the Central region of Thailand, but I came back to help my mother because she lived alone,” Thanrata said.
Thanrata is the second generation of rubber farmers under Naprang Cooperative , a rubber farmers’ cooperative that was founded 30 years ago to empower farmers to look out for fair treatment and fair rubber prices.
Thanrata in her rubber plantation
It takes Thanrata and her husband three hours to tap 700 trees. They wake up between 1 and 2am to tap rubber, [Thanrata] cooks for their son at 5am, and come back between 7 and 8am to collect the latex. They then sell the latex at the [Naprang] cooperative, and at noon Thanrata makes egg desserts as a form of extra income.
“Today when I finish making desserts at 12pm I will do my duty as a member of the fund committee, and at 1pm I will receive deposits from villagers,” Thanrata said.
With her busy schedule, Thanrata makes time to further her understanding of sustainable rubber farming. In 2017, WWF-Thailand came in to engage with the Naprang cooperative and explained to the group about the Sustainable Rubber for Smallholders criteria and indicators (SR4SH) model. The model, developed by WWF-Thailand, paves the road towards sustainable rubber farming and is acknowledged by key policy makers, especially the Rubber Authorities of Thailand (RAOT). By 2020, 88 farms (250 ha) in the Naprang cooperative successfully implemented the SR4SH model and by mid-2020 received the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification.
“In the beginning when WWF explained to us what FSC was, I was confused. What is FSC? Why should we do it? Then I saw that I could meet each criteria for FSC, for example to reduce litter. They weren’t difficult,” Thanrata said.
Thanrata’s husband walking in the rubber plantation
It took almost one year for the Naprang cooperative to finally become Thailand’s first group of farmers to receive FSC certification without help from investors and private companies.
“The day our FSC certification was announced, tears fell down my cheeks. My hard work paid off,” Thanrata said, “I was tired because I went to a lot of meetings. I was one of the FSC Group Entity (GE) Commitee who took care of members and went to see their farms.”
To achieve the FSC certification was also to improve health by decreasing chemical usage in Thanrata’s rubber plantation. In the past Thanrata and her husband used a lot of chemicals on their trees, but now their understanding is gradually shifting. “The first thing I agreed to was to decrease chemical usage. Our skin wither if we use herbicides,” Thanrata said.
Now Thanrata and her husband use cow and chicken manure to fertilize their rubber trees and notice that the plant roots are growing more quickly to absorb the nutrients.
Thanrata explains how she taps rubber
In hopes for the future, Thanrata wishes for her son to become an agriculture officer or an agriculture academic. “It is a farmer’s hope for their children to serve the government for job security and stability,” Thanrata said.
When asked about her plans for the future, Thanrata explained that after the life cycle of these rubber trees, she will not grow them like how her father did - “I will grow them farther apart from each other and plant other types of trees in between for variety.”
But Thanrata cannot abandon her rubber plantation because it is her main source of income, “I have to send my son to school first,” Thanrata said. Thanrata plans to install solar cells and take two rais of rubber trees out to plant fruits, vegetables, dig a pond to raise fish, and have a small rice farm. “Variety is good,” Thanrata said.
As Thanrata looked straight ahead down the corridor of her rubber trees, she contemplated her future growing forest trees, so that at retirement age those trees will be her and her husband’s retirement fund. “I want to be a role model for others,” Thanrata said, “But it takes many years for people to see.”
A rubber tree from a human’s point of view