THE International Rubber Research and Development Board (IRRDB) has established a committee to advise member countries on exploring the production of rubber through value addition, according to its secretary-general Datuk Seri Dr Abdul Aziz S.A. Kadir.
The committee of experts will encourage rubber-producing countries to add value by using and creating their own products.
"The focus should be on the value addition that rubber products can bring," he said.
Rubber is used in more than 5,000 products, primarily in the automotive and aircraft industries, with over 70 per cent of production for automobile tyres and non-tyre automotive parts.
Abdul Aziz said more than 2,000 cooperatives in India, known as rubber producers' societies, emphasised value addition and product manufacturing.
"It is essential to concentrate on the value addition that rubber products provide. The days of simply selling raw rubber are over," he said.
Malaysia was the world's largest producer of natural rubber in the 1960s and 1970s but since then, its hectarage had declined.
It is now the seventh biggest producer of natural rubber after Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Ivory Coast, India and China.
The reduction in natural rubber hectarage is due to large plantation companies turning to more profitable ventures like oil palm, which is less labour-intensive.
Abdul Aziz is concerned about low rubber prices and the impact on tappers that has kept them in poverty for decades. He said the tyre industry, a major consumer of rubber, greatly influenced the prices.
He said rubber prices depended on the supply and demand.
This is a crucial topic for discussion due to the significantly low prices of rubber.
A substantial area in the country remained untapped because of the low prices, he added.
To address this, Abdul Aziz suggested that natural rubber-producing countries should rejoin the International Rubber Study Group to engage with tyre manufacturers and keep prices up by purchasing more rubber.
Rubber production sustains about 40 million people globally, with around 90 per cent coming from small plantations.
The current rubber price in Malaysia is RM3 per kg after government subsidies.
In terms of productivity, the government, under the National Agri-Commodity Policy 2021-2030, has initiated efforts to enhance productivity at various levels.
This includes providing incentives to smallholders through the Rubber Production Incentive Programme that aims to ensure continuous domestic rubber production.
The New Latex Production Incentive Model Programme encourages smallholders to produce latex, while the gas stimulant technology and Low Intensity Tapping System are implemented to increase yield through new tapping methods.
Mad Zaidi Mohd Karli, secretary-general of the Plantation and Commodities Ministry, highlighted challenges in the rubber industry, including labour shortages and issues with smallholders.
"Labour shortage is one thing but we also have issues with smallholders. We need to find people who can do it. We aim to increase productivity and attract young individuals to participate in the rubber industry. This can be achieved through technology. With technology, there is no need to tap rubber every day," said Zaidi.
Abdul Aziz said the initiative to develop latex tapping technology was crucial to reducing costs and improving quality for smallholders.
The development of domestic and regional markets will strengthen the economy by providing access to broader markets and increasing the value of latex products.
Overall, this would contribute to economic growth and sustainability of smallholders, he added.
Thailand, the world's biggest rubber producer and exporter, also faced challenges in the industry and successfully improved production and productivity, stabilised prices, and addressed immediate challenges in the first phase between 2017-2021.
Rubber Testing Service and Certification Centre director Dr Preprame Tassanakul said other countries could learn from Thailand in supporting rubber tappers, including providing subsidies and financial aid.
"In the second phase between the period of 2022-2026, we will enhance rubber farming, disease control, expand international market access, promote Thai rubber exports, and monitor and adjust policies to ensure that the industry remains on track," she said.
Preprame added that in the third phase between 2027-2036, Thailand aimed to achieve self-sufficiency in rubber production, improve sustainability and environmental practices, ensure long-term market stability and contribute to the broader economic and social development.