KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia will begin construction of rubberised roads nationwide this year, in a bid to boost domestic consumption of rubber, said the Plantation Industries and Commodities Ministry today.
Its minister, Datuk Seri Mah Siew Keong, said the move would help shore up the commodity, which has been battered by falling prices.
"We need to support our smallholders, who might otherwise shift away from natural rubber due to weak prices," he told a press conference after the Gerakan Chinese New Year open house at Menara PGRM here today.
Mah revealed that his ministry has been directed to build rubberised roads within the next few months by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who is concerned over the livelihoods of the rakyat, particularly, smallholders.
"There are about 1.2 million smallholders in the country (550,00 smallholders in the palm oil industry, 440,000 in the rubber industry and 60,000 in the pepper industry).
"As per the prime minister's directive, we will be working hand-in-hand with the International Trade and Industry Ministry to ensure good prices and sustainable demand for palm oil and rubber, among others.
"We understand that it is an expensive exercise for the ministry to continue giving subsidies, hence we must increase the demand for rubber," he added.
Although the initial cost of building the rubberised roads may be 16 per cent higher than normal roads, Mah said maintenance costs in the long run would be cheaper.
Besides that, he said rubberised roads are more durable and could bear heavier loads.
"We have been doing research on rubberised roads over the last three years and so far, things are good.
“(The Prime Minister) said we must build the rubberised roads in small towns and certain parts of (major) highways. The main purpose is to ensure that our 440,000 rubber smallholders have sustainable demand
"The roads will be made using rubber cup lumps, or naturally-coagulated latex, which will be processed into bituminous cup lumps and then mixed into asphalt.
"However, we have yet to identify the exact stretches of roads to be upgraded, and we are currently looking into that," he added.
In 2015, Reuters reported that there was a possibility that the use or rubber in road building may increase by 15 or 20 per cent, if the project proves successful.