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Rubber Wood

Rubber Wood

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Published by: uzaimy on Nov 01, 2011
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06/28/2013

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Rubberwood
-
the success of an agricultural by
-
product
 
W. Killmann and L.T. Hong
 
Wulf Killmann
is Director of the ForestProducts Division, FAO Forestry Department.
 Hong Lay Thong
is Director of theTechno-Economics Division,Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM),Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The inexpensive wood from plantation rubber trees, felled when they no longer yield adequate latex, is finding a market in high-value end products traditionally associated with more valuable hardwoods such asteak.
 The wood from rubber tree stems (
 Hevea brasiliensis
Muell. Arg.) has become the raw material for a widevariety of end products of varying quality, substituting timber from the natural forests.Rubberwood becomes available from agricultural plantations when replanting is carried out after 25 to 30years because of declining latex yield.Although rubberwood (sometimes called hevea wood) is a relatively inexpensive and mass-produced timber,it is now being used and marketed in many applications in which higher-value, less available hardwoodssuch as teak (
Tectona grandis
) have traditionally been used. These include furniture, flooring, wood panelsand indoor building components. It is not durable enough, however, for use in some situations requiring thedurability of teak, such as boat building, bulwarks, construction and transmission line poles.The availability of rubberwood in large quantities is partly a result of the trees' undemanding siterequirements, but mainly of the fact that rubberwood is only a by-product of a crop grown for latexproduction. An additional, vital factor for the availability of rubberwood is, at least in Malaysia, stronggovernmental support and incentives to ensure the continuing supply of latex through replanting of rubberplantations.Most of the technical problems in processing and utilization of rubberwood have been overcome by theSoutheast Asian countries over the past 20 years and the timber has been successfully marketedinternationally. Rubberwood has thus become a Southeast Asian success story. It is even more importantthan teak as a plantation timber in Southeast Asia.This article presents general information on rubberwood, its properties, processing, markets and products.
 
 
 A rubberwood plantation near Seremban, Negri Sembilan, Malaysia
 - W. KILLMANN
BACKGROUND
In pre-Columbian times latex from different plants in Central and South America was used for theproduction of balls and other rubber products. The invention of vulcanization by Charles Goodyear in 1839laid the basis for the modern technical use of natural latex. During the second part of the nineteenth century,
 Hevea brasiliensis
(Amerindian name
heve
) became the most important among the many latex-producingplants for production of natural rubber (Amerindian name
cahuchu
).
 Hevea brasiliensis
is indigenous to the Amazon basin. During the nineteenth century, Brazil was the mainsupplier of hevea latex, which was collected through tapping of trees in the natural forest. The wealthacquired in Manaus, Brazil, through the rubber boom and its impact on the development of the city aroundthe beginning of the twentieth century have become legendary.In 1876 Sir Henry Wickham of the United Kingdom smuggled hevea seedlings out of Brazil to the UnitedKingdom. Some surviving plantlets were then transferred to the new Singapore Botanical Garden. Theybecame the planting stock for the first rubber plantations in the Malay State of Perak. They were also theparent planting stock for all rubber plantations in present-day Malaysia and other Southeast Asian countriesdeveloped at the turn of the twentieth century. Hevea has since been planted in a number of tropicalcountries as a plantation crop. The most important rubber producers today are in Southeast Asia; Brazilhardly has a role any longer (Table 1).
TABLE 1. Rubber plantation area of major producing countries worldwide
('000 ha)
Country
 
1981
 
1991
 
1999
 Indonesia 1 564 1 878 2 269Malaysia 1 620 1 610 1 420
 
Thailand 1 269 1 420 1 555Viet Nam 85 221 380Philippines 54 87 98Myanmar 47 39 48Cambodia 10 35 39China n.a. 420 390Sri Lanka 230 198 158India 194 306 374
Asia total
 
5 073
 
6 214
 
6 731
 Liberia 107 20 28Nigeria 73 268 225Cameroon 28 41 53Côte d'Ivoire 17 42 60
West Africatotal
 225 371 366Guatemala 16 15 27Brazil n.a. 50 59
LatinAmerica total
 16 65 86
World
 
5 314
 
6 650
 
7 183
 
Source:
FAO (1999).Tapping of rubber trees starts in the fifth to seventh year after planting and then continues for 25 to 30 years.It is done by incising the bark with a special knife and wounding the resin canals, usually without damagingthe cambium.After 30 years, a decline in latex production makes further tapping of the trees uneconomical. The trees arethen removed and replaced with new seedlings. In the past, felled hevea trees were either burnt on the spotor used as fuel for locomotive engines, brick burning or latex curing.A 30-year-old cultivated hevea tree is about 30 m tall with an average branch-free bole of 3 m. The diameterat breast height (DBH) may reach about 30 cm. The stem tends to taper. Young rubber trees have a smoothbrown-green bark. The constantly tapped portions of the stem may develop with age into a latex-smearedcortex.
AVAILABILITY AND PRODUCTION
More than 80 percent of the 7.2 million hectares of plantations established worldwide for latex production in1999 are in Southeast Asia; 70 percent of the total (or 5.2 million ha) are in Indonesia, Malaysia andThailand (FAO, 1999). For decades, Malaysia had the largest area, followed by Indonesia and Thailand.With increasing wages in Malaysia and decreasing rubber prices, labour-intensive production of naturalrubber in larger estates is slowly shifting to lower-wage countries in the region, while in Malaysiaplantations are increasingly replanted with oil-palms (
 Elaeis guineensis
) (Table 2)
.
Indonesia is now theworld's largest producer of natural rubber from
 Hevea brasiliensis
.
TABLE 2. Area replanted with rubber trees in Malaysia
(ha)
Year
 
Hevea
 
Other Total
 
% Hevea
 

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