Sustainable development of rubber plantations: challenges and opportunities

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Plantations of all major tropical commodities are expanding quickly, creating opportunities for development and raising concerns about their impacts on the environment, landscapes and livelihoods. Natural rubber is a particularly interesting example with respect to sustainability objectives given it being a strategic commodity to support transportation and new forms of mobility. Furthermore, its world production originates at 90% from millions of smallholders. It is therefore key to the sustainable development of commodity producing countries and the commodity value chains. Global rubber demand has risen rapidly during the last decade, driven by economic development, especially in China. This expansion is expected to continue (albeit at a decelerating rate) and it will continue to be driven by the automotive industry and by the growing importance of natural rubber in the health sector. Various authors have raised concerns on rubber cultivation and expansion and its impact on livelihoods and ecosystems. The purpose of this paper, a collaboration between The Forests, Trees and Agroforestry research program of the CGIAR (FTA) and the International Rubber Study Group (IRSG), is to consider rubber production in relation to its sustainability and challenges in order to identify how it can best contribute to sustainable development in a context of climate change. We first identify some main "sustainability hotspots" that are where the challenges and opportunities are the greatest. We then consider how they can be addressed and propose a way forward to address them in a holistic way.

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