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Conservation and Society
An interdisciplinary journal exploring linkages between society, environment and development
Conservation and Society
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Year : 2014  |  Volume : 12  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 418-424

Through the Technology Lens: The Expansion of Rubber and its Implications in Montane Mainland Southeast Asia

East-West Center, Honolulu, HI, USA

Correspondence Address:
Jefferson Fox
East-West Center, Honolulu, HI
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0972-4923.155587

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Natural latex from the rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) is a hot commodity, with consumption increasing worldwide at an average rate of 5.8% per year since 1900. The vast majority of the world's rubber supply has historically come from the wet-humid tropics of Southeast Asia, but researchers in China have successfully developed new hybrids that grow well in areas with cooler temperatures and a distinct dry season. Today, investors are promoting rubber plantations in non-traditional rubber growing areas of Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, northeast Thailand, and northwest Vietnam. By critically assessing the impacts of this expansion of rubber and clarifying the relationship between tools and technologies, the paper suggests that the widespread adoption of rubber as a technology leads to loss of natural and agricultural biodiversity; greater use of surface and groundwater supplies; increased use of pesticides, fertilisers, and other chemicals; higher exposure to market booms and busts for smallholders and investors; and for some farmers, the loss of their land to industrial plantations on which they may become labourers. The paper argues that if state authorities recognise the double-edged nature of rubber as a technology, they can act to try to limit its damaging effects through polices that recognise secure tenure and encourage small-scale, diversified agroforestry systems.

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