In mid-January, the Thai government made a significant pledge: to support smallholder rubber planters to comply with the standards of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The decision was made after a collective call from various rubber associations with the support from The Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, saying their members have received increasing requests from European buyers to purchase certified latex.
Through certifying under the FSC scheme, the Thai Prime Minister Chan-o-cha stated that he believes complying with FSC standards “will make Thai products more viable for export to other markets in addition to China and will help raise their value in international markets.”
This decision signals highly positive progress towards developing responsibly-managed sustainable forests in the country. FSC welcomes the move and believes it will be beneficial to the Thai rubber industry. “The decision will have significant and lasting impacts, magnified by the fact that Thailand is the world’s largest producer of plantation rubberwood,” says Adam Beaumont, Regional Director, FSC Asia Pacific. “We are hopeful that this will create a spillover effect and improves the overall forestry management practice in the country.”
Besides latex, the demand for local rubberwood timber is high in the Thai furniture-manufacturing sector – which relies almost entirely on plantation rubberwood as a raw material. Thailand is also a noteworthy producer and exporter of wood-based panels, an industry which is reliant on a stable supply of domestic rubberwood.
Considering that 97 per cent of total sawn wood exports in 2014 were comprised of rubberwood, with 80 per cent destined for China; and given rubberwood’s already a sizable contribution to the total value of processed timber product exports, a further expansion in the rubberwood export trade will bring substantial benefits to Thailand.
Market drivers and increasing demand for the FSC certified materials are also the major reasons that lead to the government’s support. Key industry players in the rubberwood market, including biomass, wood chip and pellet buyers from Japan and brands like IKEA all recognise FSC as the most credible certification system, given extra impetus for producers to comply with the standards.
So far, 8,000 hectares of rubber plantations in Thailand – out of a total of more than 1.6 million hectares – are FSC-certified. This leaves plenty of room to transform plantations into better-managed, more sustainable businesses. FSC Greater Mekong is in the progress of developing the National Forest Stewardship Standard (NFSS) for Thailand, a local adaptation of FSC’s international standards to the country. The government’s support to FSC standards will likely to encourage more active involvements and valuable contributions from the rubber industry and other stakeholders to the standard development process.