Natural Rubber in Indonesia – opportunities for smallholders and FSC in Sintang 

Written by: Rainforest Alliance  

Indonesia’s rainforests are critical to the health of the global climate. They are the third largest in the world behind Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congo and are at risk of rapid deforestation and degradation resulting from commodity production.  Indonesia, alongside Thailand, is the largest producer of natural rubber, the two countries together account for 63% of global production. While there is a lack of data on the exact amount of deforestation caused by natural rubber, it is known that the global land area devoted to rubber cultivation increased from 8.8 million hectares in 2000 to 12.9 million hectares in 2016, mainly in forested landscapes. A 2018 report by the European Commission estimates that 3 million hectares of forest loss in the Mekong region can be directly attributed to the increase of rubber production since 2000.

Natural rubber production is also largely dominated by smallholder farmers with nearly 85% of global production being produced by 6 million small farmers. Deforestation has also been driven by these same smallholders who struggle to earn a profit and resort to harmful practices such as slash-and-burn agriculture and timber extraction. A significant portion of deforestation occurring during the early 2000s can be attributed to smallholder farmers, who due to high prices for natural rubber during this time expanded their production often at the expense of natural forests. Sadly, due to the nature of commodity economics by the time the rubber trees reached maturity, prices had fallen leaving many farmers in poverty and even trees untapped. The inexperience of these farmers also led to significant challenges as these new plantations were often of bad quality, as such, productivity continues to be a big challenge for rubber development today.  

In West Kalimantan’s Sintang District these dynamics play out to the extreme.  59% of Sintang consists of forest areas (protected & production) including some of the most biodiverse tropical rainforests on the planet.  Yet Sintang suffers from one of the highest rates of degradation, deforestation & fires in West Kalimantan. And natural rubber is still a significant crop with 125,000 hectares cultivated by smallholders 

Since 2018, Rainforest Alliance has worked in Sintang to promote Integrated Landscape Management (ILM). This work has created a foundation for an organized effort to help FSC certified smallholder latex producers succeed. ILM brings land-users and stakeholders together to address ecological, social, economic, and government issues around both palm oil and natural rubber production. 

Following this, in 2021, the Sintang government began developing a roadmap for sustainable rubber with the Rainforest Alliance as a main contributor and stakeholder.  

This work has created an opportunity for certified smallholder natural rubber using the new RFSS smallholder pilot standard along with the added flexibility of the recently revised FSC Group management Standard. Supporting work with smallholder cooperatives would complement efforts by the Indonesian government to create a sustainable natural rubber sector and aims at ensuring that forest communities and natural rubber smallholders get benefit from their forest-related production in an environmentally, economically and socially sustainable manner, while also focusing on restoring the landscape through diversified agroforestry and building partnerships and alliances. Rainforest Alliance shares this vision. 

For more information on Rainforest Alliance work with natural rubber in Sintang