Rubber is replacing natural forests in Mainland Southeast Asia

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Rubber is Replacing Natural Forests in Mainland Southeast Asia

By Jefferson Fox and Kaspar Hurni

Over the past 50 years, the mountainous region of Mainland Southeast Asia has witnessed a dramatic expansion of commercialized agriculture. The emphasis has been on tree-based cash crops, and in particular, rubber. Much of this expansion has come at the expense of the region’s native forests.

A detailed study of time-series data derived from satellite images tracked land-use and land-use change in Southeast Asia from 2003 to 2014. The study focused on the areas where land-use change has been most dramatic―all of Cambodia and Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR), most of Vietnam, parts of Thailand, Shan State in Myanmar, and Xishuangbanna Prefecture in southern Yunnan, China (Fig 1).

During the 11-year study period, farmers converted approximately 74,960 km2 of land to rubber, so that by 2014, rubber accounted for 8 percent of total land cover in the region (Table 1). Seventy percent of this expansion came at the expense of natural forests, while 30 percent occurred in other areas, mainly cropland. Deforestation was greatest in Cambodia and Lao PDR, but there was also significant loss of forests in Vietnam, Xishuangbanna Prefecture, China; and Shan State, Myanmar.


Critical Statistics:
  1. As of 2014, rubber plantations covered 15% of Cambodia.Seven previously state-run plantations, which had been privatized, controlled one-half of this area; companies that had received government land concessions controlled the other half.

    As of 2014, rubber plantations covered 6,182 km2, or 29 percent of Xishuangbanna Prefecture. Many Chinese rubber farmers have achieved unprecedented wealth.

    In Thailand, the government began promoting rubber in the northeast region in the 1970s. By 2014, rubber plantations in the northeast covered 9 percent of the region.

    A state agency, the Offices of the Rubber Replanting Aid Fund (ORRAF), provides technical advice, seedlings, fertilizer, herbicides, and low-cost credit for labor costs (including family labor). ORRAF also supports alternative income-generating activities to help farmers maintain their livelihoods between the time they plant rubber and begin to harvest.

What is Next:
  1. Fox, J., T. Nghiem, H. Kimkong, K. Hurni and I. Baird. (submitted to Land). Large-scale land concessions, migration, and land use: Industrial estates in the Red River Delta of Vietnam and rubber plantations in Northeast Cambodia.

    Nghiem, T.P., and Y. Kono. Under review. How Coffee Boom Triggers Commercialization of Agriculture: The Case of Coffee Production in the Northern Mountain Region of Vietnam. The Journal of Contemporary Asia. 

    Hurni, K., and J. Fox. (Accepted and re-submitted after revisions). The expansion of tree-based boom crops in Mainland Southeast Asia: 2001-2014. Journal of Land Use Science.

    Baird, I., W. Noseworthy, T.P., Nghiem, T.H. Le, and J. Fox. (Accepted subject to minor revisions). Labour and land grabs: Vietnamese workers on rubber plantations in Southern Laos. Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography.

    Hurni, K., A. Schneider, A. Heinimann, D.H. Nong, D.H. and J. Fox. 2017. Mapping the Expansion of Boom Crops in Mainland Southeast Asia Using Dense Time Stacks of Landsat Data. Remote Sensing 9(4): 320-326.

    Giambelluca, T.W., R.G. Mudd, W. Liu, A.D. Ziegler, N. Kobayashi, T. Kumagai, Y. Miyazawa, T. K. Lim, M. Huang, J. Fox, S. Yin, S. V. Mak, P. Kasemsap. 2016. Evapotranspiration of rubber (Hevea brasiliensis) cultivated at two plantation sites in Southeast Asia. Water Resources Journal. DOI: 10.1002/2015WR017755

    Ahrends, A., P. Hollingsworth, A. Ziegler, J. Fox, H. Chen, Y. Su, and J. Xu. 2015. Current trends of rubber plantation expansion may threaten biodiversity and livelihoods. Global Environmental Change 34: 48-58

    Baird, I. and J. Fox. 2015. How land concessions affect places elsewhere: Telecoupling, political ecology, and large scale plantations in Southern and Laos and Northeast Cambodia. Land (4): 436-453.

    Kumagai, T., R.G. Mudd, T. Giambelluca, N. Kobayashi, Y. Miyazawa, T. K. Lim, W. Liu, M.

                Huang, J. Fox, A. Ziegler, S. Yin, S. V. Mak, P. Kasemsap. 2015. How do rubber (Hevea brasiliensis) plantations behave under seasonal water stress in northeastern Thailand and central Cambodia? Agricultural and Forest Meteorology 213: 10-22.

    Fox, J. 2014. Through the technology lens: The expansion of rubber and its implications in Montane Mainland Southeast Asia. Vandergeest, P. and S. Gururani (Eds.) Special Issue on Changing Frontiers of Ecological Knowledges in Asia. Conservation and Society 12 (4): 418-424.

    Fox, J., J-C. Castella, A. D. Ziegler, and S. B. Westley. 2014. Expansion of rubber mono- cropping and its implications for the resilience of ecosystems in the face of climate change in Montane Mainland Southeast Asia. Global Environmental Research 18 (2):145-150.

    Fox, J., J.C. Castella, and A. Ziegler. 2014. Swidden, Rubber and Carbon: Can REDD+ work for people and the environment in Montane Mainland Southeast Asia? Global        Environmental Change 29:318-326.

    Herrmann, S. and Fox, J.M., 2014. Assessment of rural livelihoods in South-West China based on environmental, economic, and social indicators. Ecological Indicators 36:746-748.

    Fox, J. and J. C. Castella. 2013. Expansion of rubber (Hevea brasiliensis) in mainland Southeast Asia: What are the prospects for small holders? Journal of Peasant Studies 40 (1): 155-170.

    Li, Z. and J. Fox. 2011. Mapping rubber tree growth in mainland Southeast Asia using time- series MODIS 250 m NDVI and statistical data Applied Geography 32: 420-432.

    Evans, T.P., K. Phanvilay, J. Fox, and J. Vogler. 2011. An agent-based model of agricultural innovation, land-cover change and household inequality: the transition from swidden cultivation to rubber plantations in Laos PDR. Journal of Land Use Science 6 (2-3): 151-173.

    Li, Z. and J. Fox. 2011. Rubber Tree Distribution Mapping in Northeast Thailand. International

                Journal of Geosciences 2: 573-584.

    Li, Z. and J. Fox. 2010. Integrating Mahalanobis typicalities with a neural network for rubber distribution mapping. Remote Sensing Letters 2 (2): 157-166.

    Ziegler, A.D., J. Fox and J. Xu. 2009. The Rubber Juggernaut. Science 324: 1024-1025.