By Pramod Thomas:

Myanmar is the seventh largest producer of Natural rubber(NR) among the Association of Natural Rubber Producing Countries (ANRPC) members. This newest member of ANRPC has great potential to play a bigger role in NR production.

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is a country in Southeast Asia. Myanmar is one of the earliest rubber planting countries in the world with a long 140-year history in rubber planting. In September 2018, Myanmar became the 13th member of the Association of Natural Rubber Producing Countries (ANRPC), its latest member.

The Association of Natural Rubber Producing Countries (ANRPC) is an inter-governmental organisation established in 1970, with a vision for an economically viable, socially and ecologically sustainable natural rubber industry. The already existing members are Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam. With the induction of Myanmar, ANRPC now has 13 members representing 90.5% of the world natural rubber output.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation (MOALI) will represent the Government of Myanmar in ANRPC. Dr. Ye Tint Tun, Director-General, Department of Agriculture, Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation, signed the Instrument of Accession. The Myanmar Parliament, in its regular session held on August 7, 2018, approved the proposal by the Ministry.
Myanmar produced 2,42,000 tonnes of natural rubber during the year ended June 2018 from 3,11,000 hectares of yielding rubber. Of the four auto tyre manufacturing companies in Myanmar, three are State-owned. The country annually exports about 150,000 tonnes of rubber.
Among the ANRPC members, in terms of production, Myanmar with 1.8% of total production stands at the seventh position behind India, which accounts for 5.3% of total rubber production in the world. Though the country was inducted into the ANRPC only recently, the Myanmar Government has been a member of the International Rubber Study Group (IRSG) since 1947. However, the NGO, Myanmar Rubber Planters & Producers Association (MRPPA), has been a member of the International Rubber Research & Development Board (IRRDB) since 2007. The Department of Agriculture (DOA) entered as a member ten years later in 2017. The Government’s membership in the international rubber organizations happened at the efforts and suggestion of Myanmar Rubber Planters and Producers Association (MRPPA) since 2011.

Myanmar’s rubber scenario

Currently, Myanmar has a planting area of 657,190 hectare (1,623,260 acre). The country produced 241,850 tonnes of rubber from the 47% of its tapping area in 2017-18. The production is projected to reach over 300,000 tonnes in the next three years. Thus Myanmar ranks the seventh among the rubber planting and producing countries of the region. The Government which has been a member of International Rubber Study Group (IRSG) for 50 years from 1947 to 1997, has not applied for IRSG membership again. Rubber in Myanmar is the most important industrial crop and one among the three export crops in the agriculture sector together with rice and pulses. Commercial planting of rubber was started in 1909, and the planted area was 9,900 acres then.
Rubber in Myanmar is planted mainly in Mon State, Tanintharyi Region, and Kayin State and also moderately in Shan State, Bago Region and Kachin State. Natural rubber produced in the country is mainly exported. According to official data, of the total production of 210,000 tonnes in 2016-17, 141,000 tonnes was exported mainly to China, Malaysia and also to Singapore, Korea & Japan. It is estimated that only about 18,000-20,000 tonnes is consumed by the domestic industries.
“Majority of the rubber holdings in Myanmar are smallholdings with less than 20 acres which constitute 89.67% in number and 45.66% in area. Medium-sized holdings of between 20 to 100 acres constitute 9.06% in number and 24.32% in area. The rest represents those holdings of over 100 acres and above. The rubber sector in the country employs about 450,000-500,000 people mostly in the planting, maintenance and tapping or latex harvesting areas,” says Hla Myint, Advisor, Myanmar Rubber Planters and Producers Association.

Mega Projects

A number of projects in the rubber sector were implemented with the assistance of external organizations like The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and International Development Association (IDA). The first was an FAO-assisted Rubber Project implemented from 1956-57 to 1966-67, which had planted 30,440 acres including new plantings and replanting of low-yielding and unproductive old rubber plantations with contemporary high-yielding clones. With the political change in 1962, many rubber estates owned by both local citizens and foreigners were nationalized during the years 1964 – 1973 under the socialist Government. Due to this, rubber areas declined to 200,000 acres and 190,000 acres in the 1970’s and 1980’s respectively from a peak of 220,000 acres which was reached in 1969.
Later, two phases of Rubber Rehabilitation Project for the Government sector were implemented during 1979-80 to 1984-85 and 1984-85 to 1992-93 respectively with credits from the IDA and technical assistance from UNDP and FAO. The projects successfully planted 4,500 acres in Phase-I and 11,150 acres in Phase-II Projects, including both new and replantings in the Government-owned plantations.
The IDA is an international financial institution which offers concessional loans and grants to the world’s poorest developing countries. It is a member of the World Bank Group and is headquartered in Washington, United States.
The Development Centre for Rubber Technology (DCRT) to conduct research on down-stream end-product manufacturing was established with UNIDO’s technical assistance from 1987 to 1993. Applied Research Centre for Perennial Crops (ARCPC) to conduct research on rubber and other plantation crops was established from 1991 to 1994 with UNDP and FAOs’ technical assistance.
These projects have contributed considerably to the institutional and technical development of the Government sector with the establishment of necessary supporting infrastructure for later participation by the private sector.
However, a political change took place in late 1988, and since then all the foreign aids and IDA credits have been suspended. The UNDP/FAO-assisted ARCPC Project was completed in 1994, and it was the last project implemented with external assistance till 2012-13.
The political change in the late 1988 brought about changes in the country’s economic policy with the adoption of market-oriented economic policy, which encouraged private-sector investment. In view of this, rubber areas increased gradually from 196,000 acres in 1990-91 to 446,000 acres in 2000-01. The increase and development was accelerated in the past one-and-a-half decade with the total planting areas reaching over 1,000,000 acres in 2008-09. Total export liberalization without any restriction since 2004-05 and the good rubber prices from 2005 to early 2008 were the main contributing factors for this fast development.
Myanmar Rubber Planters and Producers Association (MRPPA), a non-Government organization, was formed in March 2005. Its members comprise rubber planters, processors, traders, exporters and rubber goods manufacturers. The objective of the association is to support and enhance rubber productivity and quality in the expansion process of the rubber industry.
The other missions of MRPPA include accelerating the overall development of the Myanmar rubber planting and production industry quantitatively and qualitatively, increasing the export of rubber and foreign exchange earnings, promoting the local rubber manufacturing industries, improving the income and living standard of the people involved in rubber planting and production and ultimately contributing to the overall economy of the country.

Research Activities

According to MRPPA, due to the accelerated planting and production in the past two decades, actual planted area and production already reached over the planned data much earlier. So the long-term plan, which had become obsolete, needs to be revised.
Long before the official establishment of Applied Research Centre for Perennial Crops (ARCPC) during 1991-1994, research on rubber were carried out under the first rubber project implemented from 1956-57 to 1966-67 and also in the 1970’s and 1980’s. A number of studies, including clone trials, experiments on tapping system & stimulation, fertilizers, weedicides, plant propagation and buddings, disease control and intercrops were undertaken. The ARCPC also continues the studies mainly on clone evaluation and disease control methods, through its hand pollination and breeding programme and produced new ARCPC clones, of which a few identified potential clones are under study in small scale trials. Currently, a study on biological control of leaf diseases is ongoing. Recently initiated experiments on various tapping systems with stimulation and intercropping are also ongoing.
In 2016, ARCPC was reorganized as Plantation Crops Research & Development Centre (PCRDC). Its functions covers research and training not only rubber but also other plantation/ perennial crops like oil palm and macadamia nut. Trainings on various crop disciplines are provided for the staff and also for the smallholder planters at the Centre as well as in other required States and regions. Tapping or latex harvesting in rubber being an operation which requires skill, tapping proficiency trainings are conducted for the planters and tappers. In most cases, tappers in large or medium plantations are trained by senior experienced tappers of the plantations.

Export strategy

A National Export Strategy (NES) for important prioritized export commodities and services was formulated by Ministry of Commerce (MOC) in cooperation with International Trade Centre (ITC) in 2013-14.
Rubber was included in the formulation of the NES along with other prioritized commodites (rice, pulses, timber, fishery, garments) besides tourism in the service sector. The Department of Trade Promotion of the Ministry of Commence and Myanmar Rubber Planters & Producers Association (MRPPA), together with ITC experts, after consultation with various stakeholders and Government departments and ministries concerned, have in a series of workshops, prepared the National Export Strategy for the Rubber Products Sector.
With in-depth analysis of the key constraints on the supply side (planting and production) as well as the business environment along the whole supply chain, the Rubber Products Sector National Export Strategy has eveolved a Vision ‘To foster Innovation and Sustainable Growth in National & Global Rubber Value Chain’ to realize the export potential and increase the competitiveness.

The objectives are:

1, Creating an environment for attracting investment and finance in the Rubber Sector.
2, Establishing the Regulatory Framework and National Quality Infrastructure for a sustainable and competitive sector along the value chain.
3, Promoting Myanmar’s Natural Rubber and related Rubber Products Industry internationally.
4, Strengthening skills, technologies and human resources to create value addition, higher productivity and quality in Myanmar’s Rubber Products Sector.
5, Facilitating the availability of land resources and physical infrastructure in the Rubber Products Sector.
Each strategic objective will be implemented through relevant operational objectives with a specific set of activities to address the issues and constraints and to tap the opportunities.
Myanmar Trade Development Committee (MTDG) formed in July 2014 under the Ministry of Commerce, and its Executive Secretariat play a coordinating and monitoring role in the implementation of the Rubber Products Sector National Export Strategy within the framework of the NES.
Effective from 2015-16, Myanmar’s rubber sector development activities along the whole supply chain is being implemented with a holistic approach under this formulated National Export Strategy. The Rubber Sector NES Project, currently under implementation for five years up to 2019-20, is the present development roadmap for rubber in Myanmar.

Woman power

Women play an important role in plant propagation or budding operation, tapping and field latex collection, grading or quality inspection and also in trading activities in Myanmar. A study undertaken by Generating Rubber Opportunities (GRO) Project in 2015 in Mon State, which is the largest rubber planting & producing State, has found that women comprise 30% of managers (for absent partners who have migrated), 70% of the total employees and workers; 50% of the tappers and 60% of the general plantation workers in the rubber sector.