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Thursday June 25, 2009

Sabah and Sarawak can go big in rubber plantations

KUALA LUMPUR: Sabah and Sarawak have the potential to be major players in domestic rubber plantations due to the availability of large tracts of land suitable for commercial agriculture, a senior official from the Malaysian Rubber Board (MRB) said.

“The additional new planting of 25,000ha in Sabah and 5,000ha in Sarawak by government agencies under the Ninth Malaysia Plan will enable an additional production of 35,000 tonnes (of rubber) a year by next year,” said Dariman Darham, the Sabah regional office director of MRB.

Of a total of 41.2 million ha of commercial agriculture land in East Malaysia, about 1.9 million ha are ideal for the cultivation of rubber trees.

Sarawak has about 1.5 million ha and Sabah about 400,000ha available for rubber cultivation, Dariman said at MRB’s National Rubber Economic Conference 2009 held here yesterday.

Sabah and Sarawak currently produced 101,000 tonnes of natural rubber with almost 99% of it in Standard Malaysian Rubber (SMR) grade. By 2010, East Malaysia is expected to produce about 136,000 tonnes of rubber annually, according to Dariman.

In 2008, Malaysia’s total natural rubber production slowed to 1.13 million tonnes from 1.20 million tonnes in 2007.

Meanwhile, Forest Plantation Development Sdn Bhd (FPDSB) chief executive officer Zaini Ithnin A Razak said the management of sustainable forest plantation was essential to overcome the declining hectarage of native forest and wood supply.

Rubber smallholders and estates have been providing wood for downstream processing industries, helping to overcome a shortage in wood supply. Rubberwood is an important raw material for the manufacturing of wood-based furniture, medium-density fibreboard, plywood, particle board and wood floorings.

However, Zaini said due to low latex prices and the conversion of rubber land to oil palm estates, the supply of rubber wood was gradually diminishing.

FPDSB, a subsidiary of the Malaysian Timber Board, was set up to promote sustainable rubber plantations and forest tree plantations among the private sector, government linked companies and agencies as well as smallholders.

It has an annual target of 25,000ha of such plantations for 15 years.

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