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The term ‘rubber’ refers to an elastic, waterproof substance derived from the latex of certain plants or manufactured artificially.
Although natural rubber competes with synthetic rubber produced chemically from petroleum by-products, it remains irreplaceable for some of its physical properties.

Natural rubber comes mainly from latex, which is harvested by cutting the trunk of the rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis).

Rubber is used in a wide range of applications: in industry (belts, hoses, tyres, computer cable sheaths, etc.), medicine (e.g. surgical gloves), sport and children’s games (playgrounds, synthetic turf materials, table tennis racket covers, etc.), shoe soles, baby bottle teats, wastewater treatment, food preservation, etc.

It provides a living for tens of millions of people around the world, the majority of whom are small-scale producers. However, the cultivation of rubber trees to produce natural rubber, through vast monoculture plantations, is also a major factor in deforestation and directly threatens the Guinean forests of West Africa. The rubber plantations are effectively biological deserts.

Rubber plantations are a real driver of deforestation

The table below shows the growth in rubber production in the Guinean forest countries, particularly in Côte d’Ivoire (Africa’s largest producer) and Nigeria. Global demand is growing strongly and is expected to exceed 19 million tonnes annually by 2025, with the risk that new rubber plantations will expand at the expense of natural forests.

Natural rubber production (tonnes)
World Rank State 1961 1980 2000 2018
7 Côte d’Ivoire 82 21 626 123 398 461 000
12 Nigeria 58 000 45 000 107 000 145 150
15 Liberia 41 205 81 400 105 000 70 548
16 Cameroon 8 900 17 365 58 027 55 425
18 Ghana 415 11 200 8 700 23 874
22 Guinea - - 7 000 17 165
World demand 2 120 000 3 860 000 7 580 000 15 160 000

Ranking of states by natural rubber production (in tonnes); source: ‘Rubber (natural)’, FAOSTAT, FAO, UN – Adapted from https://atlasocio.com/classements/economie/agriculture/classement-etats-par-production-caoutchouc-naturel-monde.php

Following in the footsteps of the palm oil sector, the natural rubber sector is also beginning to move towards zero deforestation practices. The multi-stakeholder Global Platform on Sustainable Natural Rubber (GPSNR) was set up at the World Rubber Summit in Singapore: https://sustainablenaturalrubber.org/. Again, there are criticisms of the label for the same reasons as for palm oil, i.e. the barely independent label awarded by rubber producers.