The rubber/tea agroforestry system revisited: 2014

Walter Parham, Ph.D.

November, 2014

China, the world’s largest automobile market, consumes one-third of the world’s natural-rubber,1,2  and seventy percent of its own rubber resource to help meet the demand for automobile tires.2  India, the world’s 5th largest rubber producer, also is increasing its rubber imports to meet the demand for auto tires.  India is forecast to be the world’s 3rd largest car market in 2018.3

Asia produces about 97 percent of the world’s natural-rubber;4 Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia account for 70 percent with China at six percent.2   Large, monoculture rubber-plantations are a rapidly growing land-use today in the low lands of the China/Laos-Myanmar border region.  The plantation area grew almost nine times from 705 km2 in 1980 to 6,014 km2 in 2010.5 Now, large rubber plantations are pushing into the surrounding, higher elevations (300+ meter above sea level) of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, and China’s Yunnan Province.  These higher-elevation, monoculture, rubber plantations are forecast to increase fourfold by 2050.4   In this border region, about 80 percent of the rubber plantations are situated at elevations between 600 and 1000 m, and about two-thirds of the rubber trees are grown on slopes of 8 to 25 degrees;

Rubber plantations cover hills of south Yunnan (photo by W. Parham, 1990)

China grows rubber on the steepest slopes and highest elevations5.  Higher-elevation, monoculture rubber-plantations increase soil erosion and risk damage to trees from cold temperatures.  Both negatively affect the long-term productivity of the sites and adversely affect the rubber trees and their latex production.

Latex tapping from rubber tree, Guangdong, PRC, photo by W. Parham





In 2000, I reviewed Chinese research on the rubber/tea agroforestry system, work that began in the early 1960s.  In light of the expansion of rubber-plantations, the Chinese rubber/tea agroforestry system seems worthy of reconsideration because of the system’s many environmental and economic benefits.  These include: reduced soil erosion; reduced runoff and fertilizer loss; rubber tapping one year earlier than normal; reduced tree damage from cold temperatures; extension of latex production; an assured, valuable second crop in case rubber trees receive severe wind damage.  Opportunities exist as well to incorporate high-value tea varieties not previously grown in this intercrop.  These advantages and others can help to extend the life of the rubber-plantations’ productivity.

(See  Related Publications above: The rubber/tea agroforestry system of South China: a short review.)


 Reference cited

  1. China extends lead as world’s largest car market by sales, 2014; Young, A.,
  2. Glut in natural rubber seen shrinking as prices drop and China car sales rise, 2014, Gallucci, M.,
  3. Tyre demand boosts Indian rubber imports, may help revive global prices, 2014, Jadhav, ,
  4. Rubber plantations expand in mountainous southeast Asia: what are the consequences for the environment?, 2014, Fox, J.M., et al.
  5. Rubber plantations and its relationship with topographical factors in the border region of China, Laos and Myanmar, 2013, Xiaona Liu et al.;


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