R&D a key focus area for Malaysian Rubber Board to ensure sustainability of the sector
This year is going to be a busy one for the Malaysian Rubber Board, going by the list of eight priorities its Director General Datuk Dr Salmiah Ahmad shares with Business Circle.
But over and above these mainly domestic issues is the global rubber oversupply situation. Responding to this, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia established the International Tripartite Rubber Council (ITRC) to address the problem, specifically through the Supply Management Schemes. While this is expected to be a short term solution, Madinah says that all three countries are also looking into replanting to balance the supply and demand on a long term basis.
While there are analyst reports that suggest ITRC may also resort to burning old rubber trees as a means to reduce price immediately, Madinah is quick to scoff at such allegations. “The ITRC has never resorted to burning old rubber trees as a mean to reduce supply and prop up rubber prices. You have to remember that rubber wood is one of the main sources of raw materials for our furniture industry. For instance, over 80% of the wooden furniture that Malaysia exports is made from heveawood.”
A more immediate concern for her is the labour shortage that the sector is facing. “Though no official statistics have been recorded, the children of rubber smallholders that tend to take over the business are declining amid the competition from other job offerings especially in the manufacturing and services sub-sectors.”
Foreign workers recruitment is not the panacea either. While accepted to be the best solution for the rubber upstream sector, Madinah highlights the increasing concern over labour supply from neighbouring countries due partly to tightening regulations on foreign labour by the Malaysian government due to the rising social and security problems.
The long term answer lies in, “transforming the landscape through restructuring, introduction of automation and mechanization to create a better working environment for future generations and to ensure sustainability of the industry in this country,” she stresses.
Part of the process to ensure sustainability of the industry is to keep close ties with the various industry bodies and the universities.
“MRB maintains close cooperation with industry associations namely Joint Technical Committee (JTC). This industry-MRB committee comprises of representatives from the various industry association to discuss issues and challenges faced by the industry,” she points out.
Quarterly meetings to discuss all matters affecting the rubber downstream sector, including technical, regulatory and trade issues are brought up. This committee is also a platform for MRB to obtain useful inputs for conducting its R&D programs and to ensure the outputs of the R&D are relevant to the needs of the industry. This committee also proposes technical collaborations for short term research projects to solve current issues and problems faced by the industry.
With R&D being a key focus for the MRB, collaboration with external parties including R&D institutes and universities locally and internationally in specific areas of rubber research is encouraged. According to Madinah, at present MRB have formal collaborations with Universiti Putra Malaysia, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Universiti Teknologi Mara as well as international universities such as Nagaoka Technological University in Japan and University of Maine in France in areas covering both the upstream and downstream sectors of the rubber industry.
Photo credit: Flickr user Shanghai Daddy